Receiving a high percentage of business from customer and prospect referrals is an enviable characteristic of exceptional sales professionals. Yes, I also included prospect referrals. It is easy to understand how salespeople will get quality referrals from satisfied customers, but let's also look at how to get referrals from satisfied prospects.

One of the most important conversations we can have is the referral conversation, but most salespeople pay little attention to it and miss valuable opportunities. If they do ask for a referral, they most often simply ask for a name. "Do you know anyone else who would be interested in our solution?" or worse, "Do you know anyone else thinking of buying one of these?".

Let's consider the exceptional approach and make sure we understand "when" to ask for the referral and "what" to ask for. The "when," in the case of a customer, is right after you've delivered your product, service, or solution and your customer has experienced the value they were expecting. At this point, your customer should be pleased in terms of value delivery awareness. The "when" for a prospect is at the point in your diagnosis when you recognize they aren't experiencing the issues your solution is designed to resolve and you've suggested that they may not require your solution.

These questions do not ask the customer to take a risk. Instead, you are asking them for a factual observation. You're not asking them to qualify and pre-sell the referral, you're simply asking if they know of someone who has the symptoms. When they provide the referral, it's our job to determine if the symptoms exist and if they require attention via our solution.

In our research, we've found the process and skills of exceptional sales professionals are quite similar to those of a doctor. Using that analogy, would you refer a friend to a doctor whom you felt did a very thorough and professional diagnosis, even if you didn't require any subsequent surgery? Perhaps. If you have been employing the diagnostic process, your customers will be more willing to share names since they aren't concerned that their colleagues will be subjected to hard sales pitches. These names will also have a much higher probability of being viable prospects.

Your customers will refer you because they received exceptional value through your solution. Your prospects will refer you because they've received exceptional value through substance and style of your communications. Both will yield exceptional referrals.