A lot of leaders and business people turn to technology these days as the easy fix to everything. While that is the intention of technology, we have so much dependency on it that when a certain technology fails, we blame it and don’t look at the human element that was also involved in the process. President of No More Cold Calling Joanne Black is asking people to stop and step back from technology and see that we can seal the deal by having a conversation with the client. Sending emails is the way to go in business these days, but the trend of software technology is making sales people look like they are there for making a demo. Joanne explains how referrals solve this problem for leaders and the organization.
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Want To Double Your Sales? Pick Up The Phone and Ask For A Referral with Joanne Black
My guest is Joanne Black. She is the author of Pick Up the Damn Phone! How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. She’s also the President of No More Cold Calling. Joanne, it’s so nice to talk to you.
It’s always great to talk about no more cold calling and referrals.
You were telling me that majority of salespeople have missed their quotas in the last year or two and you had some thoughts about that. How do you know a lot of salespeople have missed their quotas and what do you think that’s about?
There’s been research about it. CSO Insights is one that says only 53% of salespeople made quota in the last year, and that number has continued to decline year over year. There’s something wrong that we’re okay with that. Why is that happening? I have to ask myself that question and it’s not an easy answer. There could be lots of things going on. Part of what could be going on is its way too much dependence on technology and relying on technology. One client said to her team, “Did you ever close a deal by email?” People aren’t having conversation. Sales leaders are looking for an easy fix.“Let’s bring in that technology and everything will be fine.” It’s less risky for them. If the technology doesn’t work, they blame it on technology. They’re setting KPIs that they’ll link with behavior. It’s too much noise out there and we’re not focusing on the right behaviors that are going to get salespeople to not only meet quota but exceed quota.
That’s an interesting point about that they just buy the technology and if it doesn’t work, they can blame it on the technology. This podcast is really about just getting by on the script and really doing the things that matter. A lot of people look to technology to be the solution. In your world, teaching people about referral selling, is there a place for technology? Where does technology meet the human element of it?
I use it. It’s a tool we never used to have, but people misuse it. They hide behind what I call a technology curtain. Some sales people have said to me, “I don’t need to talk to anybody.” They’re sending emails, they’re talking on social media, they’re pitching, all the wrong things to do. With so much software technologies, all sales people want to do is show a demo. They haven’t had the conversations to customize the demo. It’s not about the demo, it’s about the problem. We’re not taking the time to figure out what the problem is. Unless we can solve a problem, our technology doesn’t matter.
It seems to me that what you’re saying is we’re heading back to the good old days where we realized that sitting down with people, talking to them, finding out what they needed and having conversations, you’ll have a client who says, “Deals are made over meals.”It sounds to me like in some ways, with all this fancy technology, we may be headed back towards good old-fashioned sales techniques of talking to people.
The pendulum has started to come back. There are lots of articles about AI, Artificial Intelligence, and it’s great but we still need people. There’s more conversation about that. Here’s the challenge. Because so much has been based on technology, are salespeople skilled in having the conversations they need to have? I’m not sure about that.
That’s the bigger issue. A lot of salespeople, unless they’re older, have lost that ability to have those consultative conversations with people. They don’t know how to think outside that box of technology or get beyond that scriptive technology. If you’re a leader or a manager and you’ve got a millennial workforce and you think that’s something that they need some skill in, what is the solution? Is it a peer training solution? Is it a KPI solution? What is the solution(s) for that?
It’s taking a step back. It’s not just like throwing spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. That doesn’t work. We need to stop and take a step back and say, “What is it we need to do to bring in more qualified leads and ensure our salespeople are calling at the right level?” That’s exactly where referrals come in. When we talk about the problem, those are key problems that sales leaders have and referral selling addresses both of those and more. Part of the challenge is the way sales organizations are organized. We have account executives, account-based sales teams, account-based sales reps who have named accounts. They’re responsible for building relationships with prospects and clients. Getting in, doing a great job, and then expanding within the enterprise. That’s the group who needs to build relationships. The challenge is that there’s another group, the SDRs and BDRs, within organizations who are transactional sellers. They’re not about building relationships. They don’t know how and that’s not their job.
