Success is all about who you know. Think you get to know people with a cold call? Think again.
Sales leaders, listen up: The job of your account-based sellers is to get into your named accounts at the right level, do a bang-up job, document quantifiable business impact, and then extend their reach into other areas of the enterprise. Their #1 job is to build strong, impenetrable relationships.
That will never happen with a cold call. Decision-makers don’t take cold calls, but they always take meetings with B2B sales reps who’ve been referred by respected colleagues.
What is a cold call, anyway? It’s reaching out to someone who doesn’t know who you are—whether via phone, email, or social media. Yes, you need to do your research. But research doesn’t turn a stranger into a qualified lead. For that, you’ll need a referral introduction.
Want to Land and Expand? Ask for Referrals
Savvy sales leaders understand that account executives who sell to enterprises must get in quickly—even before prospects know they have a need—build relationships, and uncover problems that prospects didn’t even know they had. But account-based selling requires more than just determination. It requires a referral program—a disciplined, measurable, systematic referral system.
As a result, referral sellers:
- Score every meeting with one call
- Ace out the competition (While others are relying on cold digital leads, referred sellers get personal introductions to their decision-makers.)
- Reduce the cost of sales
- Generate a steady stream of only super-qualified leads
- Blast the competition out of the water
- Convert at least 70 percent of their prospects into clients
The 70 percent stat is from my own research. Skeptical of that number? Think about times when you’ve been personally introduced to the exact prospects you wanted to meet. What was your conversion rate? If you’re like most account-based sellers I poll, your answer will be at least 50 percent, and probably more than 70 percent.
How Referrals Accelerate Account-Based Sales
When an introduction comes from someone a prospect knows and trusts, the conversation changes. The referrer has already made the business case for the introduction and articulated the value for the prospect to take a meeting. Someone else has tooted our horn and launched our sales process.
We skip that awkward first part of the sales process—finding a mutual connection, building rapport, and getting off on the right foot. Prospects already know who we are, and they want to hear what we have to say. More importantly, they welcome our perspectives on their businesses and accept guidance on uncovering problems. We move from conversation to collaboration—working together on finding solutions with quantifiable business results.
Prospects also share insider information—who to watch out for, how decisions are made, budget hurdles (if any), top influencers, what the committee needs to know, what to say, what not to say, and who is your competition.
Competition is fierce and comes from both traditional and non-traditional sources, particularly in industries like banking and high-tech. Account-based sellers must balance the need to always be prospecting with the need to nurture current clients. And with more people on buying committees—now 6.8, according to CEB—salespeople need even more time to identify influencers and solidify relationships.
Referral selling puts account-based sales reps on the fast track. They don’t just offer solutions to their prospects’ unique needs; they help identify those needs. That’s when the chance of competitive challenge becomes slim.
A Referral System Delivers
Relationships are your team’s greatest competitive differentiator, and referrals are their ticket into the C-suite. But referrals don’t just happen. Yes, occasionally a happy customer will mention your company to another buyer, but most won’t think to do so unless they’re asked. Without a systematic, disciplined referral program to ensure your reps ask for referrals from every single client, you’re leaving money on the table.
For example, I recently helped one well-respected software company implement a referral program. The sales team had a stellar history and remarkable client relationships at every level. The CEO knew “everyone,” and the head of sales kept in touch with all of her clients. These people occasionally offered referrals but not enough to keep the pipeline full. The company had reached the next stage of their growth and needed more sales leads. They were about to hire a company to cold call for them when they learned about strategic referral selling.
Leadership at this company believed in referrals but had a difficult time understanding how it could be a scalable prospecting strategy. Still, they decided their time and money were better invested in a referral system than cold calling blitzes. The company established metrics for referrals to ensure accountability, helped account-based sellers build referral skills, and continued to reinforce and coach their people.
The head of sales tapped into her established client base and not only secured introductions to other divisions of their companies, but to their counterparts in other large organizations. Referrals began rolling in, and the company could see positive results within 30 days of implementation. The team now has a referral mindset, and they continue to realize the benefits of referrals, because the referral practice never stops.
The outcome? A record-breaking sales year.
Adopting a referral program is simple, but not easy. It requires a complete shift in the way you and your team think about referrals, and in how they go about getting them. It requires building referral skills, establishing referral metrics, and insisting on accountability for referral results. Of course, then you’ll have an even bigger problem—following up on all those qualified leads.
Your account-based sellers will get meetings with actual decision-makers and achieve a 70 percent conversion rate with referred prospects. Once they close those deals, their new clients will refer other ideal clients. That’s how referrals scale and fill your pipeline with hot referral leads.