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Sales and marketing have one thing in common: the answer to the most popular question they get asked.

For marketing, the question is, “What’s the most effective vehicle for marketing?” Some may answer email, web, direct mail or radio, but the answer you’d get from the overwhelming majority of marketers is “referrals.”

For sales, the question is, “What’s the most important result you get from any sale?” Some may answer “the commission,” while others may say “the thrill of the close.” But if you ask experienced, professional salespeople, they’ll tell you the answer is “referrals.”

Given that there’s nothing really hard about asking for referrals, one has to wonder why so many salespeople fail to do it. Perhaps they fear rejection, in which case they should probably get out of sales. Or maybe they lack confidence that they and their company did a good enough job to earn a referral.

If neither is the case, you need to ask your salespeople—and salespeople need to ask themselves—why they would pass up the best opportunity any sale can possibly offer: the opportunity to do more sales.  

Say the following out loud to see how it feels: “If you feel we did a great job and are truly satisfied with our work, I’d appreciate it if you could refer me to any friends or associates you think might benefit from our quality products.”

At worst, you’ll learn whether your customer was truly satisfied, giving you the opportunity to fix anything that wasn’t done right. At best, you’ll be introduced to new contacts that you can turn into customers. There’s nothing cold about those calls, since you’ve been introduced by someone they know and trust.

Accelerating the Relationship Process

In today’s channel, you need to be more than just a price and delivery service. You need to know technology, and how to apply tech to business challenges. Customers want to speak with someone who knows what they’re talking about, and when they meet you, they want to know how much you know.

Why wait until you meet them?

Many channel partner companies and sales professionals have their own regular distribution of information. It may be as simple as an occasional email or a regularly scheduled newsletter. It may be a blog that is kept updated. Whichever mode they choose, the goal is to convey to their customers that they are knowledgeable and have great information to share.

Customers choose you based on how much you know!

This kind of thought leadership is certainly the best way to earn more business from your existing customers. Properly constructed, and with the right messaging, you can also encourage those who enthusiastically read your information to share it with friends, associates, customers, colleagues and even competitors.

Consider this a very soft kind of referral, and press for it. Get your customers who currently read your content to share that content with others to help you build your audience. Then it becomes your job to convert those readers into customers. This strategy multiplies your ability to ask for referrals by the number of customer/readers you attract times the number of people they refer to you. This significantly accelerates your process of obtaining valuable referrals.

The other way to earn referrals starts by recognizing that your relationship with your customers is a business relationship that goes both ways. Your customers also need more customers. So, when you have the opportunity, refer business to them! Most businesspeople believe in quid pro quo: When you do them the favor of introducing them to new opportunities, they’ll usually return the favor.

In a world where we are bombarded with constant messaging, the personal touch involved in giving and getting referrals is one of the last ways we get to depend on the warmth of human interactions to help us achieve success. Enjoy it!