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How to Best Utilize Your Network of Referrals

By: Jeff Hoffman

As sales reps, we’re great storytellers, listeners, and conversationalists. It’s part of the job and something we’re both naturally and trained to excel at. We’re people people! We thrive in social situations and often seek them out. We’re great listeners and even better speakers. These are qualities that make us great salespeople.

Creating and facilitating relationships help us win sales, and grow our pipeline. Networking and maintaining these relationships are vital for our success as salespeople. Here are some tips to think of when asking for referrals.

1. Frame the Moment

When you network, you want to be sure you state your intentions before you ask for something. For example, when asking for an initial meeting with your prospect, let them know what your intentions are. Say, “Are you okay if I ask you a few questions about your network and your experience with us as a vendor?” You have to ask permission for their time and their help. You can’t assume they will feel obligated to give you access to their network. However, framing the moment and setting the scene, let’s them know what to expect and puts them in the right mindset for your conversation.

2. Know Who You Want to Meet Before You Ask

You should have in your head the people you think you want to meet. The person you are networking with isn’t a mind reader and certainly doesn’t know the best contact for your purposes. They may take a while to figure out who would be best to introduce. If you spring the question on them it will catch them off-guard and could potentially delay their response as they might ask to get back to you later. Be prepared and focused with your question to increase your chance of getting the referral.

When asking for a connection, make it easy for them to reorient. For example, say something along the lines of, “I work a lot with financial institutions, which ones do you have connections with?” That way they have a clear direction and aren’t left searching their brain for someone to recommend.

3. Always Offer Something in Return.

Don’t go into a networking conversation without offering something to your prospect within your own network. Consider the time and energy they are going to spend introducing you to one of their connections. Be prepared to offer something just as valuable. It will strengthen your connection, and potentially lead the way for more networking introductions in the future.

After they have given you the referral, ask them, “How can I help you?” They might respond, “Well, I’m not in sales, so I don’t think you can help me.” You can respond with, “I know a lot of people in engineering, I see you’re hiring there and I can help you find someone.” Think outside of the box, and find a priority of theirs where you can add value.

4. Complete the Moment by Letting Them Know You are Going to Follow Up.

As any good sales rep knows, networking is not a one time occurance. We rely on continuing connections to grow our pipeline and our own network. Complete the moment by your statement of when you are going to ask them for help again. Tell them when exactly you’re going to follow up. Something like, “Thank you for referring me to some of your network. Would you be okay if I called you again in 3 months to ask you another question?”

By making an awkward moment more formal, people will let you drive and own the moment. That is to say, if something is weird (and networking is sometimes awkward,) but you can call out that weirdness, they will let you dictate just how the moment will go. Because you were courageous, bravely called out the awkwardness, and accepted it for what it is, you’re allowing the prospect to feel more comfortable about these conversations in the future. Put your prospect at ease, and take your spot in the driver’s seat.

Take these into account when networking and you will see immense returns on your requests for introductions and connections. You’ll also continue to build a strong network with the people you’re relying on. This will keep your funnel filled with rich and new opportunities for 2019.


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Hoffman is an innovator and sales visionary. They deliver an authentic experience that keeps sales people engaged.”

- Bret Wilbur, Director of Sales, TriNet

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