Why Your Sales Reps Can't Automate Referral Leads

Joanne Black

Everyone loves a good shortcut. We live in microwave time—tapping our fingers because 15 or 30 seconds is just too slow. While there’s much to be said for efficiency, there are no shortcuts when it comes to relationships with customers. And without strong relationships, you can forget about getting referral leads.

Top salespeople know existing clients are their best source of referrals to new clients. So they put in the time to nurture those relationships and stay in the know about what’s happening with their customers—both personally and professionally.

Clients will always take calls from these sales reps, because they provide insights and guidance. They make themselves valuable, trusted business resources. In doing so, they get bigger deals from repeat customers—and they get referral leads.

You Can’t Build Relationships on Autopilot

Customers don’t buy your technology, your service, or your products. They buy because of the impact your people have on their businesses. People do business with people, not with technology. But too many reps forget it’s the quality of relationships, and not the quantity of connections, that really count.

The problem is that our society is getting so comfortable hiding behind the technology curtain that many salespeople forget how to have real conversations. Technology dependence has begun to shift our values and our beliefs away from what really makes us human. We believe technology is a panacea. We want to automate almost everything.

Salespeople think the more we automate selling, the better, easier, and more effective their jobs will be. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Text messages with truncated words or 140-character Twitter posts are not the kind of meaningful, effective dialogue that increases sales conversions or gets referral leads.

The art of conversation is your team’s competitive advantage. Conversation is the key to problem-solving and relationship-building, which are critical in sales. These have also become unique skill sets in the digital world.

Build Relationships and Earn the Right to Ask for Referrals

Computers might be better at math, but they don’t come close to what the human brain has to offer in terms of creativity and innovation. That’s why all the sales and marketing automation tools in the world will never replace the power of a knowledgeable, experienced salesperson with a great referral network.

What seals the deal today is the same thing that sealed the deal back in the days of the three-martini lunch—having a personal connection to prospects, understanding what buyers want, and delivering results. Winning in today’s business world means leveraging technology and also learning how to keep it in its place. Don’t forget that technology is only a tool and that salespeople’s greatest sales asset is—and always will be—themselves.

Rather than giving your team lists of names to cold call, or letting them spend their days spamming people on LinkedIn, teach them how to pick up the damn phone, engage with buyers, find out what they really need, deliver it, and then ask for referrals.

5 Ways to Turn Your Sales Reps into Relationship Builders

Technology makes our lives (and work) more exciting and, in many ways, more efficient. But it can wreak havoc on our ability to have meaningful conversations and build strong relationships. Don’t let this happen to your team.

Here are five simple ways to help them nurture their networks and earn those referral leads:

1. Don’t let them eat lunch at their desks. Lunch is the perfect time for reps to meet with clients or referral sources, catch up, and find out how they can be of service. And while they’re at it, they can ask for referrals. In fact, one of my clients asks his team to schedule five lunches and four breakfasts every week.

2. Encourage them to join professional networking groups, or at the very least, to attend in-person networking functions on a regular basis.

3. Create valuable assets for them to share. Enlist help from marketing to create thought leadership content salespeople can pass along to their clients. This content shouldn’t be promotional in nature. Instead, it should share industry insights or helpful tips that engage customers.

4. Ensure they know how to use social networks. Social sites are places to begin conversations and begin relationships. They are not appropriate platforms to “sell” or pitch products. Reps must know when it’s time to take online conversations offline and make connections that count.

5. Teach them how to earn referralsDon’t just tell your reps to ask for referrals. For your team to make referrals happen, you have to show them how.

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