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Win or lose, always ask for referrals

March 14, 2017

Requesting a referral for new business prospects with existing and prospective customers can deliver key sales opportunities.

Bart Shachnow

Sales Performance Director

As Sales Performance Director, Bart, with the help of his team, develops and delivers a broad range... About this expert

outdoor meeting

The opportunity to gain access to viable new business opportunities is hard to come by. Of course, marketing lists are widely available that let you customize the parameters of businesses you want to target. And some career-focused social networking sites can be a great resource to help identify people who can open doors for you by making valuable introductions.

However, there’s another resource that’s rarely tapped: a business where you’re already “in the door.”

Business owners and executives in organizations of all sizes tend to know their industries well, including major customers, suppliers and vendors. Whether you have an existing account or are pitching your products and services to a company for the first time, it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity to ask for referrals to other firms known to your customer or prospect. If you’re in either situation, you’ve done the work and demonstrated your value, so you deserve to ask!

Here are two approaches, depending on your relationship with the individual:

Requesting a referral from an existing customer (where “Mr. Jones” is a high-level executive with whom you interact):

“Mr. Jones, that wraps up our annual review. It sounds like we’re on track with all of the deliverables we promised and we’re meeting – and sometimes exceeding – your expectations. We’re going to work hard to retain your business and even more consistently exceed your expectations. I want to ask you, since you play a leadership role in some industry trade associations, whether you know of any other businesses – customers, suppliers and/or vendors – that might benefit from our products and services?”

Requesting a referral after you’ve delivered a proposal to a prospective customer:

“Mr. Jones, that wraps up our presentation. We’ve tried to demonstrate how our products and services can satisfy the needs you specifically expressed. We’ve also identified some gaps and deficiencies in your present operation that we feel we can effectively address, and we would welcome the chance to do that. Of course, we understand that you can take our analysis and recommendations back to your current provider in the event you want to retain your existing relationships, but we’re grateful for this chance to demonstrate what we can do.

Whatever your decision, we believe our proposal has given you an opportunity to assess, firsthand, how responsive we have been to your needs, as well as our capabilities and resources. Do you know of anyone else in your industry, be they customers, suppliers or vendors, who might benefit by having the same kind of analysis and proposal prepared?”

This request has only upside potential. It is possible that the executive can’t or perhaps is even unwilling to offer a referral. That’s OK — nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s more likely, however, that he or she may suggest a referral to someone who could be a viable prospect for you.

Don’t be afraid to be as specific as possible about the kind of prospect you’re seeking. And remember that your request may be a compliment to the executive, as you are acknowledging his or her significant influence among key players in the industry.

As long as your request is delivered professionally and courteously, your executive contact will most likely respect the attempt and it will reflect positively on you.