TALKING SALES 176: "Implementing Referral Selling for competitive advantage"

John Smibert

"Effective referral programs require skill and behavioural change" - Interview by John Smibert.

In my last discussion with Joanne Black, titled "The secret to achieving a one call meeting" , she demonstrated that the easiest and most effective way to generate a quality sales pipeline is by obtaining referrals.  Yet I was astounded when she pointed out that only 5% of organisations and their salespeople adequately focus on acquiring referrals.

Joanne Black-------------------------------------------

Why do 95% of sellers not effectively deploy the easiest and most productive way of generating quality prospects?


I asked Joanne back into the studio to answer this question and to provide advice as to how to implement better referral programs.

Her answer was simple, yet her solution requires focused and strategic attention.

She emphasised that it was not as easy as telling your salespeople to get referrals.  It requires a systematic change in behaviour plus an uplift in skills. According to Joanne referral selling needs to be your singular priority for outbound prospecting. It requires a focused change program with measured activity and outcomes.

Joanne went on to talk about how this can be achieved.  The are some great take home messages in this that can lead to a significant boost in your sales. Watch or read the interview below to get insight into how to implement a effective referral selling program.

This is one in a series of interviews with Joanne where we will learn more on how to generate referrals more effectively - stay tuned.


Joanne Black, sales author and keynote speaker, is America's leading authority on referral selling. See Joanne's Website and Twitter account.


John: Welcome back Strategic Selling Group and all my other followers out there, glad to have you back and I'm delighted again to have Joanne Black with me - welcome, Joanne!

Joanne: Thank you, John!

John: Hey, we had a great discussion to introduce the subject of referral selling last time, and this time I'd like to ask you how you go about implementing it. Because I guess we're talking to both sales leaders, sales managers out there as well as salespeople, but it's not just individual salespeople that can implement it, organisations should be thinking about this. How do we go about implementing it?

Joanne: I say it's simple, it's not easy, otherwise everybody would be doing it and we wouldn't have the competitive differentiation we have. One of my colleagues said to me, "Joanne, I just go tell my salespeople to ask for a referral," [laughter] and I say, "How is that working for you?" and there's dead silence, so like most things it is a process. Number one, it needs to be a priority, and that word is singular. That means it's our number one outbound prospecting strategy, it's a strategic initiative by the organisation, they put this stake in the ground and say, "This is the way our outbound prospecting is going to work."

Referral 01 - easy hardJohn: In your experience, what percentage of organisations actually have a system in place for driving referral selling?

Joanne: Less than 5%, less than 5%.

John: So this is a big opportunity for those organisations to get it right.

Joanne: It is, it's a huge opportunity. So priority is the first thing. Second, referrals need to be part of our sales process, which means that we can ask for referrals any time during our sales process, when we've made a connection, we've delivered value, someone said, "Thank you." Referral selling becomes the way we work; it's not something outside of the process, we don't need something extra to do.

John: You make a really good point, really good point.

Joanne: Yes, and the third is metrics.

John: Yes.

Joanne: We must have both activity metrics and results metrics.

John: Because if we don't measure something we won't get the results.

Joanne: We won't, but a lot of people just focus on the result, "I want you to get x number of new clients, we're opening a new vertical," or whatever it is. Well, that's great, but unless we focus on what are the referral activities we need to do to get there, that won't happen.

John: The old leading and lagging indicators that we need to make sure we understand and that will drive the behaviour.

Joanne: Yes, and some of those metrics are "How many people am I going to ask every single week?" It's not something we get to the end of the month and we say, "Oh, I haven't asked?" it's every week who am I going to ask, and as sales leaders we need to be asking our sales teams who they're going to ask. We're taking names, John, we're taking names.

Referral 02 - quality quantity 700x400John: I had a discussion with you offline here, that this applies to if you're selling to small business or you're selling to big business. You might have one account, and I know people that sell into one account and that's their whole territory. Well, they need referrals in that account too, so the same system applies.

Joanne: Absolutely, internally as well as externally it applies. Because when we get that introduction, we talked a little bit about what happens, that you have this personal relationship and you hear things and you differentiate from the competition. But the metrics are around how many people am I going to ask each week, how many referral meetings and I going to schedule, how many am I going to conduct, and then what is the business that's closed. There's many metrics we can have, but I believe in simple, so what are the key things we need to measure.

John: And focus on the activity rather than the outcomes.

Joanne: Both. But if we just focus on the outcomes, it's just up for grabs.

John: I understand. You've got more?

Joanne: Oh yes, there's two more. One is referral selling is a skill, it's a behaviour change and a lot of people don't understand that, it's definitely a behaviour change.

John: So all of us need to be trained in how to do the referral selling.

Joanne: That's correct. And like any behaviour change, unless it's reinforced, coached and implemented, don't even start, because it won't happen. 

John: So coaching and reinforcement needs to become part of that culture in an organisation.

Joanne: Yes, and the culture for each of us who sell, it needs to be our belief and the way we work, it's our individual culture.

John: And individually we can go through exactly what you went through, that we need to set our own metrics and so on. So it's not just for the organisation, it's individually we can get our mind around this and do it, even if their organisation is not doing it.

Joanne: That's a little tougher if the organisation isn't doing that. I've been asked that question, "What happens if I'm expected to cold call?" so my recommendation is you probably need to do that, but then you always have some time when you can be building those relationships.

John: I would imagine though if you've built a great pipeline with your referral selling, then the pressure is off you to do the cold calling anyway.

Joanne: No question about that.

young business man leader screaming of joy in front of his successful team

John: So, the bottom line I'm getting here is it needs to be systemised, it needs to be built in as a whole methodology, and apply a methodology to the process, including your metrics, including the coaching and the whole box and dice, and make sure it's a priority thing in the organisation, otherwise you're not going to get the results you're looking for.

Joanne: Exactly.

John: And if you do that, you're going to build a quality pipeline and be well ahead of 95% of your competitors out there.

Joanne: Absolutely - we need to make it the way we work.

John: Thanks, Joanne, that's great advice, I hope you've got lots of value out of that and more to come from Joanne - really appreciate spending this time with you!

Joanne: It's terrific, John!


If you like what Joanne Black has to say contact her via her website -  or via her LinkedIn profile ***


See my previous discussion with Joanne Black: "The secret to achieving a one call meeting"



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