Sales Techniques & Strategies

Getting referrals: a B2B sales referral selling quick guide

Jonathan Hubbard
Jonathan Hubbard
March 1, 2024

In 2021, Scott Edinger wrote for the Harvard Business Review that referral selling is one of the best strategies salespeople can use for increasing sales, more likely to succeed than other techniques, and essentially free. So, why aren’t we all using referrals to make our number each period? Unfortunately, getting referrals in B2B sales isn’t straightforward - your B2B referrals will only work if the right conditions are met, and you ask correctly. In this blog, we’ll look at what’s needed for B2B referrals to succeed, how to ask for referrals, and the “don’ts” of referral selling.

Getting B2B referrals: what you need and how to ask

What needs to be in place before asking for referrals?

#1: Long-term relationships with happy customers.

If you want to get B2B referrals when you ask for them, you’ll need to have at least one ‘strong’ relationship with a customer. What constitutes a ‘strong’ customer relationship? These are the customers who’ve been with you long-term and have consistently experienced your initiative. With these customers, your word is your bond, and you’ve been making their job easier ever since you became their sales rep. 

With this strong relationship as a foundation, when you ask for referrals, the customer is more likely to want to give back to you and spread good words: you want to be referred to potential clients in the most genuine, heartfelt, and honest way possible!  Do you have long-term customers who feel this way about you? 

One way to check if you’ve identified a good customer to ask for a referral is to check if your track record with them is spotless at all levels. If the customer made an order, but had frequent delivery hold ups, or their accountants had a nightmare with invoicing, it may be best not to ask them for a referral. 

#2: Have relevant customer information on hand.

When you’re preparing to ask for referrals, make sure you can access your customer information. Know what they’ve been working on, the transactions they’ve made with you, and their buying process. Additionally, if you have other contacts within the customer company, check in with someone who knows your primary contact, and ask whether the primary contact is open to giving referrals.

#3: Have good timing, and pick your moment. 

Before you ask a top customer for a referral, make sure to: A. Find out the best time of day to ask, and B. Check that the customer is in a good mood.  It’s pointless to send a referral request out on a Friday afternoon, or on a Monday at 5pm: take care to pick a productive time. Additionally, if your customer has had a terrible week, is too busy to talk with you, or isn’t as receptive as they usually are, don’t ask for a referral. Ask for a referral when they’re in a good mood and you’ve got their full attention. 

How should you ask for a referral?

Let’s not over-complicate things. When you ask a customer for a referral, there are 3 things you should keep in mind:

  1. The best way to ask for a referral is to ask verbally and in person. Remember that you’re appealing to someone you’re close to and asking them to take action on your behalf: keep it personal.
  2. When you ask, keep it low-key and natural. An over-professional approach could feel unnatural with customers you’ve known for a long time.
  3. Keep your question short and purposeful, don’t add fluff: get to the point.

What should you avoid when asking for referrals?

Knowing what’s needed to give referrals the best chance to succeed and how to ask for them, we can look at what NOT to do.

  • Don’t try to write a referral script for your customer. You don’t want to pressure them into talking about your company.
  • Don’t pressure your customer about timeframes for giving you a referral. They’re taking initiative on your behalf: be considerate and patient.
  • Asking the wrong customer for a referral can be damaging. Make sure you’re asking the right customer! 
  • Don’t ask for a referral too early. Give time for a good relationship to develop with a new customer.
  • Gift giving isn’t always acceptable, especially with larger companies. Always check company policy before offering rewards for referrals. 

Summary and your key takeaways:

As much as we like to think, referral selling can’t be automated: it’s a strategy which requires a personal approach based on strong relationships. To recap, you can up your referral game by:

  • The best referrals come from your most satisfied long-term customers.
  • Make sure you have all relevant customer info on hand.
  • Make sure you ask for a referral at the right time and when the customer is in a good mood.
  • Ask for referrals verbally and in person.
  • When you ask, keep it low-key, natural, and purposeful.
  • Don't try writing your customer a referral script- it's got to come from them.
  • Don't pressure your customer about timeframes.
  • Asking the wrong customer, or asking too early, can cause damage to the customer relationship.
  • Gift giving isn't always acceptable, check your customer's policy first.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to strengthen customer relationships, you might like to check out our recent webinar event with Liz Heiman.

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