Fill Your Sales Pipeline with High Quality Referrals

By Kendra Lee,

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how to get referrals. There’s no doubt about it; referrals are one of the quickest ways to fill your pipeline. They’re definitely easier and less stressful than cold calling. They’re more accessible, and there’s less competition to close the deal. Knowing this, more and more sellers are asking for referrals as a primary approach to filling their pipelines.

The problem is they aren’t getting the number of high-quality referrals they’d like or need. They say the techniques they use don’t work consistently.

That’s because so often we leave it up to the client to guess whom they should refer us to. If you want to be successful building your pipeline with referrals, you need to take a step back and think about what types of introductions you really want. Just any old referral won’t get you your next hot prospect.

When you leave it up to your client to figure out who they think would be a good company to refer, they won’t consider all the qualification points you do.

They might not recognize that they’re a great client because they’re:

  • Focused on issues that fall within your offerings’ sweet spot
  • Using your solutions exactly like you want other clients to
  • In a specific industry or a certain size company
  • Treating you as a trusted advisor

Suddenly you find yourself with a referral that’s less than ideal. It’s too small a company, has a completely different set of needs than what you address, or is outside your industry expertise.

Because the referral came from one of your top clients, you either have to figure out how to say “thanks, but no thanks” or follow up and explain to your client why the referral wasn’t the best fit. It’s possible you could actually spend as much time following up on this unqualified introduction as you would cold calling.

A poor referral from a great client puts you in an awkward position—all because you were trying to shorten your new business development cycle through referrals. Mediocre connections won’t help you fill your pipeline.

You want only high-quality referrals. Your desire is to get introduced to companies and contacts that really need your offerings and will want to talk with you. You’re looking for new connections with the characteristics of your best clients.

Broaden your expectations to seek introductions to people who’ll implement and appreciate your offerings like your best clients do. Ask for contacts who’ll want to work closely with you and welcome your expertise and recommendations. And don’t limit yourself to asking for referrals that are similar in size, industry, or region.

To get referrals that fit such specific qualifications, you need to explain who a great connection would be. Tell your client what types of companies make the best match for your offerings.

There are two parts to framing your referral request:

  1. Say, “The best business would be someone like you who…” and fill in the blank with the profile of your ideal referral.
  2. Then add, “And it is someone who needs …” and include the classic challenges, issues, or needs you address.

What you’re doing is creating a picture of your ideal referral for your client. Now as they mentally search through all of their colleagues, they can easily determine which ones to recommend. You’ve taken the guesswork out of it.

Call me a referral snob, if you will, but if we’re going to ask for referrals, spend precious time following up on them, and then work them with due diligence, don’t we deserve to get only the very best introductions? I sure think so.

Kendra Lee is the author of Selling Against the Goal and President of KLA Group. Specializing in the IT industry, KLA Group helps companies rapidly penetrate new markets, break into new accounts and shorten time to revenue with new products in the Small & Midmarket Business (SMB) segment. Lee is also a frequent speaker at national sales meetings and association events.

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