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When to Ask for Customer Referrals

Gray MacKenzie
Gray MacKenzie is a true operations nerd who has spent the past decade helping hundreds of agencies build more productive, profitable, and healthy teams by solving the core issues plaguing their project management.

To chat with Gray and have ZenPilot lead your team through the last project management implementation you'll ever need, schedule a quick call here.

Referrals are one of the most underutilized sales tools I have ever seen.

So many agencies bust their butts to create awesome results for clients, and then never ask that client for a referral.

Why do we do that?

Likely it’s a combination of a few things. A lack of a process that ensures someone is responsible for asking for the referral. Fear of what the client will say. Laziness and lack of ownership.

If you are not asking every client for referrals at your agency you first need to pinpoint why that is, then you need to create a plan to start asking.

Types of Leads

There are is an order to the type of leads any salesperson would like to work with. It goes like this.

Cold lead < Warm lead < Inbound lead < Referral lead

Let’s break down what each of these types of leads are a reference.

Cold lead — A complete stranger. Someone who fits your ideal client persona but you have no previous contact or known shared contacts.

Warm lead — Someone who has been passed along your information by another internal team member. This is a common tactic made popular by Aaron Ross and his book Predictable Revenue.

Inbound lead — A prospect has actively taken action on your website and downloaded a piece of your content. Given that you are likely someone who works at an agency, I will leave it at that.

Referral lead — A lead who has been personally recommended to you and personally introduced to you by a current or previous client.

So what makes a warm lead better than a cold lead, or a referral lead better than an inbound lead?

One word: TRUST

Trust is the single most important and hardest to create an asset you have during the sales process.

The Power of Referrals

Each of these types of leads is beginning to talk with you with a certain perception of how much they can trust what you are saying.

Naturally, a cold lead who has never heard of you is going to have the smallest amount of trust. A warm lead has at least been passed along your information by a colleague, so depending on which colleague it was you have some trust there. An inbound lead has come to your website announcing a specific pain point and as long as you have made some kick-butt content then they have already begun to identify you as a thought leader.

This brings us to the referral lead. You are recommended by someone you have personally helped find success, to their friend who has a similar need. How many times have you looked to your friends for advice on which product to buy and then taken their recommendation?

The single largest differentiator between lead types is the level of trust they have in you.

How to Ask for Referrals

Have a designated process for your agency.

For us, it is the 6-month mark. The salesperson who closed the deal will set up a phone call with the client. The purpose of the call is twofold, and let your client know that upfront.

First, we want to check in and make sure that they are satisfied. Pretty tough to ask for a referral if you are unsure how happy they are with how things are going. It is good to have the salesperson ask questions about satisfaction because it is a different person than the project manager who the client is talking with more regularly.

The second part of the phone call is a chat about referrals. We ask them to think ahead of the call and brainstorm a few names they would be willing to introduce us to. On the call, we discuss the names and companies, and then the ones we feel are a good fit we make a plan to specify how they are going to connect us.

Email works, phone calls are best.

In the end, we always ask them to write us a testimonial as well. That way even if nothing pans out from a referral, you can highlight the success you have given them at strategic points on your website.

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