How to become a great salesperson (even if you think you already are)

Think you’re pretty good at sales?  Sure you do.  Since we’ve reached the half-way point in this calendar year, three quick questions then:

  1. How do you know you are good?  Well, I make a good living at it. I’m ranked at the top of my team/division/company in    results.  Driving a new car.  Etc. Etc. Etc.
  2. Any room for improvement? Sure there is.   Probably more than you think. But you are still feeling pretty confident that you can sell through any economic downturn, company changes, etc.
  3. Do you have a game plan to double your sales results, this year?  Double?  Seriously?

Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t have a good answer for #3 or even considered such results.  Most people don’t. A doubling of results in this economy??

So what is the magic solution, the game plan that can bring those kind of numbers in??  Ask for referrals— get every customer you have to recommend you to at least one new customer just like them. There it is.  Yes, even in the Yellow Pages business you need to ask for referrals.  Especially in the Yellow Pages world.

Let me offer some very deep, quantitative research to support this  recommendation:  I have a friend who owns an independent insurance agency.  Now Steve (as we’ll call him for this exercise), doesn’t have a clue what a Google Adword is, isn’t sure how to do email marketing, and the social networking sites?  No chance.

But he did discover that many small businesses within the same  business/industry do talk with each other, hang out together, and might even have family ties.   Two examples:

  • Dry cleaners.  Steve tells me that these business owners talk to each other every day, often play cards together, and hangout/party together.   In the Washington DC area where he is located, many of the owners are Korean and extended family.  They are all in     pursuit of that ultimate American dream and communicate amongst themselves as to how to reach that goal.  Once Steve started doing business with a couple of them, the others have followed, all through referrals.
  • Restaurants:  In what can be a brutally tough business, where any other eating establishments could be competitors, my buddy Steve found that you shouldn’t assume for a second that these business owners don’t communicate with each other more than average.  And especially in the restaurant business, many are extended family members.

How did Steve become successful in his business?? He asks each and every one of his clients for at least one recommendation of a similar business that he can talk with to  share with them the benefits and customer service his organization can provide.  It most cases, they are more than happy to provide that referral.  It also helps when you walk in on that cold call to say that Joey Donuts from over at ABC Dinner sent me.

Now please don’t be confused by the simplicity of this suggestion.  The fact
is we all know that selling isn’t the easiest thing especially in this economy.  So how about a couple of fine tuning pointers on the art of asking for referrals.  Here goes:

Timing, timing, timing:  Give your customers time before you pop the
question. Don’t ask for a referral until you’ve earned it. While it’s
acceptable to ask after a product or service has been delivered/installed and
the client has told you they are satisfied, I still think there’s a better
approach. Use the request for referral as a means of adding value to the
customer’s overall buying experience..

The worst time to ask for a referral is when you are still early in the
sales call, perhaps even doing your fact finding. If the ink isn’t even dry on a
contract yet, odds are good that they haven’t yet had the opportunity to fully form a complete opinion of you or your products. Make sure that their ad copy is correct and approved, and that the contract is complete and accurate before swooping in to ask.  Long-term success in Yellow Page sales has always been about building and maintaining relationships. Making the sale is just the beginning step in that relationship. The referral request comes latter.  But definitely plan to ask for it.

Now it’s personal:  People refer business to you not for business reasons, but for personal reasons. That is why a request for a referral from one of your clients can only come from you. The service you provide is professional, but when a customer recommends that service to someone they know, it then becomes a very personal act. It demonstrates a high level of trust that someone has in you, and that’s not to be taken lightly. Hence, it is important that any referral effort you develop is based on the idea that you value your customers as people first—not as revenue centers.

Mom always taught you to say “thank you”:  And for good reason — forgetting to say thank you is a big mistake…so big that it is in that cringe-worthy category. When you’ve earned the right ask for that referral you’ve been hoping for, and you forgo the opportunity to thank them for that gesture, you risk shutting off that referral pipeline, maybe even permanently.

Write a thank you out, don’t just email it:  When it comes to referrals, there are some situations where a formal thank you is in order. Even though we are in a high digital communication world, I’m not sure an email message is simply enough.  Sending a short thank you card is a lot more personal and sits in someone’s hand, making it memorable in a way that an email simply can never be. When that new referral buys from you, most definitely a thank-you card would be a nice touch, and one that seperates you from all of your other competitors.

If you have other guidelines/suggestions on asking for referrals, post a comment below…

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