Talking to salespeople about referrals is an interesting exercise! We all know and understand the value of referrals. We have all received the unexpected referral from a customer we couldn’t really remember. We also know (or know of) that sales professional whose entire practice is referral based.

How is it that the retail sales referral is a regular occurrence for some and as elusive as a rainbow colored unicorn for others? As it turns out, there is a simple explanation for this phenomenon: Process


Those retail sales professionals who have a process for getting referrals are wildly more successful than those who don’t. The process can be Rube Goldberg level in complexity or painfully simple (keep reading for my simple version!) . Either way, it is always much more effective to ask for a referral than to hope for one!

The goal of getting more referrals on a more consistent basis can be easily reached by doing these things at every opportunity:

  • Commit to getting one referral each day
  • Practice asking for the referral
  • Ask for a referral after each sale
  • Follow up on both referrals and referrers

Make the Commitment

Quantifying the dollar value of your lost referral business is tricky. When I work with clients I use this simple rule: take your current average ticket and multiply it by 100. This quick and dirty estimate will show you the dollar value of a year’s worth of referrals with just two referrals per week.

I am working with a furniture sales consultant who’s average ticket is $1,478. The quick math showed his lack of commitment could have easily cost him $147,800 in sales volume. This is nearly $10,000 in commissions before incentives, contests and spiffs!

Needless to say, in 2018 he is recommitted to getting referrals…

Practice Your Ask

We know the people who do TED talks practice relentlessly to be able to execute their presentations flawlessly. Fans get to Yankee Stadium at 4:30 in the afternoon to watch the best hitters in the game take batting practice. HBO’s “Hard Knocks” is in its 16th season of, for all intents and purposes, showing NFL players practice! Allen Iverson notwithstanding, the best of the best recognize the importance of practice.


Practice is embarrassing. It exposes our vulnerabilities. However, there is nothing that will get you closer to that “free” money than practicing and fine tuning your referral ask!

Ask Every Time

Rejection is every human being’s kryptonite. Sales professionals are no exceptions to this rule! (For more about rejection, read The Power Of The Word “No”) One of the real challenges to asking for referrals is exposing yourself to rejection while you are basking in the glow of acceptance!

The sales process is filled with opportunities for the client to say “No”. The majority of sales people view asking for a referral as giving the customer another chance to shoot them down. However, a creative application of Newton’s First Law of Motion puts the referral request in a special place. Once the client says “yes”, they will continue saying “yes” to the right questions!

Newton’s First Law implies that a customer saying “yes” will continue saying “yes” unless acted upon by an external force.

Follow Up Relentlessly

The key to the successful referral is to ask the right question at the right time. For your particular retail environment, the right time is that particular moment during or after the payment and before “goodbye”. The pressure of the sale is over and the customer no longer views you as an adversary. Depending on the length and intensity of the sale, you may even be viewed as a friend!

The right question is much softer than you may believe: “Most of my clients are friends and family of happy customers like you! Can I call you in a few days to get the name and email address of a friend or two who may need ________ in the next few months?”

This will get you a “Yes” every time and it may yield a name or two on the spot! The reward rests in your diligent use of your CRM to follow up with each of your asks with a specific, consistent system.


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