Are You Referral-Worthy?

Assess your distributorship’s skill at getting those all-important referrals.

Be honest now. How often do you and your sales team ask for and/or receive referral leads? If you do ask, you probably need to step up the pace. If you don’t, you are not alone.

It is truly amazing how many sales professionals and distributor owners are uncomfortable asking for referrals. Some don’t know how to ask. Most, even if they know how, simply won’t do it. They’re just not comfortable doing it. Asking for referrals is probably the most important aspect of generating new business, and most professionals leave it up to fate.

Why Referrals Are Invaluable
Referral business is the least expensive way to win new customers. In addition, it has the highest possible leverage and the best potential payoff. Most important, a prospect whose name you received through a referral is much more likely to listen to your pitch and less likely to seek out other sources to meet his or her welding needs. You come to that prospect with a built-in reference.

Before you can ask for referrals, you first need to determine whether you and your distributorship are “referral-worthy.” To do so, respond to the questions on page 109 to give you some insight into your customer’s experience with you and your company.

The Art of Asking for Referrals
Challenge yourself to make it a habit to ask for referrals. There is no magic bullet to approaching customers for that all important referral. It just takes good instincts, honesty and professionalism.

Timing Is Everything
When should you ask for a referral? The ideal time to ask is simple: Whenever your customers tell you how pleased they are!

• Ask after they purchase or rent new equipment.

• Ask when they say they have received the benefits you promised.

• Ask when they order a part and receive it immediately.

Use Your Professional Judgment
Asking for referrals is just one aspect of doing business. If you do everything else well, this should be no exception. A face-to-face request is best. (If you hold an annual customer appreciation event or entertain customers, those would be great times to ask!) A phone call is the second best. Always ask for referrals graciously and not in a pushy manner.

The Three-Step Approach to Tapping your Customer Base
To obtain a substantial number of referrals, focus first on your existing customer base. Use the following three-step technique:

1. Ask for feedback.

2. Reply to their response with a statement.

3. Ask for the referral professionally and let them know how much you would appreciate their help BEFORE they reply to your request. Be sure to use their name—it makes your appeal much more personal.

Make a Strong Case
The following examples of referral questions will help you to phrase your request. Think of your equipment as well as the appropriate words and phrases you can apply.

“How’s the equipment performing for you?” • “I’m always glad to hear it when customers tell me they are happy. John, I would appreciate your help on this. Much of my business comes from referrals. Is there anyone you might suggest I contact who would also love this new model?”

“Joe, did our service department take good care of you?” • “That’s great to hear. Joe, I would appreciate any referrals you might be willing to give me. Is there anyone in your other facility who may want to work with us for their purchases and parts and service needs?”

The best way is to be direct and unassuming. Say something like “Would you be comfortable introducing me?” If the referral lead can mean big business for you, invite both parties to lunch. Don’t oversell at lunch. Connect first. Find out about them, their job, their families, their interests. Talk football. Then book an appointment with them or bring them directly to your distributorship.

Follow Up FAST
This should be common sense: Don’t let referral leads sit on your desk or in your database without acting quickly. Your referral source may have told them about you. Like you, customers have a great deal on their minds. Call quickly or they may have moved on.

The More You Ask, the More You Will Get
If you are too proud or uncomfortable to ask for referrals, you will lose out on some great possibilities. To increase your sales and build your business, you have always had to take on challenges and move out of your comfort zone. Getting in the habit of asking for referrals is just one more challenge to meet. Interestingly, the more referrals you ask for, the more referrals you’ll get. If customers know you want them and will act on them professionally, they will be inclined to watch out for you. After all, your good future is theirs as well.

The Referral-Worthy Assesment

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Christine Corelli Christine Corelli is the author of five business books. Her newest book, Capture Your Competitors’ Customers and KEEP Them, has just been released. Corelli is also a conference speaker and seminar leader to equipment manufacturer and dealer organizations and can be found at www.christinespeaks.com.