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Posted: September 17, 2012

Five secrets to getting referral business

Take a page from Bill's book

Julie Hansen

I bought a new phone last week. I had no intention of buying a new phone. I simply wanted Verizon to please, PLEASE fix my Blackberry so that it would ring every time I received a call. Not every third or fourth time, like it was currently doing.

The salesperson who waited on me, let's call him Bill, listened carefully to my needlessly lengthy explanation of the problem and exhibited great patience when his test calls came through perfectly (of course). He gave me two options: replace the phone OR upgrade to a new one. I quickly shot down the upgrade. I was in a hurry and the thought of hanging out at the Verizon store for more than a few minutes gave me a headache. Besides, I liked my phone just fine, thank you. Except for that pesky habit of not ringing. Bill nodded, asking me how I used my phone, what features I liked, what features I didn't need, etc. Despite my grudgingly supplied answers, Bill gently and persistently led me to the conclusion that I needed a new phone.

The interesting part of this story is not that I got a new phone. It's what happened after that. Bill took exceptional care of me throughout the entire process, updating me on the data transfer, preparing my rebate so all it needed from me was a stamp and setting up my email. When I thanked him (and this is where it gets interesting) Bill did something very unusual. Something I've never seen any other phone salesperson do. He asked me for a referral. Bill takes great pride in taking excellent care of his customers so that they will send referrals his way. "Just like in your business," Bill said, slipping a few business cards into my bag after pointing out his cell number in case I had any questions about my new phone. I walked away racking my brain for the names of people that I could refer to Bill.

Secret referrals
Even though sales is our business, we don't always think to give referrals to other salespeople for certain types of products or services. Some businesses obviously thrive on referrals, like hair stylists, financial advisers, accountants, real estate brokers. But there are a lot of business people that benefit from referrals that we don't readily think of, like car washes, insurance providers, utilities and of course, retail stores. If we as sellers don't recognize that these businesses operate on referrals, what are the odds that the average customer does? How many of you are mistakenly assuming that people know you want referrals? Like Verizon, is it the best kept secret in the mall?

When to ask for a referral:
After you've provided excellent service (as Bill did) most people will be delighted to help you out. Something in our nature triggers the desire to reciprocate: "Thank you." "Oh no, thank you." "No really, thank YOU." By not allowing someone to return a favor, you are denying them one of life's great pleasures. Here are some tips to increasing your odds of getting a good referral:

How to ask for a referral:
1. Be specific. The more specific you are about the type of referrals you want, the easier you make your client's job. Asking him to recommend your services as a broker is very different from asking him to recommend your services to anyone who might be getting married, having a child or moving within the next year.
2. Do your research. If possible, find out which associations or groups that your client is a member of. Let him know which of his associates is a good fit for you and why.
3. Promote your work. If a client sees that you are working hard and earning more business, she will feel more confident recommending you to others. Don't fly under the radar. Keep your clients up to date on your activities and successes.
4. Do amazing work. Not occasionally. Not most of the time. Do amazing work every time.
5. Show appreciation. Don't forget to thank your client for the referral even if nothing comes from it. Especially if nothing comes from it. You don't want your client to feel like you're disappointed if his lead doesn't pan out. Clearly express your gratitude for each and every referral-no matter what the outcome.

As for me? I always appreciate a good referral. And I'm still looking for a few names to send to Bill. Anybody need a new phone?

Julie Hansen helps sales and business executives differentiate their solution and deliver winning presentations by leveraging proven performance skills from film, stage and improv.  The founder of Performance Sales and Training, Julie’s techniques have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM, Oracle, SAP and local Colorado companies to gain a competitive selling edge.  Julie is an international speaker, sales trainer and the author of ACT Like a Sales Pro!  Learn more about workshops and keynotes at, start a sales conversation at  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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Readers Respond

Excellent point TC. Give without expectation. It's just good karma! By Julie Hansen on 2012 05 30
Julie, thanks for your timeless advice. Here's an additional perspective on "getting referrals". Give them, pay it forward, give and be open to receive them! One highly successful financial services business owner has a weekly goal of how many referrals he will make. He makes many more than he receives, but the result is, he has built one of the largest firms in his space in this part of the country. By TC North on 2012 05 30
Something for every sales person to remember. Just ask! By MIke Webb - Alinco IT on 2011 02 22
Timeless advice, and beautifully put: in both the giving and receiving of referrals be aware and use the opportunities that come to us. The human connection is still the best social network. Just as important for me, as a Verizon customer dreading my next phone purchase, I'm looking forward to meeting Bill! Way to add value, Julie! Thanks! By Dena Zocher on 2011 02 14
In addition, no matter how brilliant you are or how much value you add to clients, the main way to get referred is to simply do what you say. Great article! By Kay Allison on 2011 02 11
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