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Navigating the Tricky World of Referrals: Five Important Rules


Written for The Nova Scotia Business Journal

Asking for referrals is an important part of any prospecting plan. How you ask is as important as when and who you ask. Our C.A.P.S. referral system gives salespeople both the methodology, as well as a systematic way to build business together with your present clients, prospects and acquaintances. Here are my 5 rules:

Be a referrer

To get referrals, be a person who gives referrals. We all have a tendency to want to help others, but we prefer to help those who are helpful in turn. This doesn’t mean we hold our referrals for ransom, but always offer to help others before we ask for help ourselves. When meeting a new acquaintance you might ask: Can you tell me what your perfect prospect looks like so I’ll recognize them and be able to tell you about them?

Ask the right questions

When you ask the question, ‘Do you know anyone who wants to buy …..’ the natural answer is: NO! Wrong question. You need to guide them through the specific person you’re looking for: ‘Do you ever run into business owners with this problem, this challenge, or perhaps this issue?’ Describe the symptoms of people with whom you work. This will give them a much better picture of your ideal prospect.

People protect their rolodex

There are two groups of people in a referrers’ world. First their strong ties, the people they know very well, their clients, their close friends – these referrers will vigorously protect from salespeople. Second, their weak ties; people they know, and know about, and see occasionally, but don’t feel the need to protect. Often, there are 20 times more weak ties than strong. Tap into those.

Omit ‘I, Me, My’

Many perceive salespeople to be selfish and greedy. When you start a referral request with: ‘I’m trying to build my business. I wonder if you could help me by giving me a referral’, you prove them right. Why not start with: ‘Help me understand who you’re looking for to build your business and maybe we can be of some help to each other’ – you position yourself as a partner, not a leech.

Don’t forget to ask!

When you’re cold calling, closing a deal, whenever you have the opportunity, ask. Remember 20% of people will give referrals without being asked; 20% will never give them; 60% are waiting for you to ask!

©2011 Sandler Training Inc. ( is an international sales, customer service and management training/consulting firm. For a free copy of Why Salespeople Fail and What to Do about It, call Sandler Training at 902-468-0787 or e-mail

Eric Fry

Sandler trainer