How to Ask for a Referral

While testimonials are static statements for a job well done, a referral is an introduction to another potential client or customer. One person says to another, “You should really talk to Tom. He did terrific work on our project, and he might be able to help you.”

The next best thing to someone witnessing your outstanding performance is a trusted colleague telling someone else about that outstanding performance. Call them referrals, call them introductions, call them networking opportunities. Whatever. Just take advantage of them.

Referrals will help your persuasion efforts because they provide a “warm” contact in your target. You’re a friend-of-a-friend, a welcome visitor, a known entity. This offers instant credibility and removes the time and effort required to “prove” yourself and your credentials or ideas. Your target is immediately and seamlessly involved.

Referral Reluctance

Yet, like testimonials, many people don’t leverage referrals. I call it “referral reluctance.”

They don’t want to imperil a new relationship and are more concerned with being liked than being respected, with gaining affiliation instead of gaining an objective.

They also don’t want to sound like a sales-person. They feel, inexplicably, that they are asking for something instead of contributing something, trying to take instead of give. Sometimes, people feel as though they will put the other person in an awkward position. In those cases, their sympathy outweighs their empathy.

Referral Deferral

On the other hand, there also exists a phenomenon called “referral deferral,” whereby your persuaded target doesn’t want to sound as though he is pushing your business toward others. In some cases, that target might have been “burned” before when making what turned out to be a bad referral to a friend. Or perhaps, people don’t like when they are put in a similar position.

Other possible reasons for referral deferral include not wanting others to think they are part of a manipulative action, don’t know what to say, have a lack of trust or simply possess an innate cynicism that precludes them from reaching out to colleagues and peers.

Ask for the Referral

You can help overcome referral reluctance and referral deferral by establishing a good rapport early on. Securing referrals and introductions shouldn’t be an ambush. If you’re working with someone on a project and think you’d like to leverage that person for future referrals and introductions, simply say something like, “My objective is to make you so deliriously happy that you’ll want to tell others about our great work.”

This will make you memorable, because a lot of people don’t make such bold statements too often. “Deliriously happy” is compelling language, like Babe Ruth calling his shot.

I like to end these kind of conversations with a quick confirming question: “Fair enough?” “Sound good?” Now, your target has gone on record and will be more inclined to follow through on that referral, because he promised he would.

Timing, in business and just about anything else, is everything. Some moments are better than others when asking for a referral. You don’t want to ask too early in the project, because you may not have delivered or begun to show results yet. That would be like proposing marriage on a blind date. You also don’t want to wait too long, because, no matter how well you’ve performed on an assignment, enthusiasm cools and memory fades.

The two best times?

  1. During your project when your target has made a significant positive comment, such as “Working with you is so easy!” Now, that is an opportune time, because I have never seen a project go completely smoothly all the time. There always seems to be a midcourse correction required or a misunderstanding or argument at some point during the process. So take advantage of propitious moments when you can.
  2. When your target has indicated excitement and you sense you can capitalize on it. This might be during your project wrap-up, while reviewing positive results or when you hear such trigger terms as “excellent,” “pleased” “satisfied” “terrific” and the ever-popular “awesome” and “amazing.”

Again, as with testimonials, asking for referrals requires charm and savvy: “We’re thrilled you’re so pleased with the way things went. Remember, our goal was to make you deliriously happy. Who else in the organization could you recommend who might benefit from working with us?”

Here is where terms like “recommend,” “suggest” and “advise” really pay off.

Maintain the Referral Relationship

After receiving a referral, don’t overlook the importance of following up with the referring party. Always keep that person in the loop. That way, he or she can help if the third party isn’t immediately responsive. The referrer also will be motivated to provide you with more contacts and support. After all, the referring party will score some points with their sources, too.

How to Respond to All Those ‘Can We’ Questions

Often buyers (and other persuasion targets) will ask if they can do something out of the ordinary, some sort of customization to the sale. In the motorcycle business, one common question customers ask is, “Can we …”

Can we make it louder?
Can we make it faster?
Can we make it lower?
Can we make it shinier?
Can we make it …

Sometimes a buyers even asks all of those questions.

In other jobs, you might hear things like this:

Can we create our own color schemes?
Can we set our own fee thresholds?
Can we accelerate the timeline?
Can we not and say we did?
(I’m kidding.)

Far too often in the act of persuasion, people get side-tracked on some customizing-research adventure before they’ve even closed in on the primary decision: Are we going to work together? Do we have a project? Do we have a deal?

If you allow your target to derail that primary decision, you will end up increasing the amount of effort expended and in all likelihood reduce the possibility of actually reaching a worthwhile decision.

When your target asks one of those “can we” questions, be ready with an effective and compelling response. As long as you believe the request is within the scope of possibility, one of my favorites responses goes like this:

If you can devise it, we can do it. We believe we have the best talent and most capable resources in the businessWe can make just about anything a reality. Here’s what I suggest we do.

First, let’s pick the approach that’s right for you. Then once we get the basic agreement worked out, I’ll introduce you to our people and we’ll get busy.

Now, tell me more about …

Note that this reply assures the buyer you will be able to help, and that you’ve got the staff and resources to do so. Then, a transition statement takes you back to the primary decision that needs to be made.

This response helps you stay in control and not get sidetracked by all sorts of questions about customization.

What Do Playing Basketball and Persuading Others Have in Common?

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins this week. Teams play all season for the opportunity to compete in what is arguably sport’s most exciting event, and the ones that are “hot,” or “in the zone,” or “firing on all cylinders” usually perform the best.

Claremont Graduate University’s Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent- -HYE-ee) calls this progression the “state of flow.”

In his groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi described “flow” as “the process of total involvement with life.” Later, in a 1996 interview with Wired magazine, he defined “flow” as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Unwittingly, Csikszentmihalyi also was describing peak performance, which occurs when you perform almost effortlessly at an incredibly high ability in challenging situations. Like the athlete who makes the winning free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining, the salesperson who performs gracefully and comfortably in challenging and complex selling situations, or the marketing manager who convinces a roomful of opinionated people that his way is best.

Think about it.

How To (Successfully) Sell an Idea

Selling an idea is a lot like making a persuasive presentation; the biggest difference is that ideas lack tangibility. You’re not soliciting donations, rallying for a raise or convincing an on-the-fence customer to choose between a Kia and a BMW. Rather, you’re making something concrete out of the abstract, which means you must instantiate to captivate.

This requires some creativity on the part of both persuader and target, so provide vivid mental imagery via storytelling to help a client, customer or colleague “see” your idea. Try these:

  • “Imagine the look on your client’s face when you tell him you can help his company double revenue and decrease expenses in 12 months.”
  • “What if I said I can help you overcome your fear of public speaking by the time you give your next presentation?”
  • “If you take the time to read this book and develop a persuasion priority, you’ll be hearing people say ‘yes’ more often than you ever thought possible.”

To help your target better “see” your ideas, it might be helpful to use images such as photographs or illustrations, double-axis charts and Venn diagrams. These can further solidify your pitched idea in the mind’s eye of your target.

Now, go persuade somebody.