The email began, “Joanne, I need to ask Jim for a referral, and I’m about to send this email. Would you review it for me and let me know if it’s OK to send?”
I didn’t need to read any further to answer this question. No, it’s not OK, because account-based sales reps shouldn’t be asking for referrals in any digital format. It’s a copout, it’s sleazy, and it breaks the #1 rule of referral selling: Always ask in person or on the phone.
Asking for referrals via email is bad enough. Asking on social media is even worse, because then you’re also breaking the #1 rule of social selling, which is to be social rather than actually selling.
When you reach out and have actual conversations with referral sources, you get the chance to:
- Find out if your contact actually knows the individual you want to meet. (Just because they’re connected on social media doesn’t mean they have a real relationship.)
- Explain the business reason for your referral request. (That’s why you’ll receive an introduction.)
- Reconnect with your referral source. (Account-based sales reps must always be nurturing their networks.)
Referral selling is the most effective sales lead generation strategy for account-based sales, but it requires much more than digital communication. It requires real relationships. After all, people only refer those they like and trust—people who have earned the right to ask them for referrals.
Social media can help salespeople begin conversations, begin relationships, and even nurture relationships. But we don’t make real connections with people by clicking buttons, inviting them to connect on LinkedIn with a standard invitation, or re-tweeting without a comment.
So, what is the role of social media in referral selling? And when should digital communication end and real-world conversations begin?
The Trust Imperative for Account-Based Sales Teams
Social selling enables account executives to more effectively gather information, conduct research, and identify connections. It also impacts the early stages of the sales process, enabling us to quickly assess a buyer’s qualifications and spend less time on unproductive sales lead generation.
However, it has not changed the way we talk to prospects, how buyers relate to us, and why they choose us over the competition. Top account-based sales reps understand that selling requires building strong relationships with clients—relationships based on mutual respect and trust. And this can rarely be done online, especially if you’re targeting high-level decision-makers.
The most important business decisions are still based on personal relationships. Prospects become clients because they like and trust you and your organization. Think about it. You’re asking people for their time and money—two things people typically only give to individuals they like and trust. So, why would buyers work with someone who hasn’t been referred?
Turn Social Media Contacts into Real Connections
How many times has someone asked you to connect on LinkedIn and then immediately began giving you a sales pitch? That’s not social selling. It’s social stalking. It’s cold calling. And it’s downright annoying.
To turn strangers on social media into prospects and referral sources, account-based sales reps must first prove their value and build authentic relationships. That means actually being social on social media.
Here’s how to start:
- Invite people to connect by sending a personal invitation with the reason for the request. Don’t use “because we belong to the same group,” or “I see we have many connections in common.” That’s not personal. It’s obvious you haven’t taken a few minutes to review their profile. It’s almost as bad as sending a standard invitation.
- Send a personal response to every invitation you receive. This is your opportunity to begin a conversation. Comment on an item in new connections’ profiles, acknowledge mutual connections, ask if they know someone you know in their geography, or offer to make introductions for them.
- Give away as much as you can. Share content, insights and expertise—from your company and from other thought leaders you admire. Think about what your clients and prospects need to know and help them get those answers.
Social Media: Easy Street Paved with Landmines
Social media provides amazing information for sales lead generation. But like data without analysis, information without a personal introduction (a referral) does not shortcut the sales journey. Information provides a richer picture of your prospect or connection, but what good is that information if you can’t get the meeting?
Reaching out through social media without a personal introduction is, by definition, a cold call. Do your research online; connect offline.
It’s the personal connection—still—that seals the deal! Remember, people do business with people, not with technology. It’s time to put the “social” back in social media.