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How To Handle Referrals

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 2/25/19 9:08 AM

How do you handle referrals?

Because even in today's buyer-has-all-the-control- and information overload age, referrals will still cost you less, will close at a higher value, and will close faster than any other means of generating customers.

Despite this mathematical truth more people are asking, "How do I get more referrals?" than they should. The question that I have is, have you ever thought that maybe the way that you're handling referrals is the reason you're not getting more of them?


This was our topic for a recent #livesaleslab. When I asked participants, "How do you handle referrals?" The answers weren't unsurprisingly a lot about them and their sales process. Hint, it's not about you

5 Step Process For Handling Referrals

There's a simple five step process that you can use, that I recently shared with a group of sales leaders,  to get more referrals.

#1- You must have a quick response

If it's taking you a day, or even two days to respond to someone when they send you a referral, the message you are sending is; I'm too busy to handle any introductions you might make. Or, this is just your standard operating procedure and that's how you're going to handle a paying client.

When clients email me my promise to them is that they're going to get a response within 24 hours. Typically it's within four, because I check my email three times a day.

I do the same thing for referrals by making sure I respond right away to any email introduction. My typical response is to thank the referrer, say hello to the person being introduced, and follow it up with a simple question that's not about me, and about them. Such as, "How would you like to take it from here?" Or, "When should we set up a time to have a conversation?" After that, I drop the person who referred me from the email because nobody wants their inbox overloaded, and if they call me then I try to call them back right away.

#2- Give the person that was referred the royal treatment

In the back of my mind, when someone sends me a referral, that this is really double dipping. Not only is my aim to make this referral a stark raving fan, but I also want them to go back to the person who referred them and tell them how happy they are, and how much value they got from the conversation. And I let them know that.

Sometimes when you have to push back on buyers, I'll say things like, "Because so and so referred you to me they are trusting me to do what is in your best interests. I know that if I don't, you won't be happy, and they will hear about it." And that opens the door for me to be able to ask some tougher questions. 

Alright, so number one, remember, quick response. Number two, the royal treatment. But number three is where things typically start to fall apart for most people who get referrals, and that's reporting back what happened, or closing the loop.

#3- Reporting back to them

Now, as someone who gives referrals I'm often left wondering, "What happened? Did they connect? Was it a good match? Are they working together? How's it going? Are they happy with each other?"

That's why I  report back to the person who referred me throughout the process. It may say something like, "Thanks again for the introduction. They seem like really smart people that are struggling with how to motivate their teams and coach them. We talked about X, Y, and Z on Wednesday, and next we're going to do A, B, and C."

If those people end up working with me I let the referrer know what we're doing. As the engagement continues, I continue to update them on the milestones and how thing are progressing.

Why is this important? Closing a loop is important, not only to let the person who referred you know what happened, but it's also your opportunity to give them a better understanding of how you help, who you help, and therefore, what some additional referrals for you might look like. If it wasn't a good fit, then also letting them know, "You know what? I don't really help people with the career mapping side of things, but thanks for thinking of me. If you come up with anyone else who's looking for help to coach their teams, I'm your person."

So, referring and reporting back to that person allows you to further the referral relationship with them, and help them to know what a good fit for you is. Plus, the fact that you're going back and closing that loop makes them more comfortable with a consistent behavior in the future that you're going to do that, and they're not going to be left wondering. Alright, so that's number three, reporting back.

#4- You have to give in order to get

This is key if you want to build a referral network where you're referring work back and forth to each other. I believe that if you want to get more referrals you have to give more referrals, and because I personally focus on specific things in my coaching practice, I often am finding ancillary issues that are contributing causes to things that I encounter. When that happens I default to mentioning the person who referred me as the go to for that particular issue, if that's the case. I want to make them look good, and I want to give them work back, but I also want to encounter prospects, that maybe they don't need my help but they do need that person who's referred me their help.

So, referring back is a key way in order for you to get more referrals, called reciprocity, but I've also found that it helps to build trust, both with those that refer you and those that are referred. If you turn down engagements where you're not a good fit, that helps the person who's referred you to know that you're not going to just say yes to everything. I've actually had it happen to me, where I turned down a five figure engagement because I knew I wasn't the right fit and later on that person who I turned down said, "Hey, I want to introduce you to so and so because this is where I know where you specialize." Sometimes by saying no you get to more yeses. So that's number four, always refer back.

#5- Reflecting gratitude

Number five, and the final one, and this is where a little bit of controversy comes into play. Reflecting gratitude. Now, some people may show reflecting gratitude by sending handwritten notes, which is great, or special gifts. I also send referral fees. If someone takes the time to put their trust in me, to send me to someone that they care about, I want to make sure that I'm reflecting gratitude. And nothing says thank you like cash. If you think about it, if you treat your referral network like your sales force, wouldn't you be paying them a commission? 

On top that, if they don't want the referral fee back, or if you can't give one, ask what their favorite charity is and donate to their favorite charity in their name. Still, I send them thank you gifts, but then I also want to make that a regular part of my practice in reflecting gratitude.

All of these things are only going to work though if you do it consistently.

Watch recaps from the #LiveSalesLab

Topics: sales coaching, salespeople, #livesaleslab