Early on in my career I received a phone call from a client who began the conversation with, “Hey Valerie, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine…”
I very much enjoyed and respected this client and was thrilled that he wanted to introduce me to his friend. In my mind I fantasized about his intentions. Perhaps we would all go out for dinner, or maybe he was setting me up on a date… my thoughts were interrupted by the words “director of corporate communications” and “in charge of media monitoring.” My heart began to pound as I realized what was happening. I was getting my first referral!
Today I regularly receive such phone calls, but the thrill has yet to go away. While referrals add up to quantitative results of your efforts to build relationships, they also offer bona fide proof that your relationship is one of trust and confidence (Cue Sally Fields, “They like me, they really like me!!!)
In order to earn new business, you’ll need to invest both time and resources and maximize your opportunities in the most efficient manner. Below are 5 steps to help you become more strategic in your relationship building and increase the number of referrals you receive:
1. Perform a SWOT analysis. Identify your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and then clearly identify the organizations you are targeting. As you consider different prospects and prospect categories, evaluate the customer needs against your analysis. Brad Douglas, vice president of sales and marketing with Shipley Associates, offers some excellent considerations to help you better assess your opportunities for targeting the right customers.
2. Determine the influencers you need to reach. As mentioned in this post from the Harvard Business Review, you may think you know the decision maker, “the one that is described in the RFP or articulated by those who actively participate in the formal decision-making process.” However, there are often key influencers within the organization who carry informal power as it relates to your opportunity. Take the time to uncover and develop those relationships.
3. Utilize ALL of your current relationships. While most organizations have a sales team or business development group, I am a firm believer that everyone in an organization, regardless of title or department, should consider themselves a member of the sales team. If you are proud of your organization and even if you are not (though you may want to ask yourself why are you working there?), it is your responsibility to help your company grow. Communication and collaboration between the sales team and other departments is essential. Beyond your organization, consider your vendors, partners and affiliates, clients, industry contacts, and even personal networks. If you aren’t actively using LinkedIn it is a great place to start organizing and expanding your network.
4. Ask for the referral! It is interesting that many people shy away from asking for a referral when they need/want it. Consider what’s stopping you. Are you afraid of creating an uncomfortable or potentially annoying situation? If yes, then that is good because it means you are thinking about and potentially being considerate of the person you wish to ask. And that is what distinguishes a “pushy salesman” from a friend you want to help. So be professional to and respectful of the person you are asking, their relationship, and their reputation. But don’t let that stop you from asking. After all, if you have real relationships, qualified targets, and a product/service you believe in, the person you’re asking should have no issue referring you and the person you’re introduced to will soon be thanking your friend for making the introduction.
5. Beyond ABC’s… ABH. While I certainly understand and appreciate the need to “Always Be Closing,” my personal philosophy is to “Always Be Helping.” In sales, and perhaps maybe in life, your reputation is everything. So be the person you want to be perceived to be – whether or not it meets an immediate business goal. In this case, that person is one who is helpful and informative and acutely aware of the needs and goals of his/her clients, prospects, colleagues, friends and family. In other words, take every opportunity to add real value and help them achieve their goals.
How are you making the most of one of your most precious resources – your relationship with others? Do you find it easy to ask for referrals and network when needed? What tips would you add to the list? If you are having trouble, what do you think is holding you back? Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.