Can you define those terms?
A sales development rep and a business development rep, many are chartered with responding to incoming “leads” and others are responsible for calling cold and setting appointments for their account executives. That’s their job. What happened as a result of that, in many cases, the account executives are sitting back and waiting for this group to send them qualified leads. They’re abdicating their responsibility for developing client relationships.
Can you give us your definition of referral selling?
A referral means that you receive an introduction to the person you want to meet. It’s the way we get a meeting in one call. Think about it this way, if someone you want to get in touch with and that person that individual knows and trusts introduces you, you always get the meeting. One call. It’s not through email, it’s not through social media. You’re actually having a conversation either on the phone, through video conference, or in person. That’s how you get the meeting. When you get a referral introduction, that sales process shortens because that prospecting step collapses. That’s what takes a huge amount of time. You already have the trust and the credibility with your prospect because you’ve been referred by someone that they rely on. If there’s competition, you have the inside track. There’s no cost to referrals, but the biggest thing is that your conversion rate of prospect to client soars well more than 50%. Most people tell me when they get an introduction to the person they want to meet, they close at least 70% of the time.
Referral selling has been around for a long time. The question is why is it important now and how has it changed?
It’s more important because so many people rely on technology. We’re sitting back and waiting, or we’re reaching out and we’re using technology. We’re not having conversations. We’re not asking for referrals. We don’t have a system. We don’t have a strategy in our companies to put that stake in the ground and say, “Referrals are going to be our number one outbound prospecting strategy.”I want to clarify outbound. That means we’re still active on social media. We still have our email campaigns. We still have marketing, doing nurturing. We still have our blog posts or webinars. Whatever we do stays. Instead of this hit-or-miss, taking eighteen to fifteen touches to reach someone, we have a strategy around referral selling. Number one is outbound. We’re going to measure it, we’re going to build skills for a sales team, and we’re going to ensure adoption by coaching and reinforcing the skills. That’s how change happens.
Do you think this applies to small businesses as well as larger mid-cap companies or Fortune 500 companies? Do you think for entrepreneurs and small businesses, this is as useful a strategy?
It’s useful for everyone in B2B sales, sometimes some B2C, but mainly focused on B2B.When you think about small businesses, I am one, the founders of the company have tons of relationships. We’re not leveraging them. We need to reach into our community, to our network, to our clients, to our previous clients, to where we used to work, the people we know and ask them to introduce us to the people we want to meet. Many times, this is even before we hire a salesperson. Many times, business owners don’t have a sales background. The first thing they want to do is hire a salesperson. Bad move. Very expensive. You don’t want to make that mistake. As a business owner, you have the relationships and you can start there.
For a lot of people, saying to someone, “Could you refer me to someone?” it feels uncomfortable. Even if you’ve done a great job for a client, a lot of people I know would say, “I feel like I’m imposing. I feel like I might be taking advantage. They might think that I’m being selfish.” People have a certain hesitation around that.
They do. It doesn’t matter if we’re new to sales or we’re sales veteran, it doesn’t matter our culture, it doesn’t matter whether we’re male or female, it doesn’t matter our age, it doesn’t matter anything. This is the human factor. Referral selling is the most personal kind of selling that we can do. We’re asking someone to help us out. People fear that, “What if they say no?” Or they’ll say, “I can’t ask that person. That person’s so busy,” or, “If I have to ask, it means that I’m not doing well. If I were truly successful, I wouldn’t have to ask.” All of these thoughts go through our heads. The way we get over that is by building skills, knowing how to ask, practicing, and knowing that people aren’t going to say “no” when we’ve earned the right to ask.
What does it take to earn the right to ask?
