Joanne Black’s mantra is “never cold call, not by phone or email”. Never is a big word but Joanne is convincing. She has been coaching sales leaders and salespeople on referral selling for two decades.
We all know technology has given us incredible access to information about clients, their backgrounds, even their interests before we ever talk to them through social media and sales intelligence. But Joanne didn’t focus on the pluses. Instead she addressed the big downside: what she sees as the dependence of salespeople, frequently inside salespeople, on technology. Her concern is salespeople who stay on-line don’t talk to anyone. She feels there is a sense of entitlement in which salespeople wait for leads to come to them yet complain that the leads aren’t good.
Joanne is on the frontline every day and feels that many new salespeople are hiding behind the curtain of technology. She did acknowledge that experienced salespeople are having conversations. She focused on the shift to inside sales and the practice of organizations to recruit people right out of college or with little sales experience. Because they lack the skills and experience to have in-depth conversations they turn to technology. In doing so they miss out on connecting with their prospects and customers. They overlook how to leverage their connections.
For example, many salespeople are doing research and data gathering on their prospects, using tools such as LinkedIn (clearly an essential tool for selling), Twitter, InsideView and marketing tools, but then send cold emails based on what often is relevant data. On the surface this may sound fine but Joanne points out that for solution and more complex sales, conversion rates with this strategy are dismal. Too many salespeople spend their days doing research and sending streams of cold emails often followed by cold voice-mails. It’s pretty clear this is not the best way to spend a day. What is the smarter way?
The smarter way is to execute a referral strategy. To successfully prospect, Joanne advocates Referral Selling, the process of leveraging connections to get an introduction. The key is that the person you are calling expects your call. Referral Selling is not getting a name and a number. But the thaw is removed by the referral, so that the conversation starts at a different place with greater credibility. Sales cycles are shorter and the conversion rate, when the introduction is to a qualified prospect, is conservatively 50%.
To begin to experience the benefits of Referral Selling:
- Start by doing research on your top 10 names in your territory using social media and sales intelligence such InsideView and then LinkedIn
- Have a conversation with your referral source. Call or email him or her to request a conversation. This conversation is critical because referrals are The conversation helps you understand the level of connection, it gives you the opportunity to connect or reconnect, and it allows you to give your business reason for wanting the referral so your contact knows his or her colleague will benefit from the connection.
- Always ask your referral source for an introduction so the person knows you will be calling. This process in itself will make you more credible, change the entire tone of the conversation, and help you improve your conversion rate.
- Reach out to people in your own company. Don’t rely only on Linked-in.
- Seek off line referrals. Expand connections in person by attending events, going where you clients and prospects go
- Ask for referrals from your current clients when you have done good work for them. Start with them and help them know the kind of referral you are looking for
- Make it reciprocal – ask “How can we get together and help each other?”
Certainly an introduction makes for more successful prospecting. I asked Joanne what ideas she could share for reversed introductions which we are seeing in which more and more clients are finding and narrowing down the providers they will talk vs. salespeople identifying and contacting them. Joanne’s stake in the ground is that it is the role of the salespeople to generate their own leads. Does that mean marketing does not have a role? Not at all. Joanne recognizes the role of marketing. Her view can seem to fly in the face of some current thinking but in fact it supports it.