Why The Sales World Sucks at Earning Referral Business and How You Can Change The Game

Everyone seems to be an expert these days on getting referrals. It seems that every blog on the block right now has an article on how to ask for referrals or build a referral program.

Too bad most of them lack any actual luster.

A solid referral program is not built on a foundation of getting. It’s the reward you naturally receive for giving everything you’ve got to the business relationship you are developing with your prospect or client.

It is about interrupting the normal and traditional patterns of your buyer and creating a new experience that has a bigger picture focus.

Below, I’ll share some advanced strategies for building a referral program… how to ask for referrals… who to ask… and more. And it all starts with something I call the Referral Machine.

What Is a Referral Machine

A referral program usually refers to a system for generating quality leads from satisfied clients. Lots of businesses have this type of program. But honestly, not many are doing it well.

Which is why, in this article, I’m going to give you a better way to ask for referrals — a system I call the Referral Machine.

With this machine, you can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars of business. And you can do it while building lasting relationships with leaders in your industry.

But it’s important to understand…

This machine isn’t an automated email sequence or follow-up process. In my system, you, the rep, are the referral machine.

Sure, your company has a stake in the process. Your ability to get referrals depends largely on the products and services they offer and how well those products serve your clients.

But the real value is YOU, not some system that works behind the scenes.

Keep reading to see the entire concept fleshed out, including how to earn a referral, who the players are, and everything you need to know.

4 Ways to Successfully Win Referral Business

Build Your Referral Machine

How do you build a referral program? First things first, how does your client feel about your organization?

The strategy behind creating your Referral Machine starts with a very happy end user who doubles as your point of contact at any particular firm.

That being the case, you need to have a high-level conversation with them about your products/services and get feedback on how well they’ve been working for the client to date.

To get this kind of feedback, I like to use the 1–5 Method. This is as simple as asking:

“On a scale of 1–5, how would you rate our performance?”

Please note the most effective way to present this is on a very warm and welcoming printed marketing piece or an online survey that you can take them through one-on-one.

Something like this.

My recommendation is to find 4–5 categories that measure your client’s satisfaction — areas where, if you’re doing your job right, should give you straight-5s.

Of course, the number of categories depends on the product you sell. Think intentionally when putting this together. The purpose of this is to show full transparency and communicate to the client that you want to know if anything is wrong… because you are about to ask for a referral!!

If they give you low marks, get to work! Earn their trust by fixing any existing problems and you will earn referrals like never before.

However, if you get high marks from the client, you will have the opportunity to ask them the following question right on the spot.

“Would you be willing to refer me to other businesses in your network based on your high level of satisfaction?”

It’s pretty much a no brainer for your client to just say yes.

Your job then is to turn their verbal agreement into an ACTUAL referral. And for that, I recommend you use another printed piece you can give the client on the spot.

  • Put it on your letterhead so your contact information and brand logo are clearly visible.
  • On the top half of the page, put the numbers 1–5. For each, provide two fields labeled, “Contact Name” and “Contact Number” or “Friend’s Name” and “Friend’s Number.”
  • On the bottom of the page, put “Referral Machine” with an image that suggests the variety of rewards you will give your client for passing along a referral.

Something like this.

building referral machine rewa

This is supposed to be a fun experience for your prospect, so play around with the design of this piece. Make it interactive for your client!

Tell the client that it’s not your intention to TAKE. You are looking to REWARD them when a referral pans out.

There are a few things you can do here. Consider giving the client…

  • a referral of their own from you
  • a gift card to Starbucks to show your appreciation
  • a month of free service on the product they’re subscribed to

Get creative and keep skin in the game!

How to Get Referrals from Face to Face

Do not underestimate the power of networking groups! There are so many good ones out there.

Traditionally, at an in-person networking group, you find nothing but other sales professionals, a few small business owners (such as electrical contractors or handymen) and every MLM profession on the face of planet earth (IE: Amway, Juice Plus, etc.).

The problem here is that most of these people have the same mindset — that going to these types of events should yield them business directly with the membership. That is not the right way to approach these events!

Your goal isn’t to get business, but to find referral partners. Create an army of salespeople who help you get referrals. In return, you can get referrals for their business. Done right, they’ll leave the event excited about promoting your products to their business contacts, friends, family, and so forth.

I like using the internet to find these groups.

  • Search for “Networking Group *insert city you work in*” Click through the results that show up first on your search engine.
  • If you are a Millennial, search for “Young Professional Networking Group *insert city you work in*” and go meet some other hustlers out there trying to build their network.

Is it really that simple?

