An ideal time to ask for a referral
  • sales
  • Blog post

An ideal time to ask for a referral

Your customer has just paid you a compliment. And not just about your product or service. She’s given you positive feedback on the relationship. “I always know I can count on you,” she says. “You’re not like those other salespeople.”

What’s your reaction? Most salespeople, being human, would bask in the praise. They’d thank the customer. They’d spend the rest of the day feeling good about themselves.

What they probably wouldn’t do is try and do some business. And rightly so, to some extent. If you try to sell the customer something in that moment, it could come across as crass and manipulative, and cause harm to the relationship itself.

But what won’t harm the relationship, research suggests, is if you ask for something else: a referral.

What the research found

Professors of sales and marketing at Western Carolina and Georgia State universities surveyed more than 400 customers of a B2B service. They asked questions about such factors as satisfaction with the salesperson, trust in the salesperson, potential conflict with the salesperson, and positive appraisal of the overall relationship.

These same customers were also asked about their willingness to provide sales referrals to their salesperson.

Then the researchers ran a correlation check among the various answers, and found customers who expressed a positive appraisal of the overall relationship also felt good about providing a referral to the salesperson.

Go ahead and ask

So any fears about asking for a referral in these circumstances appear to be unfounded. When customers feel good about the sales relationship, they want to share the good news. It’s a triple win for them: They want to do something good for you. They want to help their colleagues and contacts enjoy the same benefits they’re getting. And they want people to know that they’ve chosen a vendor wisely.

Which means that one of the best times to ask for a referral is when the customer has a positive overall appraisal of the relationship, and signal it with a compliment. As examples of positive relationship appraisal cues, the researchers cited customer remarks like these: ‘‘I really appreciate what you’ve done for me,’’ or ‘‘Thanks for helping me out,” or “Most salespeople I know aren’t as responsive as you.’’

So when your customer gives you positive feedback, go ahead and enjoy it. You worked hard to earn it. But don’t leave it at that. Initiate a conversation to explore who they know who might benefit from what you provide.

Source: Johnson, J. T., Barksdale Jr, H. C., & Boles, J. S. (2003). Factors associated with customer willingness to refer leads to salespeople. Journal of Business Research56(4), 257-263.


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