How asking for referrals extends your network reach and identifies new business opportunities
As one who has spent much of my career in the world of sales and marketing, I’m constantly tracking the changes in the sales ecosystem. In the last few years, I’ve seen how the paradigm shift from traditional selling strategies to informed buyers seeking out businesses has caused companies to become increasingly innovative in order to keep up with a more competitive sales ecosystem. This includes developing cutting-edge tools and strategies that empower companies to get in front of the customer like marketing automation, PPC, and SEO. But recently, I’ve noticed another paradigm shift that is further shaking up the sales ecosystem. The B2B informed buyer has transcended, becoming even more independent as a self-qualifying buyer.
More often than not the B2B buyer is qualifying your company instead of a salesperson qualifying the buyer.
One major resource that self-empowered buyers are using to help them is their personal and professional network. The good news is that these networks often include your current customers, partners and perhaps, even your own employees. Research has shown these one-to-one relationships have the greatest influence in a buyer’s decision because of the inherent trust in the relationship.
Customers, partners, and employees have the benefit of understanding your business and the needs of their peers and therefore are in a very unique position to influence your target buyer. So rather than hoping your potential prospect connects with one of these key influencers, we suggest companies take a proactive stance and engage its customers, partners and employees by asking for referrals and turning them into advocates for your business.
Since each of these different groups offers a unique value to your advocacy initiatives and have the potential to impact a self-qualified buyer, here are some things to consider as you start asking for referrals:
- How can their relationship with your business put them in a position to help you find new customers?
- What makes them willing to advocate for your company when they have the opportunity?
- What will motivate them to make a referral and actually connect you to a prospect for your business?
By considering these questions you can achieve a clearer understanding of the three different advocate personas and how to leverage your relationship with them by asking for referrals to reach self-qualified buyers.
Understanding your different advocate personas
Customers –Your customers have spent their careers building personal and professional networks that likely include many individuals just like themselves in similar roles within other companies in your target market. Combine that with the fact that your customer knows your product and the value it’s added to their business, and you have a powerful combination to leverage.
The more value you’ve delivered to the relationship, the more likely they will refer your business when you are asking for referrals. While that value starts with the value your company or product has provided to their business, don’t overlook their personal relationships with you or your teammates (e.g. sales, customer service etc.). Customers are looking for that connection to your company and, in return, they are willing to reciprocate. It’s likely that your customers could be engaging with someone in their network that has expressed similar challenges or needs that your product or service could fulfill.
By proactively asking for referrals from customers you expand their established circle of trust with you to include the prospect, which can dramatically accelerate the sales cycle. Consider formally acknowledging the referral and keep them updated on the status so they can continue engage on your behalf if they are willing and able. Adding a reward that reflects your awareness of their needs can absolutely help and won’t be perceived negatively. Rewards that are specific to your company like bill credits, discounts, or even free services when they reach a certain number of referrals adds value to the relationship and shows that you appreciate their contribution to your success.
Partners – Partners are one of the highest-quality referral sources. Partners have an inherent knowledge of their customers’ challenges and goals in addition to your product or service. They already have a symbiotic economic relationship with you and therefore if you win, they win. Asking for referrals is a natural extension of that. And because partners have already provided a good business experience to their customers, their customers trust that your brand will replicate that experience. Consider offering an incentive that is authentic to your business relationship with the partner and will improve the value for both parties. These types of incentives could include training credits, exclusive access to new product or features, or incremental discounts on your service or products.
Employees – Employees have a stake in the success of your company. Employees know the ins and outs of your business. This makes them experts when referring family, friends and peers. With this unique position they can emphasize the benefits of your company to the people who trust their opinion and insight. When asking for referrals from them, they are more likely to make a referral if they understand that as the business grows they have a better opportunity to grow within the company. While employees have your best interests at heart, making employees efforts feel noticed and appreciated has become a necessary part of retaining talented individuals and making them want to continue working on your behalf. Consider combing a monetary reward with a public form of recognition so everyone in the company knows that this is a very valued contribution to the business.
While it’s true that leads have gotten harder to reach, these types of challenges make room for businesses to continually innovate and grow. Now, with the advent of the self-qualified buyer, peer opinions, aka referrals, have become a new stop on the buyer’s journey. I believe that by embracing this change through different advocacy technology like referral software, you can continue to have insight and input in this stage of the sales cycle.
To learn more about how to motivate customers, partners, and employees when asking for referrals, checkout the whitepaper, How to Incentivize Referrals: The process of questioning, calculating and structuring incentives.
And if you’re ready to see if referrals are the right path for you, try taking the quiz, Are referrals a fit?