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Customize Your Referral Strategies

To optimize sales, learn to tailor your networking approach to different personality types and occasions.

One of the things I often tell people is to remember what Tony Alessandro calls, the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. This rule applies to every transaction and relationship you have, including your referral source, your prospect and your customer.

To be successful, know the personality types you're dealing with and their behavioral preferences. You've got behavioral preferences of your own, of course, but since you're the person who's seeking referrals and asking for a sale, you're the one who needs to adapt. In corporate sales, teams of mixed personality types are often used for larger clients, to cover all the bases and ensure a closer match with the prospect's temperament.

If the idea of reshaping your personality sounds intimidating to you, think of yourself as being in a "partnership" with your referral source. If you and your source have different temperaments, you're more likely to succeed if the partner whose personality type more closely matches the prospect's needs takes the lead. If face-to-face selling isn't your strong point and you're better at follow-up, go to the first meeting with your referral partner, who's (hopefully) a better salesperson.

In any case, one of the best things you can do for yourself is learn about your prospect prior to the appointment. Most of this information comes from carefully listening to your referral source. If you go blindly into your first face-to-face meeting with a prospect, you may misunderstand or misconstrue the prospect's needs, responses and intentions.

There are several questions you can ask or research that will help you form a profile of your prospect:

  • Is your prospect a "family person?"
  • Does he have any hobbies? Like to travel? Is he a sports buff? A patron of the arts?
  • Is she a morning person, or is it best to close a deal with her later in the day?

The tools and strategies you use will vary over time as well. Developing your approach, growing a referral relationship and maintaining a mature business relationship requires different skill sets. This also applies to the age and maturity of your growing business as well as where you and your contacts are in the business cycle.

Even with a full book of business, expect to replace one or more obsolete, low-quality client relationships with new, higher-potential ones each year. Selecting new clients should be part of your networking strategy, and that strategy depends on the timing for yourself, your referral source and each prospect. Furthermore as you being developing a relationship with a new client, learn to adapt your style to make that person comfortable and more likely to use you again (and again).

The secret of successful referral sales is to acquire, develop and use all the tools you can. Match sales with the situation and the personality you're dealing with. In referral marketing, the tools include not only your personal and professional skills, but also the venues you use.

Referral masters will urge you to get involved in at least three different kinds of organizations. These usually include a strong-contact network such as BNI, a casual-contact network such as a chamber of commerce, and a charitable or service organization like your local Kiwanis or Rotary club. While most of your referral relationships will likely develop from your strong-contact network meetings, there are opportunities to meet wonderful sources of referrals (and revenue) at the other meetings as well. Each of these organizations will also require a slightly different skill set to harness what they have to offer.

If you're networking effectively, you'll likely use most, or all, of these tools. Don't just network with people like yourself; strive for diversity. Learn to tailor your networking approach for different occasions. Your most interesting and productive referrals can come from the most unexpected sources.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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