Linda’s been working with her customer Joe for some time now. Things are going great, and Linda feels their relationship has reached the point where she can pop the Big Question:

“So, Joe … I was wondering … can you suggest anyone else who might be able to use our products and services?”

She’s right to ask for a referral, of course, because Joe’s contacts are likely to be some of the best sales leads she’ll ever get. A recent study found that referrals produce higher margins than other customers, stay longer and have a higher lifetime value (Referral Customers and Customer Value, by van den Bulte, Skier and Schmitt, Journal of Marketing).

But there’s another kind of referral that Linda didn’t ask for. Too bad – because it could be even more valuable.

The “other” referral may not be in a position to buy from Linda. In fact, he or she may not even meet Linda’s criteria as a qualified prospect. But he or she does have something very valuable: Influence. “Other referrals” are those whose opinion is respected by Linda’s buyers. They may be consultants, former colleagues, an industry guru, or simply someone who’s extraordinarily well connected. And if Linda can get them on her side, they could open doors to many, many buyers.

So the question Linda needs to find the answer to is, “Whose opinion does Joe respect?”

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