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The Frontline: References, Referrals, Reciprocity & Recommendations

1 Jun, 2012 By: Rob Gilbert, Sr, Industry Consultant   imageSource

In today’s business climate, demand has never been higher for companies to provide reference information to their prospects about clients that have been helped, solutions that have been provided, problems that have been solved, financial benefits that have been and are being realized, business processes that have been improved, and so on. Yet more and more often, we are gathering fewer and fewer references, case studies, quotes from happy clients, and referrals for other potential prospects that need our help. Why is that?

I mean, we are becoming more consultative in our approach to business processes and problems, we are engaging our prospects with a deeper knowledge of what their needs are and how to provide for them, (our knowledge came from somewhere, by the way) and yet are gathering less information from them about our job well done, or who else they know that we may help (referral). I think there are a couple of reasons why this is happening:

  • We need to do a better job of coaching our consultants, and “setting the expectation” for references and referrals.
  • We must keep in mind The Law of Reciprocity

reciprocalSetting the Expectation

A million years ago when I started selling, it was just common practice to expect, to ask for, and to receive referrals from your prospects, whether you actually sold them something or not. It was part of your sales strategy, your sales pitch, and became a habit. At that time, however, the sales process was more linear, and feature, advantage, and benefit based.

As selling cycles and strategies have become more complex, and companies are able to provide a wider array of solutions to problems our prospects have, our tendency has moved to latching onto a specific problem and running with it, and forsaking the rest of our own sales process that we want to advance. Sometimes we need to be reminded of some of the age old basics that will help us along the way.

Beginning with the end in mind will help us to set the expectation we want in our sales process. In today’s lingo, we might see this as pre-call planning, setting call objectives, etc. If we set up front the expectation that we are consultants, that we are here to help them solve specific business problems that will positively affect their bottom line, that our plan is to do just that, and then based on the help we provide we are going to ask for a reference or case study from them based on our assistance, (including a quote from the decision maker). By the time we have partnered with our client, they will be ready and willing to give you what you have asked for. Why wouldn’t they? Let’s face it. Doctors, lawyers, therapists, mechanics, and financial planners all work by referral. Interestingly, they are all problem solvers, they all diagnose and discover a particular problem we have and create a solution to that problem, they charge a fee for that service, and we usually can’t wait to tell someone about what one of these folks has done to help us.

As consultants, are our relationships any different with our prospects and customers? I don’t think so. Yet our natural inclination is to apologize our way into asking for a referral or a case study from a customer. As salespeople, I can see why we may feel this way. As consultants, we never should. We are making a difference in peoples’ lives and businesses every day, and they should be running toward us with a long list of everyone they know who needs help. We just need to keep in mind how reciprocity works.

The Law of Reciprocity

Think about going out to a mall or to a large shopping center. You walk up to the entrance and there in front of you is a set of double doors. Just as you are about to go in, someone beats you to the door and opens it for you! What is the first thing you do when you go inside? You walk right to the next door and open it for them, just as they did for you. Why? It’s the Law of Reciprocity.

We can’t handle being beholden to someone else, and are hard wired to reciprocate what has been done for us. One good turn deserves another. For most of us, this means it is in our nature to want to help others, especially when we have been helped. Knowing this, isn’t it incumbent on us to expect that as we “open the door” for our customers by finding solutions to their business problems, that they in turn “open the door” for us by providing us with case study material, providing references, and sharing how we have helped them with others? If we don’t, we are robbing them of the opportunity to be reciprocal toward us.

How, then, do we position ourselves to take advantage of references and referrals today? To go back to an old school philosophy, “Begin With the End in Mind.” It’s easy to do when we understand how The Law of Reciprocity works, and that people are waiting and wanting to help when they have been helped. In your sales strategy and sales process – make the end result of references and referrals a natural part of your discussions. Utilize references from other clients.

Case StudyCase studies are also very helpful.

Allude to them in your relationship building, and in your call objectives and advances as you coach your sales reps. Have the eventuality of asking for references and referrals become woven into your sales process in such a way that by the time you ask, your clients are already ahead of you with the door open, waiting to provide you with what you need; reciprocity is now in motion.

Create for your prospects the expectation that you will be able to show other companies how you have helped them, just as they are able to see in the reference material they see that you helped a former client. It is a great way to solidify a partnership, to create a symbiosis that engages a prospect early toward a common goal, and farm for future opportunities as well.

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