Best time to ask for a referral? Listen for warm words from your buyer
  • sales
  • Blog post

Best time to ask for a referral? Listen for warm words from your buyer

When’s the best time to ask your buyer for a referral? During the honeymoon phase right after you close the deal? Or a few weeks later when the customer has had a chance to see how well your product works?

The real answer is: It depends. Referrals aren’t a function of a specific mile marker in the sales process. And if you assume they are,  you may miss great opportunities to ask for referrals that can come up at any point.

A study into the habits of business-to-business buyers sheds more light on the question. Sales and marketing professors at Western Carolina University and Georgia State University surveyed 406 customers of a B2B service to see under what conditions they were most open to giving referrals.

It’s not about satisfaction

In one test the researchers asked whether the customers trusted and were satisfied with their rep. But they found general feelings of trust and satisfaction did not correlate with more referrals.

However, in another test the researchers asked customers to appraise the overall relationship using specific positive or negative words. And that’s where they found the connection. When customers rated the relationship positively – using terms like “good,” “happy,” or “excellent” – they had a strong inclination to provide referrals to the salesperson.

The researchers concluded that the best time to ask for a referral is immediately after a buyer compliments you or your product or service. As examples of such “tells,” the researchers mentioned buyer remarks like, “I really appreciate what you’ve done for me,” or, “Thanks for helping me out. Most salespeople I know aren’t as responsive as you.”

Don’t put them on the spot

So how do you go about asking for the referral?

This is important. Even if buyers are feeling all warm and fuzzy toward you, a referral request out of the blue may make them freeze and not be able to think of anybody.

To avoid putting your buyer on the spot, try one of these techniques:

  • Research your buyers’ connections ahead of time, using LinkedIn. When the perfect time for the referral request arrives, ask your buyer which of these people they might consider referring you to.
  • Check online listings like industry directories, social organizations and so forth, for possible connections, and proceed as above.
  • When the buyer expresses that key compliment, let them know you’ll ask for a referral next time you speak. This way, you capitalize right away on the buyer’s positive appraisal while allowing them to reflect and not stress out.

This blog entry is adapted from the 3 1/2-minute Rapid Learning video module “Referrals: The Golden Time to Ask May Not Be When You Think.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research study: Johnson-Busbin, J. et al. (2003) Factors associated with customer willingness to refer leads to salespeople. Journal of Business Research, 56 (2003) 257–263.

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