I ask people all the time, “Have you asked every single one of the people you came in contact with during the sales process for a referral?” The answer’s always no. We’re not asking them. People who are starting a business would say, “I don’t have any clients.”Here’s the distinction. You’ve had clients in the past. People refer us because it’s personal. They’re not referring our company, they refer us as individuals because they are confident that we will take care of their connection as they would. That’s why they make the introduction.
How does a company or a person, either an individual entrepreneur or a small business or a larger business, go about creating a referral marketing plan?
I’m going to shift marketing to referral selling because it is a sales plan. Marketing can definitely play a role, but it is referral selling. I use that term intentionally. The first thing you need to do is put a stake in the ground, and this is our strategy. Referrals are going to be the number one outbound way we bring in qualified prospects. The second is we need to set up metrics around referrals. Metrics can be revenue and the number of new clients, but revenue is a lagging indicator. We need to set metrics around referral activities, the number of people we’re going to ask every week, the number of referral meetings we schedule, the number of referral meetings we conduct, the number of referrals we receive, very straightforward metrics that has to be every single week. Step three is we need to integrate referrals into our sales process so that referrals become the way we work. None of us need something extra to do. Step four is building skills and referral selling because it’s a behavior change. We need to set up the KPIs to match those behaviors. Step five is implementation, and that’s where most initiatives fall down. Ensuring adoption requires reinforcement and coaching, the metrics and the KPIS, and celebrating success.
Why do you think it is that we have to ask people when if people like the work we do, don’t naturally refer clients to people all the time?
It happens from time to time. I get phone calls once in a while, but I can’t sit back and wait for them. Clients are happy to refer us, but not to their competition. We’ve worked with them and they’re on running their business. We’re not top of mind for them anymore, but they’re glad to help. We need to ask. Nobody’s a mind reader.
Have you found that there’s a way to ask that’s more effective than another?
Here’s what’s not effective. “If you know anyone who could benefit from my services, please let them know.”How many times have we heard that? The reason people say that is because they are uncomfortable. They really don’t want to ask. They say that, and they check it off their list that, “I’ve asked, and it didn’t work.” We need to be specific about who we’re asking for because when we ask for a referral, we have an opportunity to get connected to our buyers. The question is, “Who do you know I should be talking to?
I’ve worked with people that I know, I wouldn’t know who to ask them specifically. You’re saying you can do a somewhat generic ask, which is, “Who do you know you think I should be speaking to?”
That’s one way, but you can also check their LinkedIn profile, which I do all the time about looking at common connections. Sometimes there’s someone in there that you say, “I really want to talk to that person.”You can’t assume that your contact knows that individual because people accept LinkedIn invitations all the time. Many times, they’ll say, “I don’t know who that person is. I met them in passing.”You need to have the conversation with the person who’s going to introduce you to find out if they know the person. If they don’t, then have the discussion about who you want to meet, somebody like that. Talk about the business reason why you want the introduction. Many times, they’ll think of someone else. The conversation is what matters.
When you think about the way people follow this way of using technology to do sales, the people that are the most effective in referral selling, what is the one thing you see them doing that’s making the biggest difference?
They’re asking, and they have a plan. They have a written plan. They have a list of people they’re going to ask, and they’re asking every single week. It’s not we get to the end of the month, “I forgot to ask.” It becomes our sales process. We don’t think about other things.
Where do you see this whole field of sales, in general, going over the next five years?
One of two things will happen. Artificial intelligence and other technologies will totally take over what we’re doing is one thing that might happen. What I hope will happen and what people are writing about is we need to use technology to make us more efficient and more effective. Sales leaders and business owners will realize that the way they get clients are based on the relationships they have. You can’t build relationships solely on technology. You cannot automate relationships. There’s a research from Forrester. They said by 2020, 20% of the sales jobs would disappear. Way down at the bottom of that research it said that relationship sellers and consultative sellers will increase by 10%. Everybody got on the bandwagon and wrote all about these jobs disappearing. People quote research all the time and most of it is bogus because they don’t show any links. It’s things that people put on blog posts and the internet, and we try to track it. We follow the trail and there’s nothing.
