In reference selling, timing is everything

In reference selling, timing is everything

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Many successful sales executives have built their career on referrals. It seems they know just when and how to ask for a reference. But for most of them, it wasn’t always that easy. Consider a young salesperson who gets this advice from his manager: “Remember to always ask the customer if they know anyone else who might be a good fit for our products.”

On his next sales call, the young man sits across the desk from a customer and dutifully asks the question, “Who else do you know? …”

The customer scratches his chin and says, “I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it.”

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Discouraged, our salesperson packs up his briefcase and goes to his next appointment, during the course of which he repeats the same question and gets an almost identical response. Being the diligent young man that he is, he goes through the same routine, appointment after appointment, year after year, until he finally discovers a fundamental truth: In reference selling, timing is everything.

Earning the right to ask for a reference

It’s too bad our newly minted salesperson’s manager didn’t coach him better. She could have helped him avoid years of frustration. Only after the customer agrees that the project goals have been reached has our salesperson earned the right to ask, “Who else do you know? …”

This means asking for a reference starts with having a well-defined sales methodology in which your sales professionals are trained to identify what problems the customer is trying to solve or goals they want to achieve. After all, if the salesperson doesn’t know the objectives, he or she will never know when the customer should be satisfied enough to provide a reference.

Reference selling has never been easier

Thanks to platforms like LinkedIn, reference selling has never been easier. Once we know a customer’s objectives have been satisfied, we don’t have to ask them who else they know. If we’re connected to our customers, we know who else they know. We can even do a little digging to see which of their connections are in the right roles and at the right types of companies for our solution.

Now when we ask for a reference, we can say things like, “I see you know Oyin Fashogbon at Profiliant …” This opens up a dialogue where you can learn more about Oyin, about her company, and maybe even get an offer of an introduction without having to ask.

Sometimes the conversation will lead to a potential opportunity. Sometimes it won’t. But we can say one thing for sure. Prospecting for opportunities through reference selling sure beats cold calling.

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