Of all sales opportunities, the easiest to develop and close are those that begin with a referral.

Research shows that well over half of the sales opportunities generated as the result of a referrals end in a sale.

In addition, sales generated as the result of a customer referral tend to be larger on average than sales resulting from other activities.

According to a conversation I had a while back with sales uber-guru Jeff Gitomer, there are three types of referrals:

  1. Solicited. You request and receive a referral from an existing customer.
  2. Proactive. Without being asked, an existing customer offers to help you win a new customer.
  3. Unsolicited. An entirely new prospect calls you because an existing customer, without being asked, gave you a good recommendation.

Of the three, an unsolicited referral is the most likely to result in a sale because it reflects the largest amount of trust. Your customers believe in you so much that they've, in effect, become your sales reps!

According to Gitomer, there are six steps to getting your customers to find new customer for you:

  1. Provide incredible service. Be certain that you and your company, provides the absolutely highest level of service in your industry.
  2. Be proactive about their needs. Anticipate what they're likely to want and arrange ahead of time to have it taken care of.
  3. Provide extra value. Find something that you can do for the customer that's outside of the expected products and services.
  4. Give referrals to your customers. Show your customers where they might be able to get new business.
  5. Become friends with your customers. Meet them socially, at business networking events, on the golf course, at informal lunches, or anything else that's not strictly business.
  6. Make it easy for customers to spread the word. Provide each customer with a personalized gift that will become an office conversational item.

The last step is a bit tricky because the typical "spifs" like coffee mugs and hats are neither personal nor (strictly speaking) gifts.

What's needed is a gift that matches the interests of the customers, yet reminds him and her of you and your team.

Gitomer gives the classic example of a customer who's a big baseball fan. In this case, a good reminder gift might be a baseball autographed by everyone on your team. You present the baseball to the customer, with a stand labeled "Thanks For Helping Our Team!"

Similarly, if you were trying to make it easy for ME to refer customers to you, you might send me a framed, signed photograph of my favorite author, with your business card on the back.

Of course, you'd need to know me well enough to know the name of my favorite author, but the point of the fifth step above.  It's that friendship that allow you to come up with something unique that will remain on display.