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How to give and get referrals

By Troy Harrison

referralsReferrals. They’re the Holy Grail of the sales profession, and every salesperson wants them. Heck, most salespeople claim to receive quite a few. And yet, very few salespeople have a good handle on how to handle a referral so that everyone (giver, getter, referred party) gets what they want. In fact, many referrals are passed in such a way that business opportunities aren’t realized and worse, relationships are endangered. Here’s a case in point.

I received this email a week ago from a contact of mine: “Troy, I met with XXXXX XXXXXXX yesterday for the first time. Immediately I thought of connecting him with you. He’s a local guy, lots of experience, and could be valuable to the right organizations that need help getting some sales rolling fast.” Notice what ISN’T there? I know that he has “lots of experience,” but not what the experience is (is he a sales guy, an operations guy, a consultant, etc.?), and I don’t know what the agenda for a meeting would be.

A day later, I received a voice mail from XXXXX, and it said, “Hi, Troy, this is XXXXX. We were introduced in an email. I have some clients, but I’d like to have more and I thought you could send me some. Please call me back.” So now, I know that he wants some clients – apparently my clients – but I still don’t know what he does.

I responded back saying, “I received your message. To be honest, I’m unclear on what you do, which would inform me on why we should meet. From Isaac I know that you have a lot of experience (at something), and from your message I know that you want more clients. How about filling in some blanks? I don’t mean to be difficult
but these days my time is at a premium, and my meetings need to have a clear agenda, objective, and win.”

His response: “I’m open to suggestions.” This meeting won’t happen.

What has happened here is that both people made some of the biggest mistakes that can be made when referring one person to another. Salespeople need to understand that a referral is an expression of TRUST – and when trust is violated, it’s hard to get back. In addition, it’s important that everyone be on their game and be respectful of each other and the time involved.

Here’s how to handle a referral if you want to make the best impression on all involved.

Know and have trust in the person you are referring: My guess is that the person who sent me this introduction doesn’t know what the person does either – he just heard the word ‘sales’ and thought he’d send him my way. In a later discussion, I found out that he had only talked to XXXXX for about 10 minutes. That is not enough to build the trust you need.

Be clear and articulate the mutual win: The best referrals contain a ‘mutual win’ for both parties. I have a feeling that I know what the ‘win’ is for XXXXX in meeting me; he wants me to send him my clients (again, for what, I don’t know). What’s the ‘win’ for me in meeting? I don’t know. Neither person could articulate that.

Make a mutual introduction: The basis of a referral is that the giver is going to do something to help a meeting happen. There are any number of ways to do this; the highest level is to convene a three-way meeting (with the referring party present), next best is a personal phone call, and the least is an email of introduction. However, the email introduction should give context to both parties regarding what the other person does, and why this meeting should happen.

Be clear: Some people want to take a shortcut when they receive a referral and give the introduction less than a quality selling effort. Don’t be that person. Instead, give your new contact a clear and concise message about how the two of you can add value to each other.

Name drop: This is one instance in selling where name dropping helps. Go ahead and use the name of the person who introduced you, even if the introduction is fresh. People are very busy today, and the more context you can give, the better. Name dropping in this instance is neither tacky nor bad manners.

Focus on the mutual win: The best referral meetings are ones where both parties win. If you don’t have a reason that your new referred contact wins by meeting with you, then you’re just coming at them with your hand out – and nobody likes that. Even with a referral, if it looks like you’re looking for a handout, you won’t get the meeting (the person in the opening story didn’t).

Follow-up afterwards: Acknowledge the referral with a hand written thank you note. If you’re thinking that no one does that now, you’re right – but that’s what makes it such a valued gesture. Show your appreciation for one referral and you’re liable to get more.

The business review: One of the best ways to get a referral from a customer is to do a business review. This is a sales call where you review, IN VERY DETAILED FASHION, the work that you have done with that customer and the benefits that have accrued to the customer. After establishing that the customer has ‘won’ by working with you, you ask if there is anyone else they know that could benefit from your services.

When the customer says something nice: When customers thank us or compliment us on our work, there’s a tendency to just bask in the glory. Instead, thank the customer, and ask for the referral – you’ll never have a better opportunity.

Referrals are wonderful and a great way to build your business. Ask for them the right way, give them the right way, and handle them the right way, and you will get them for years to come.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and a speaker, consultant, and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, e-mail, or visit

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2015, Direct Business Media.


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