The Ten Commandments of Referral Generation Keeping these essentials in mind will help you generate the leads your business needs to thrive.

By Tony Parinello

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Editor's note: This article is excerpted from Stop Cold Calling Forever!from Entrepreneur Press.

Getting a referral is a quantifiable, repeatable process. Onceyou get the basic principles down, you'll be able to repeat theprocess and achieve a predictable result--get the referral andaspire to the 40-percent [contact-to-appointment ratio] level youdeserve. Once you get the basic principles down, you'll want toask for referrals. That's a promise. The following TenCommandments have served me so well over the years that I am goingto urge you to read them at least once each and every week.

1. Understand your customer on a business level first.This is the beginning point. If you don't do this, youwon't have a customer, period.

2. Understand your customer on a personal level. Whatdrives this person? Makes him or her happy? Gets him or her riledup? Makes him or her cackle with glee?

Each and every person on the face of this Earth is unique anddistinct in the sight of the Creator, but for some reason wesalespeople have a disturbing habit of treating Contact A, whofaces business problems similar to those of Contact B, as though heor she were Contact B.

Find out what special, distinctive, personal approaches yourcontact takes to business and to life in general. How does thisperson make decisions? Express opinions? Measure success? Setgoals? What hobbies, sports, and avocations make this person'slife more interesting?

The more you know, the better positioned you'll be todevelop a truly meaningful relationship with each and every one ofyour customers, and that will lead you to the pot of goldenreferrals that they have for you.

3. Understand the products, services, and solutions theysell. Understanding what your customer's organization sellsis just as important as understanding what you sell. Here are someideas on how you can make this understanding a reality:

  • Make every possible attempt to use whatever it is that yourcustomer sells.
  • Make every possible attempt to talk to a few of yourcustomer's customers.
  • Make every possible attempt to purchase one share of stock ineach of your customer's organizations.
  • Make yourself available to attend any and all of yourcustomer's meetings that involve discussions of what you'vesold.
  • Make every attempt to invite key players within your ownorganization to visit with your customers so that they, too, canget an insight into your customer's world.
  • Meet as many Decision Makers within their organization as youpossibly can.
  • Read and frequently review your customer's missionstatement.

4. Understand how to add value beyond what you sold them.This can be tricky, but it's essential. You'll have to dosome digging and become what I call a thought partner to pull thisone off. Here's how it works:

First, look beyond what you sold this customer and ask yourself:What other problems does this customer have that I may be ofassistance in solving that do not involve my products, services, orsolutions? Once you come up with an area or two, you'll have tofind other salespeople and organizations that can solve thoseneeds. To make this easier and less of a risk consider:

  • Contacting your own organization's suppliers.
  • Contacting suppliers of your other customers.
  • Joining a professional networking organization. Typically,these people and the organizations they represent are reliable,creditable, and won't disappoint you or your customer.

5. Show up for every single customer meeting on time."Tony," you ask, "isn't this one pretty obvious?Isn't it second nature not to keep a customer waiting?"Yep. It's obvious. And maybe it should be second nature. Butplenty of salespeople still let this one slide. Why? It's easyto get busy, darn busy, in this crazy business world of ours. Allthe same, there's very little that gets your customers moreirritated than having to cool their heels while they wait foryou.

So this point is worth emphasizing and re-emphasizing on a daily(or hourly) basis. Don't be late for anything that involvesyour customer. End of story.

6. Show up at every single customer meeting, prepared toaddress the topics on the agenda. If your customer expects youto be in attendance at a meeting, it behooves you to find out whatit's about ahead of time. Don't waste everyone's time,effort, and energy by staring around the table blank-eyed andrepeating the mantra of the unprepared: "Let me look into thatfor you." The more you can look into before the meeting, themore answers you'll be able to provide. The more answers youprovide, the happier your customer will be. You know where this isgoing: The happier your customers are, the more referralsyou'll get.

7. Drop in without an appointment rarely, and only when thereis something of significant value to discuss. Yes, there aresome situations where dropping in without an appointment makessense as part of your initial contact method. But we're nottalking about getting a share of the contact's attention now;we're talking about managing a relationship over the long term.That means respecting your customer's time. Never drop by for achat because you happen to be in a customer's area. Use themeans of contact for which your customer expresses a personalpreference. In other words, ask customers what touch point appealsto them. When in doubt, always set up an appointment ahead oftime.

8. Be proactive. This is a biggie. Being proactive in anyrelationship proves that you're a responsible partner.Here's how you can do it for your customers:

  • Have a physical and electronic file for each of your customers.Use a table of contents for each customer file that shows what isof interest to them.
  • As you read the local newspapers, trade rags, and/or the manye-zines that come your way, cut out anything you see that may be ofinterest to customers and paste it into their files.
  • Send it to them or deliver your "I thought you'd beinterested in this" information on a regular basis.
  • Scan your own company's new product releases and futurevisions and keep your customers informed.
  • Invite line-of-business executives from your organization tovisit with your customers, either virtually or in person.
  • Get your noncompeting customers together (here again, eithervirtually or in person) on a regular basis.

9. Follow up ahead of time. We touched on this in aprevious chapter. Live by the rule: "Underpromise andover-deliver." Don't wait until the last minute. Don'tprocrastinate. 'Nuff said.

10. Return phone calls promptly. "I can'tpossibly return all these calls by the end of the day."You're right. You probably can't. Let's face it. Atypical sales day includes more action items than you actually havetime to complete. That means you'll need to prioritize youractivities and not just "push the pile forward."

So let's get real. Some of the messages you receive fromcustomers will fall into the "call me when you can"category; others will fall into the "emergency" category.Just make sure you're not putting off returning calls in thelatter category.

I use the following categories to classify incomingmessages:

  • Urgent: Must be returned within two hours.
  • Critical: Must be returned the same working day.
  • Important: Must be returned by the next working day.
  • Casual: Should be returned as soon as a slot arises.

Customers count on you to be there to talk to when things getweird, and if you don't come through for them, they won'tcome through for you. Remember, it's their checks that keep thelights on in your office and their referrals that will get you intothe ranks of a 40 percent contact-to-appointment ratio. So adoptsome way (you can take my example above if you like), and use it.Let your customers know how it works and ask them to put theirrequest for your time and attention into the appropriatecategory.

By the way, if you're the kind of person who likes to leavepersonalized and date-stamped messages on your voice-mail system,make sure it's always up to date:

"You've reached Jill Somers' voice-mail box. Fortoday, May 14, I'll be out of the office with clients all day.Please leave a message, and I'll return your call. Thanks, andhave a great rest of the day."

Just make sure you keep it up-to-date.

Tony Parinello is the "Executive Sales" coach and has become thenation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He'salso the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of hissales training program, Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10Steps to VITO's Office.He is also host of ClubVITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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