In our research, executive buyers tell us that referrals are far more effective than other approaches for gaining access to them. Yet the referral strategy is ignored in most corporate sales organizations. If you want your salespeople to have greater success accessing executive buyers, then it’s time to consider this important yet forgotten strategy.

What Is A Referral?

In his recent report, “The Lost Art Of Referrals,” my colleague Norbert Kriebel defines referrals as: 

“A message strategy to transfer the value of your offerings from an existing customer to another; the existing customer is ‘vouching’ for you.”  

This report notes and describes four basic sources of referrals:

  • From a colleague in the company.
  • From a colleague outside of the company.
  • From a subordinate.
  • From a superior.

Each of these types of referrals has different levels of effectiveness. For the report, Forrester surveyed over 400 global executive buyers and asked how often they initiate meetings after receiving these different types of referrals. The data provides strong detailed evidence for the types of referrals your sales teams should focus on, by the organizational altitude of the buyer, by business or IT role, and by country. I encourage you to read this report for more details when considering whether a referral strategy will open new windows of opportunity.

Active Referral “Marketing Is A Gate To Untapped Opportunity

A salesperson may occasionally be referred by an enthusiastic customer, but a much larger opportunity exists for those sales leaders, learning and development leaders, and salespeople who recognize and execute a referral strategy to actively engage their buyers in expanding their business. Forget about passive, word-of-mouth “advertising” or unsolicited introductions as referrals. Those are nice but not repeatable. LinkedIn and other social networks are a potential channel of communication for referrals, but the referral itself is something else entirely.

A Successful Referral Strategy Requires New Knowledge, Skills, And Discipline

A referral strategy is built on the exchange of significant trust between the professional who is being referred and the referrer, and between the referrer and the executive to whom the referral is being made. A referral strategy is active, not passive, and it requires a great deal of knowledge, skill, and discipline to execute consistently. A true referral strategy for gaining access to buyers is a structured, active, and ongoing approach to gaining introductions of a salesperson to a potential buyer.

The vast majority of professional salespeople have never been trained in what referral marketing is, nor how to effectively conduct referral marketing in their territories or accounts. They are clueless as to how to professionally develop referrals to new opportunities. This lack of training not only precludes an effective gain-access strategy, it also perpetuates sales behaviors that undermine additional customer referrals from those who give them.

What Is Your Company Doing To Gain Access Through Referrals?

The findings in “The Lost Art Of Referrals” illuminate an opportunity. I’m researching how to apply the findings to help salespeople in their selling efforts. For example, what specific training and reinforcement do salespeople require? And how do we design referral strategies and supporting resources for specific types of sellers to create greater alignment and ease of access to specific buyers?

What are your experiences with referrals in B2B sales? What success, or failures, have you observed in equipping sellers to actively employ referrals as a strategy to gain access to new opportunities? I'd like to hear from you.