It’s an interesting situation: the ability to generate client referrals is one of the highest valued skills a professional can have…yet it’s actually hard to find client referral training.
This is partly because many professionals hope they don’t actually need the skill at all. They hope to avoid the situation entirely and hope they can just build a good business and the referrals will come. I’ve discussed that false belief before. It’s worth restating too, that hope is not a plan.
Which brings us back to the issue at hand – how do you learn client referral skills in the first place? Unfortunately it appears to be through one of two, largely ineffective methods: your manager or tacked onto a sales training course.
Option #1: Your manager provides client referral training
A lot of training participants in Clients By Referral® tell me that the only ‘training’ they have had in client referrals was when they were in a sales meeting and their manager told them to ask for more referrals from clients. They got some lecture about how client growth was important and all you needed to do was ask clients for names of family and friends…then BOOM the referrals would come.
It’s a familiar story but ‘telling ain’t training’. Too often businesses simply reiterate that client referrals are important but don’t actually outline how to get them. Managers and KPIs drive home the case for referrals, as if the only reason professionals aren’t seeking them out is that they don’t believe there are important. However, I think everyone knows that referrals are important. Every professional loves to receive a new referral and usually has first hand experience of the value of referrals. It’s not a lack of desire which is holding back success!
It’s a lack of ability. No matter how much you want something, if you just can’t see how to do it – you lack the skill, tools, process, pathway, understanding – then you usually are stuck. It’s not willingness holding you back, but ability. Managers are just preaching to the converted, without actually offering practical solutions.
Option #2: Tack on client referral training within sales training
To fill this void, in steps some sales training (or client service training) with a module on client referrals. Pick up any sales training book and there is almost always half a chapter on client referrals. It’s the same with generic sales training.
Let’s face it, sales training is a HUGE topic. There’s a ton of material to cover and devoting time to any additional topic is difficult. Hence, it’s often just a half-module at the back of the workbook which covers finding new leads and mentions referrals. The ‘training’ often comes down to ‘It’s important, so you must ask’. This brings us right back to where we started.
The bigger problem, though, is that client referrals have literally nothing to do with sales training. Referrals are marketing, not sales. They are about filling the sales funnel with new leads, not converting those leads into new clients. Referrals sits with networking, running seminars, advertising, social media and other forms of lead generation. If anything, putting something about client referrals makes a lot more sense when its part of a business development or marketing training experience.
Even then we have a problem. Unlike all other forms of marketing which speak directly to new leads, client referrals speaks to clients…who then speak to new leads on your behalf. Referrals are a unique form of marketing where a third party (your clients) filters your messages. Social media, seminars, networking, advertisements and the like allow you to speak directly to leads. Not referrals!
Client referral training needs to stand alone
Client referrals training needs…
- Focus on practical skills, not simply reinforcing existing desires.
- Sit as a business development or marketing activity, not sales training.
- Appropriate time, space and detail, not just a summary of broad concepts.
- To account for working with existing clients, not communicating directly with leads.
So the next time you are wondering why you or your team just aren’t making it happen with client referrals, consider if you are supply actual solutions to the problem or just reiterating the importance of the problem!