Yes! At one of these events, I met an individual who provided me with over $200,000.00 in sales revenue over the span of the 4 years we passed business back and forth.

RELATED: An Unconventional, Yet Effective Guide To Making Your Conference Visits Count

Here are some other ways to get referrals through face-to-face networking…

Invite your current customer base to these networking groups. Then introduce them to other professionals who can help them grow their business.

Or host your own networking groups. Invite all your clients and introduce them to one other. This is a powerful option that will result in long-term relationships with your clients. It will also help you get referrals that will continue to grow your business.

How to Get Referrals Through Fellowship

This approach is satisfying to the soul. It will help you take your clients, prospects, and referral partners to a whole new level alongside you.

Here’s how it works…

Clean off the deck, sweep the pool, and invite your business connections to the house to meet your family, meet your friends, and enjoy fellowship with one another. This gives you a natural and healthy way to build long-lasting relationships with your business connections.

In fellowship events like this, you can still talk business. Chat about goals, community, and accomplishments in order to get to know your clients better and to help them understand your long-term outlook.

Don’t want to invite people to your home? No problem!

Have everyone meet you at a local park or the local coffee shop. These types of venues are happy to accommodate “community events.”

Another idea is to pick a local charity and get these same groups of people together to serve. Spend time with underprivileged kids, clean the beaches, help a family in need. There are a ton of options here.

RELATED: What Happened to Relationship Selling?

This concept is all about humanizing the business relationships you are cultivating and focusing more on impact than anything else. It is about breathing life into your community, clients, and prospects alike. As a bonus, it will help you build your referral machine and give you a natural way to ask for referrals.

How to Create Inception Referrals

This is an idea that is coming out in my upcoming book, Tales of The Copier Warrior: A Sales Rebellion. The concept is this: The decision maker, C-level exec, or Owner of a firm you are serving can actually be a TERRITORY within your TERRITORY.

Leonardo Dicaprio as hell, right?!

Essentially, you don’t need to sell this individual anything, ever. You just need them to open doors for you.

I once met a decision maker who told me HE LOVED my marketing and my cold call approach — but he would never buy from me. Then, he told me he wanted to get lunch because, as he put it, “I think I can help you grow your business.”

At that point, I became extremely intrigued!

After our initial meeting, this individual had me out to all his big events, invited me to private dinners, even took me to sporting events with his friends and introduced me to some of my LARGEST sales ever.

From this point on, I actively looked for mutually beneficial referral relationships to help me with cold outreach — especially if my prospect was “all set” and did not need my products or services.

You see, the C-Level Executive at a business you are serving is most likely well connected. You can either be a vendor (and nothing more) or become a valuable member of their network.


You will always just be a vendor if you do not approach this individual from a unique perspective and work to earn trust and credibility with them.

I recommend using interrupt marketing techniques in order to get on another level with them.

Remember, most “founders” and C-Level Execs had a dream, just like you, once upon a time before they built their success. Mirror the “founder” mindset and the same behavior they used to build their business. That will help them see you as a peer.

For Inception Referrals to work, you need to tap into the unique emotional drive that propels your contact.

Whether they are your client or just a referral partner, they have an entire territory that you can tap into and gain warm introductions through.

Take your game up a notch.

RELATED: 10 Essential Characteristics of Highly Successful Salespeople

It’s Not for the Weak of Heart

To sum it all up, this is how top sales producers get referrals.

Not just any referrals. High-quality referrals that generate sales.

But these types of referrals only go to salespeople who are willing to sacrifice time and energy to cultivate a next-level relationship with the people they serve or are acquainted with in the community.

To review:

  • Create your Referral Machine (the marketing tools that will help you gain referrals and earn more respect with your clients).
  • Get out in your community and serve!
  • Build more meaningful relationships with your business contacts.
  • Find the right kind of networking events and get face to face with your community.
  • Cold call for referrals!
  • Find the territory within your territory.

This is a selfless approach where you are constantly GIVING in order to GAIN.

It is the heart of a servant leader and the attitude of someone who is not focused on instant gratification. Rather, it is the type of sales rep that one day becomes a Legend.

Dale Dupree is the Leader and Founder of The Sales Rebellion, and is often referred to as The Copier Warrior. Hailing from Orlando, FL, his sales background dates back to his childhood wandering the halls of his father’s business. He’s been a full-time sales professional for 13+ years. Today, Dale provides sales training and development that challenges the status quo through his firm, The Sales Rebellion. He is audacious with his outreach, intentional in his sales walk, and driven to create a community of sales professionals that cause undeniable curiosity and value-based synergy in their walk with prospects and clients alike.

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