You’ll never starve for leads if you know how to mine your existing pipeline for referrals. Not just customers, but everyone in the pipe. Today’s hack explores the five stages of our sales cycle and how to generate referrals in each.

To set the stage, think about the last time you asked for a referral. If it was in the last month, congratulations–you are at the top of your class. I will bet it’s been substantially longer because most sales reps reserve all their favor chits with a prospect for their priority favor, a purchase order. But here’s the thing. Selecting you as a sales rep isn’t a “favor” in the sense that you’re a nephew in the insurance biz. In the education trade, you likely exclusively represent a solution, one that is going to make an important difference for your prospects. There’s nothing cheesy about acting like it does, or wanting to help even more good people discover it.

To be good at referrals, asking has to become part of your DNA. Post-it Note the word “referral” on your desk and dashboard. Gamify referrals by tracking how many you collect and set goals for lifting that number over time. Realize how few referrals come to you without asking, and how many people when asked can at least give you one name if not actually make an introduction.

Many well intentioned sales and marketing leaders have the idea to start a “referrals program” for their business. I’m open to believing it, but have never seen any evidence that a paid referral program has been successful in B2E. A formal benefit in exchange for services rendered cheapens the relationship, and that doesn’t fit education.

Just be out there doing referral-worthy work, and make asking for referrals part of every interaction you have. Here are some ideas to help you ask during every stage of the sales cycle.

Awareness Stage

Where is your pipeline the widest? The beginning. So if you start asking for referrals here, stands to reason you could collect more. Your website and “lead nurturing tools” should all be geared toward sharing your content. You can even make a referral request in your very first sales contact if you’re consciously trying. Meeting request? Ask them to invite colleagues grappling with the same issue. Sending info? “I’ll send you a couple of packets so you can share with others considering a similar purchase.” Conference? Invite prospects to visit your booth and bring a friend that wants to learn more about [the problem you solve]. Event? Give prospects 5 exclusive invites to pass out to a session or gathering. Be in the habit of always thinking how to leverage any educator to spread the word.

Consideration Stage

Perfect timing! Prospects are excited about finding your solution and generally have to go into share mode to vet it. Ride that wave by suggesting they seek their colleagues’ opinions. Ask which professional groups, PLC’s or regional offices of education they participate in. Suggest they you introduce your solution to the group, set up a large pilot, or coordinate a volume purchase program. If you’re traveling a ways to meet with them, ask for recommendations on where you could spend the rest of your time while in their state/county.

Decision Stage

Even if you’ve already asked in the first two stages, ask again after they commit to your company since they like you better now. If they agree, a good way to get follow through is to send them an email with your company links, brief background, your contact numbers. Use a subject line like “Introduction to [your company],” and don’t make it overly salesy. Send a second personal email explaining what you’ve just sent, that you’ve tried to make it so all they need do is forward it, and that you promise to take good care of any of their colleagues seeking support with [the problem you solve].

Why not also ask the prospects that say NO for referrals? Yes, I am serious. If you’ve moved to this stage they saw something of value in your solution, but for timing, budget, curriculum mix, or another internal reason it isn’t a good match. Doesn’t mean they won’t recognize it could work well for a colleague. This is especially appropriate when after a long evaluation process the reason for not buying is lack of budget. Give them a way to save face by saying, “I am so sorry we can’t get you onboard at this time, and hope that turns around in the near future. In the interim I will know I did my job if you feel strongly enough about our company that you would consider passing our name along to colleagues facing [the problem you can solve]. Thanks so much for helping me spread the word!” Hey – it’s worth a shot. I think you’ll know when you could get away with this and when they just want you to go away and die.

Adoption Stage

There are opportunities to showcase the implementation in more formal ways like I talk about in “How to Set a Word of Mouth Brushfire,” and in off the cuff ways like asking the new client to invite fellow admins to the training session about to take place. Marketing is hopefully on top of their social media game, but if not remind them that retweet = referral. Customer calls you with a question? Get them serviced and when you follow up, remember to ask them who else could benefit from your solution.

Renewal/Reorder Stage

Since you’re going to have a few interactions with every customer at renewal time, use them to ask for referrals. You could let a principal know their usage stats for the year and suggest that news is worth bragging about to their district admin. You can send a hand-written thank you note with some exclusive invites to an upcoming sales event, business cards, or special offer code to pass on to a friend.

I can’t think of an easier way to generate leads than to employ these “asks” throughout your sales stages. To show you how easy it really is, I’m going to ask YOU for a referral! If you know someone that could benefit from Selling B2E, please recommend this blog to a colleague using that handy dandy panel of share icons over on the left side of this page or forward the url with good old fashioned email. And as you do that, realize how when you like a product, and when someone politely asks, giving a referral is no bother at all!

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