Letting Others Shine Can Get You Sky-High Referral Rate

By John Ruhlin – 

Decades ago, sales professionals hit upon a mantra to understand how to woo prospects: “What’s in it for me?” But too many salespeople today forget that this question comes from the customer’s point of view, not their own.

Want proof of this attitude reversal? Look no further than a recent DiscoverOrg study on buyer personas. The study’s eye-opening findings include the fact that only 35 percent of salespeople were rated “good” or “excellent”; by contrast, 65 percent received an “average” or “poor” label. Why? Almost half of participants said the sellers they encountered were ego-centric and money-driven rather than genuine or truly helpful.

Such a negative viewpoint only fosters a feeling of distrust for sales experts, making it tough to close deals and garner referrals. Yet in an era when consumers believe most salespeople lack compassion and courtesy, leaders who buck this trend are poised to strike gold. My team chooses to honor others before ourselves, and our referral rate is 10 times everyone else’s. Trust me, the effort is worth it.

Shining a Light On Others

I’ve always been a proponent of giving credit, not taking it; this philosophy serves me well and helps my business grow. Rather than aggressively selling, our team members are taught to shine the spotlight on other people, encouraging them to become our third-party advocates. That way, potential buyers don’t feel “sold” to — instead, they receive our products and services as if they’re coming from a friend and ally.

“Sounds great, John,” you might be saying, “but how does this work in practice?” Consider the time I met Ruby Newell-Legner, a well-connected woman who’s worked with several professional sports teams in different leagues. We spoke at the same event, and I approached her to find out how we could help her show her top five relationships a little love — no strings attached.

She accepted our offer to honor the people in her life, one of whom happened to be the CEO of the Orlando Magic. A few months after we sent the gifts, she reached out to tell us she was ecstatic about the feedback she’d received and asked what doors she could open for us. In the end, she connected us with the Magic’s CEO, and we landed our first NBA team.

Our unique selling strategy takes the focus off of a quick sale and provides a real sense of value to everyone involved. Does it take a little longer than some founders might like? Sure. But the value of our referral traffic makes the waiting worthwhile.

Sound like a plan you’d like to try with your team? Keep these guiding principles in mind:

1. Determine your currency and give it away.

What’s the thing you can do in your sleep or the product you’re best known for? That’s your currency. For instance, our currency is gifting; we can charge for it, or we can use it for pragmatic gifting. When we choose the latter, we control the messaging and simultaneously open previously locked, bolted and walled-up doors. Do the things you and your company are really good at, but leverage your success in a way that uplifts others.

MailChimp has got this down to a science by giving away its basic model for free. Unlike their competitors, MailChimp offers a basic account that is pretty substantial: You get to push out 12,000 emails monthly to a couple thousand subscribers for zero dollars. Of course, most businesses eventually want more, which is where MailChimp’s upgrades come into the picture. People are already accustomed to MailChimp as a platform, so they don’t mind paying extra because the company gave them so much for free.

2. Don’t focus on a speedy sale.

You can’t receive if you don’t give first. Remind yourself of that every time you try to sprint toward a quick “yes.” Even if you get someone to sign a contract or make a purchase, that win doesn’t mean as much as one where you’ve built trust along the way. You have to be in it for the long haul, a mindset Gary Vaynerchuk espouses. Look at the way we worked with Ruby; if we hadn’t comped those gifts for her, we might not have made that critical connection with the Magic’s CEO.

Giving at the beginning of a business partnership boosts the value of your currency and creates an emotional link that encourages positive word of mouth. Word-of-mouth marketing is hard to get, but brands that foster a strong emotional connection between themselves and customers tend to receive three times more than brands that don’t, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science.

3. Appreciate the little guys.

Even the biggest brands in the world started out as the “little guys” in their industries, and some of our biggest referral partners have been smaller companies. A company’s size has nothing to do with its influence. Never underestimate how lucrative it can be to honor smaller businesses by making them look like the hero — it’s possible someone at the company could have valuable connections to pass along to you.

My company often provides free services to smaller companies. Sure, we could charge them, but it would likely be a major expense. By offering to help them for free, we build goodwill and a team of advocates. Plus, a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that customers who were given a product were 20 percent more apt to talk it up. Just because these companies’ operations aren’t big doesn’t mean their people aren’t ballers. Offer up your value to the littler guys and watch your word-of-mouth marketing explode.

If you’ve been trapped by the reversed “What’s in it for me?” attitude, you probably aren’t seeing much sales growth. Stop focusing inward, and start taking in your surroundings. Build up those around you, and you’ll likely see your sales and referrals skyrocket.

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and bestselling author of “Giftology.” More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver’s Edge.