Selling hasn’t changed, not in the way that really matters. Top sellers build relationships. Technology is a valuable tool, but it’s not nearly as valuable as the human beings who wield it.
We talk about relationship-building at sales conferences, and we preach about it to our teams. But when push comes to shove, most sales leaders still turn to technology for quick fixes and easy lead generation.
Take the latest hot sales trend: Account-Based Selling (ABS).
I’ve read blogs, research, and eBooks about ABS. They all tout the power of technology, when they should be touting the power of building, nurturing, and sustaining relationships.
Yes, technology is essential. It helps account-based sellers identify key drivers in their target companies, determine who to contact, find mutual connections, and even learn a bit about the challenges prospects are facing. But technology doesn’t tell account-based sellers how to minimize risk for prospects. It doesn’t tell them who the key influencers are within a company, who has the budget, how decisions are made, or any of the other “personal stuff” that really matters.
People buy from people, not from technology. More specifically, they buy from B2B sales reps who develop and foster relationships, ask probing questions, and uncover pressing needs that must be addressed. Technology won’t help salespeople conduct these conversations, but a strategic, disciplined referral program will.
Account-Based Selling Isn’t Anything New
ABS is a hot topic in sales circles. People talk about it as if it’s some recently discovered prospecting strategy. There are even new acronyms and monikers, such as “land and expand” and “seed and grow.” But they’re all just new names for what those of us who sell to named accounts have always done.
Savvy sales leaders understand that reps who sell to large enterprises must get in quickly, close deals, deliver on their promises, and expand to other divisions. Anyone who’s been around for a while understands that we must earn the right to more business. When we do a great job or solve a problem for a client, then we can ask for and receive referrals into other groups in the enterprise.
It’s much simpler to get to decision-makers with qualified referrals. Prospects will always take meetings with sales reps who’ve been referred by colleagues they know and trust. And our current clients will refer us to their counterparts in other departments.
Problem is, they probably won’t think to do so unless they’re asked.
That’s why ABS requires more than just determination and lead generation tools. It requires a referral program—a disciplined, measurable, systematic referral system.
How Referrals Power ABS
The #1 goal of account-based sellers is to get in before prospects even know they have a need. Referred salespeople get in the door early, build relationships, and get the lay of the land. They don’t just offer solutions to prospects’ unique needs; they help identify those needs. Suddenly, the chances of a competitive challenge are slim. Sure, many companies are required to send out an RFP. But referred sellers are positioned to help draft the RFP.
Think about what’s happened in the past when you responded to an RFP. Your sales and marketing teams spent hours or even days crafting a great proposal. Perhaps you made the short list, so you spent more time developing a presentation, determining who should be on the team, and flying them somewhere to present. But you still lost, because your competitor had already established a relationship with the prospect before you ever entered the picture.
That’s how people make decisions. It’s also why a referral program could be your account-based sellers’ greatest competitive differentiator.
When your ABS team asks every single client for referrals, they generate qualified sales leads faster and more consistently than with any other prospecting method.
Referrals are even more important with buyer committees that now average 6.8 members. How are you supposed to convince all those people that your solution is the best choice? By letting their trusted colleagues make the case for you.
A referral program, systematically executed, enables your sales team to:
- Build referral skills so they know how to make every sales lead count
- Convert more than 70 percent of prospects into clients
- Ace out the competition (While others are reduced to digital lead generation, your account-based sellers are getting personal introductions to decision-makers.)
Best of all, your team can get these results without ever cold calling again. And that’s good news, because today’s buyers don’t respond to cold calls, cold emails, or cold social media tactics. It takes 18 dials for cold callers to connect with buyers, according to research by TOPO, and only 23.9 percent of sales emails are opened.
Do you really want your top sellers wasting their time with such outdated and intrusive lead generation tactics?
Keep Technology in Its Place
The digital world, as great as it is, threatens our personal connections. And that’s a problem for salespeople, because the most important business buying decisions are still based on personal relationships. Customers buy from your company because they like and trust your sales reps and your organization—or because someone they like and trust has referred you.
Sure, for reps who sell commodities, enhanced technology is imperative. But account-based sellers are selling complex solutions that require an in-depth understanding of the prospect company—who all buyers are, how decisions are made, what their real business challenges are, what other solutions and vendors they’re considering.
Your sales team won’t get this intelligence with a cold outreach—even if their emails are enticing. But when they receive referral introductions, they get relevant insights right out of the gate. This is why referral selling is your team’s ticket into the C-suite.
There are hundreds of great applications that help us work more efficiently—including CRM, marketing automation, social selling tools, and more. But closing deals is still our job.