Skip to main content
Chartwell Seventeen Advisory Group Inc. | New York, NY

The referral generation process we are about to share with you can transform your month, your quarter, your year, and your career. It should be at or near the heart of your prospecting plan. Learn it! Practice it! Use it! Share it with your organization!

Step 1: Pick Your Referrers. Identify five people, five centers of influence, five clients, five friends. Pick the label that works for you. Whatever you call them, you want five folks you can see yourself having this discussion with. Write their names down. When you’re done, move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Identify Value Transactions. Salespeople bring so much value to their current customer base. The big (and often unanswered) question is, how do they leverage that value? Starting the conversation about referrals can begin with laying the groundwork for a value transaction. Maybe you’ve heard of something called the law of reciprocity: If you do something for them, there’s an implied obligation they should then want to do something for you. So you look for situations where you’ve already done something for the person. When somebody says, “Oh my gosh, Rory. That was so darn helpful.” That’s the start of a value transaction. By the way, if you know you’ve provided value and people haven’t proactively mentioned it, you can always say, “Jade, let me ask you. Was this helpful?” When they say, “Oh my gosh, it was tremendous. Thank you so much,” that’s an acknowledgment of a value transaction. Don’t limit yourself to the value that’s been created after six months, a year, two years, where you’ve already delivered all the results. In many cases, just by leading others through a sales process and discovery, you’ll find you can start that value transaction. Our guess is that you have a whole lot of these to choose from. Look for the areas where you have served and overserved each of the five people on your list. Write the examples down for each, and put a star by the example of highest value you delivered for each individual. For instance: Did you shorten someone’s time to market? Did you reduce their employee turnover? Did you help them identify an inefficiency or an example of waste in one of their processes? Did you introduce them to someone who was able to help them achieve an important goal? Only people to whom you’ve delivered significant value should show up on this list. If you need to revise your list to get it back up to five, do that.

Step 3: Plan Your Referral Approach. In our experience, it’s the lack of a written outline for this conversation that is the primary reason salespeople either don’t start this discussion or execute it badly. Consider the following approach. Review it closely, then use it as your model as you write one that feels natural to you.

You: Jade, if you’ve got an extra minute or two, I’d like to ask you about something that’s important. Do you have an extra minute or two?

Note that you’re not saying, “Oh, by the way, do you know anybody who I might sell to?” That’s a throwaway. You don’t start a conversation that you want the listener to give full investment and attention to with “By the way.” You’re introducing a topic, identifying that it’s important, and getting a time commitment.

What’s next? Think back to that value transaction. You’ve got this great relationship. You know you don’t want to impose, but you do want to have the conversation. The thing to do is set up an agenda for the conversation you’re about to have that leverages the value transaction in a subtle but unmistakable way. Establish an agreement about the purpose of the conversation, an agreement that references what you’ve done for this person. Again: This is not a hit-and-run, not a “by the way,” but an important discussion that’s worth setting up mutual understandings around. What it could sound like is this:

You: Jade, I’ve been thinking. I know we’ve had a great relationship, and you’ve always been appreciative of the work we’ve done. If you’re open to it, I’d like to take those few minutes to brainstorm with you and even perhaps create a short list of people who are in your network who you think may be open to our work and could be a good fit for the kind of things we do. Is that something you’re comfortable with?

The beauty of starting the conversation in this way is that if they say, “Honestly, Rory, it is not something I’m comfortable with. I just don’t like to get into other people’s business,” you don’t lose any relationship juice. You then get a chance to say, “Hey, Jade, that’s why I asked. I appreciate you, and I appreciate the relationship. No worries.”

But you know what? If you’ve actually delivered value to this person, that’s probably not what you’re going to hear. It’s much more likely that they’ll say something like, “Sure, that makes a whole lot of sense.”

Step 4: Paint a Picture. Continue by saying something like this:

You: Would it be helpful, Midori, if I painted a picture for you of the three to four types of people who typically are the best fit?

(Good news: We predict a 100% yes response to that question.)

Prospect: Sure.

You: Great. As I’m describing these types of people, if anyone comes to mind that fits these criteria, just jot the name down. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to introduce me. You and I can decide that later.

This takes all the pressure off. Again, notice that you are not holding a gun to the person’s head and demanding names. Why are you offering criteria rather than just suggesting that the person recite a list to you right now? Let’s answer that question by posing another one. What are you having for dinner next Thursday night? Maybe you’re struggling to answer that question, as most people would. That confusion, that uncertainty, that disconnect, is what people feel when we ask them, “Hey, do you know of anyone I can talk to?” They don’t know. It’s not on their radar screen. So they’re likely to say, “I really don’t know. Tell you what, let me give that some thought, and I’ll give you a call.” Those are calls that never come. What you’ve got to do is tap into their brain by painting a picture and giving them some time to think. Here’s how the conversation might proceed.

You: [Briefly outline an observable characteristic of your ideal client.] Anybody come to mind? Anybody who it may make sense to talk to?

Don’t rush it, slow down. Let them work on it. The key to making this a productive conversation is taking your time. If you do that, the conversation might proceed as follows:

Client: Hmm...someone who has kids who are getting ready to go to college. I think Sienna Maxwell may be a good fit for you.

You: Great. What should I know about Sienna?

Client: [Shares something about Sienna.]

You: Got it. Wonderful. Anyone else come to mind?

They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but you know what? It actually does. It grows on referral trees! If you stop and think about the customers you’ve served, the value you’ve delivered, and some of the people your clients have already introduced to you, you can see that it is almost a moral obligation to identify all the other people you can serve and help. If you don’t brainstorm those names, those people are either not going to get a solution at all … or they’re going to be served by someone who is less capable than you are. You should not allow either of those outcomes if you can possibly avoid it.

Excerpted from 21st Century Prospecting: The Authoritative Playbook for New Business Development, by John Rosso and Mark McGraw. Copyright © 2021 Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Click here to purchase your copy of the book. 


Share this article: