Editor's note: The article below is based on material from Dr. Misner's recently released New York Times bestselling book Truth or Delusion? Busting Networking's Biggest Myths .
Truth or delusion? If you're getting all the referrals you need, you don't need to sell.
Delusion. Anybody who's experienced and successful in referral marketing will tell you that sales skills are absolutely essential. And they're needed in every part of the process--not just in closing the sale with the prospect.
First, you have to sell yourself to your potential referral source--she has to buy the concept that there's value in introducing you to someone she knows. A referral is not a guaranteed sale; it's the opportunity to do business with someone to whom you've been recommended. You still have to close the deal.
You have to make it clear that you know how to sell, that you can and will provide the products or services you're expected to provide, and that your customer will be happy with both the process and the result--which will reflect favorably on the provider of the referral. If you can't make that first "sale," your potential referral source won't become your referral provider, because she won't be inclined to risk her relationship with the prospect. That is, she won't do her part to sell the referral. Two separate studies, the one I conducted in the early '90s and another one conducted in Florida in 2006, found that approximately 34 percent of all business referrals turn into sales.
This is an outstanding number, but it's still not 100 percent. Therefore, sales skills are still important in networking. Having the knowledge and skill to generate the referral, then having the knowledge and skill to close the sale, gives you the one-two punch.
Beyond selling yourself to the referral source, you have to sell yourself to the prospect to get that first appointment. Yes, the referral helps a great deal, but you've still got to convince the prospect that the appointment is worth his time and likely to result in a favorable outcome. You should avoid being aggressive, indecisive or evasive at this point; the prospect, having been in contact with your referral provider, is expecting a high level of respect and professionalism in your approach. You can and should be confident that a mutually beneficial deal is in the works, and you should communicate this to the prospect by your attitude and actions. Strive not to embarrass your referral source.
Then, once you've made the appointment, you have to persuade the prospect to buy your product or service. This is the part that usually comes to mind when you hear the word "sale."
Your integrity is paramount at this stage. The prospect should know exactly what to expect--no hidden charges, no unexpected exceptions, no bait-and-switch.
Even if you've created a highly efficient system of generating referrals for your business and you see a steady stream of referrals being funneled to you, there's no guarantee you'll be capable of closing any of them.
Note, however, that in referral marketing, closing the deal with your prospect is neither the beginning nor the end of the selling process. To get to this point, you'll have made at least two other "sales," as noted above. And in order to build and maintain the long-term relationships that characterize referral marketing, you have to follow up with both your new customer and your referral provider--again, part of the total sales process.
Remember, the number-one rule in referral marketing is to make your referral provider look good. You need to demonstrate that you know how to sell to the prospect in a way that doesn't embarrass the source of your referral--that you're going to consult with the prospect, discover his needs, offer solutions based on those needs, give him some options and not force a sale if you know you can't provide a good solution.
On the other hand, if your technique is to hold the prospect hostage at his kitchen table until he breaks down and buys, your referral source won't be pleased that you've abused your relationship with her and damaged her relationship with the prospect. You may get the deal, but you've shut yourself off from further deals with that client--and with any future referrals from your source.
The bottom line about sales in referral marketing is this: If you're not comfortable with sales, or if you haven't been professionally trained, sales training is an investment worth your while. It'll serve you well in every aspect of relationship marketing and referral networking.