Can you describe consultative selling? Consultative selling, in my mind, goes hand-in-hand with referral selling.
It does. It’s about building relationships. It’s not about, “I’m going to open my laptop and show you a demo.” It’s about having conversations about building those relationships, finding out what the problems are, not talking about what you do. It’s sitting on the same side of the table with a prospect and crafting a solution together.
What has been something that they have said no to that they were incredibly happy that they said no to, and experienced the joy of missing out on that thing? What’s something in your career that you felt some pressure to say yes to but you said no to, that you look back now and you go, “I’m so glad I said no to that particular thing or opportunity?”
I said no to cold calling a long time ago. I had a company I worked with which was interesting because it was against the way we were taught to sell. I would spend maybe ten minutes calling the VPs and ask them if they received the disc we have sent them. I spent another twenty minutes calling a friend of mine and talking to my friend. It wasn’t effective at all. I gave that up and that’s when I realized that referrals were the best business I ever had and that was going to be my focus. I will not cold call at all or any kind of cold outreach.
Do people still cold call?
All the time. The only reason they do it is because somebody is making them do it. We can see who is calling. I don’t answer my phone.90% of the time, there’s never a message that’s left. Following that then are the barrage of cold emails that start with, “I left you a voicemail.” Then the next day, “Maybe you missed this email.” Or the next day, I’ll get another email. “I’m trying one last time.” It goes on and on like that because they have to do that.
For a lot of people, even cold email outreach is effective or people wouldn’t do it. There is a huge business around sending out exploratory emails. Do you think there’s not a place for that in the mix of selling?
I send out emails to people who want to hear from me. They signed up for my monthly referral selling insights. I send a couple of emails a month. Those are the people I sent emails.
It’s people who’ve requested it of you. It’s not cold.
Some people say they’re very successful at cold calling, they’re very successful at sending an email with a catchy subject line, and they’ve researched trigger events and they’re writing about talking to the person. If people want to spend their time doing that, fine. It’s not what I choose to do and it’s not what I recommend to my clients. Why would you spend your time doing that? The research shows it takes eighteen to fifteen touches to reach someone.
As opposed to when you do a referral, it’s how many?
It’s certainly more efficient, isn’t it?
It’s more efficient. It’s more effective. It works for those of us who have accounts where we need to build relationships. It’s not going to work for a transactional seller, which are mainly inside sales.
It’s more for people that are selling business to business.
Any final thoughts on this whole topic and where it’s going?
Referral selling has become our biggest competitive differentiation. It’s because everyone relies so heavily on technology. Those of us who are getting introductions and having the conversations that count are the ones who are getting the business. Therefore, companies who adopt referral selling reach their prospects, close business faster, and the competition doesn’t even have a chance.
My guest has been Joanne Black. She is the President of No More Cold Calling and the author of Pick Up the Damn Phone! How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. What’s the best place for people to reach you if they want to find out more?
I always leave my phone number because I love to talk to people. I’m in the Pacific Time zone. I’m in San Francisco. It’s area code 415-461-8763. My email is Joanne@NoMoreColdCalling.com. My website is NoMoreColdCalling.com. I’d love for people to connect with me on LinkedIn, but please tell me you’ve listened to this podcast so we can start a conversation.
It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
Thanks so much.
About Joanne Black
No More Cold Calling’s founder, Joanne Black, began actively consulting with clients in 1996 when she developed a system based on the premise that building relationships and getting referrals generate sales faster and more cost-effectively than cold-calling.
Joanne’s sales, management and training experience spans decades and crosses multiple industries. Her hands-on and no-nonsense approach to the business of sales has made No More Cold Calling a respected and sought-after partner for clients in business-to-business sales.
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This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.
Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and in bookstores now.