Avoid These Mistakes When Asking for Referrals

Getting qualified referrals is the quickest way to sales success, but only when it's done correctly

Getting qualified referrals is the fastest way to sales success. It is often a parallel process that runs throughout sales meetings, but it can be tricky to get it right. Here are some of the most common mistakes salespeople make when trying to get qualified referrals.

Winging It

Many salespeople pride themselves on their ability to “wing it,” but it rarely produces the desired results when it comes to getting qualified referrals. Not having a well-thought-out approach with the right backup material to demonstrate the process and why it is good for the prospect and client is a recipe for disaster, and you’re likely to walk away empty-handed.

Asking for Too Many

This mistake comes from playing the numbers game. Salespeople are often taught to get as many names and numbers as possible, e.g. 10 or more, the idea being that some of these will come off. A spray-and-pray approach is unlikely to result in an influx of new business and is more likely to waste time.

‘Give Me’

Clients don’t want to give you anything. Using statements such as, “if this meeting has been helpful, I will ask you to give me the names and numbers of some friends I can try to help,” is a mistake. They are open to helping their friends, but I stress, they don’t want to give you anything. This infers their friends are payment for your help. Not a good move.

Not Making It Feel Safe to Refer

Often, clients don’t know what will happen if they provide a referral; It isn’t explained clearly enough. If a pilot on someone’s first skydiving attempt simply said, “here put this on, jump, you’ll be fine,” it’s doubtful anyone would get on board. The pilot takes time to explain why it’s safe and what will happen. Knowledge dispels fear. When clients don’t know in enough detail what happens when they refer someone, they are naturally reluctant to make referrals.

Pareto’s 80/20 Rule Taken to the Extreme

A normal sales process with a new prospect is usually two meetings. The first is an information swap meeting, learning about each other and the salesperson conducting a fact-find and making suggestions. This may take an hour or more. The second meeting is usually a presentation meeting, and again may take an hour or more.

The salesperson is likely to have spent two to three hours in the meetings, and possibly two to three hours preparing the presentation, not to mention possible travel time. So far, the salesperson may have spent five to seven hours on this prospect. The norm is to throw a short one-liner in at the end of the second meeting to ask if the prospect knows anyone. Five to seven hours are spent on the sale and 60 to 180 seconds or less are spent getting the next client. Is it any wonder salespeople fail badly?

Poor Positioning

This is by far THE biggest mistake salespeople make. Incorrect positioning at the start of the first meeting. Many times it is simply that the salesperson needs this potential sale as money is tight, so they won’t risk asking for referrals and possibly jeopardizing the sale. It is a common fear that this may upset the prospect, so why risk it, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Having a BDM or Cold Caller

This is a big mistake, yet many salespeople would have left the industry if they didn’t have one. However, all that is happening for 99.9% of these salespeople is that they are hanging on, living month to month and paycheck to paycheck. This is not why they joined the sales industry.

This is a crutch that stops salespeople making the vital decision that they work by getting qualified referrals. Knowing that they may get an appointment or two from a business development manager (a cold caller) helps them avoid working out how to have the conversation with clients to refer. They are now trapped in the cycle of low income and a schedule with too many holes in it.

Incorrect Focus in the Meeting

Getting business does not guarantee a referral. Getting a qualified referral practically guarantees the business. Why is that? No client is likely to say to a salesperson, “Well, you didn’t get me, but you might get my friends,” and hand over details of three friends. When a client feels comfortable and safe enough to refer two or three friends, the business is practically assured.

Asking for a Referral

Why is this a mistake? Isn’t that what the salesperson wants? Actually, no. The salesperson wants their next client, which means business and income. The elite approach is to ask the existing client to help them take on a client. This is completely different to asking for referrals. A huge psychological difference and massive game-changer for a salesperson. Of all skills, getting the next client this way is the one skill that salespeople should master first.

Achieving the Gold Standard of Qualified Referrals

This is the game-changer for salespeople, providing they know how. Having the current client call the referral, who is expecting this call, during the meeting and handing the salesperson the phone is the gold standard. The new meeting will happen, and the business is pretty much guaranteed.


  • Brian Peters

    Brian Peters is the CEO and founder of the Ultimate Financial Consultant. He has worked with over 5,000 salespeople in over 15 countries. For more information visit www.brianpeters.coach.

Get our newsletter and digital focus reports

Stay current on learning and development trends, best practices, research, new products and technologies, case studies and much more.