Everyone knows someone. Actually, everyone knows several someones. Your customers - as well as the prospects you call on - have some contact with, or at the very least know of, people who can benefit from your product or service. Unfortunately, they are not programmed to automatically disclose the names of those people to you. That doesn't mean that they won't; you must initiate the action.
Salespeople typically "forget" to ask for referrals. Why? Some reasons are technical: it's not part of their selling process. There is not a logical connection from one element of the process to the act of asking for referrals. And, they don't have a strategy for asking. Other reasons are more conceptual in nature: they don't want to appear "needy." They relate the request to begging. Whatever the reason, they are missing out on potential business and making their jobs more difficult.
So, to make sure you don't "forget" to ask for referrals, make it the last step of any sales call with a prospect or customer. Imagine your sales manager standing nearby ready to ask, "Did you ask for a referral?"
Your referral requests should be simple and to the point. To a prospect, regardless of the outcome of your meeting: "Now that you know more about what we do for our clients, I suspect that you know of a business colleague or contact who could benefit from our service. Who might that be?"
To a customer with whom you have a good track record: "George, you've always been pleased with the level of service we've provided. I'm wondering which one of your business colleagues or contacts would also appreciate the same level of service."
When customers or prospects provide you with a referral, call them after you've made contact with the referred person to again thank them and let them know what happened. Not only is this polite, but it's an opportunity to obtain another name.
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