How do you tell one internet security company from another? One IT provider from another? One marketing resource, one insurance broker, one attorney, one banker, one consultant? Often you can’t tell them apart, because they have similar offerings and the same party line about what they do. There’s nothing unique and certainly no reason to spend time hearing their pitches.
That wouldn’t matter if sales reps were meeting or exceeding quota, if their pipelines were qualified and their projections accurate, and if they had only committed and loyal clients. But that’s not happening. Instead, their forecasts are “smoke and mirrors,” and sales leaders continue to complain.
After five straight years of decline, quota attainment has rebounded slightly over the past couple years — from a record low (53%) in 2017, to 56.9 percent in 2019, according to CSO Insights’ 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study. But the report summary—entitled “All That Glitters Is Not Gold”—points out: “At the same time that revenue-oriented metrics are going up, win rates, seller retention, effectiveness and depth of customer relationship are all flat or down.”
That’s pitiful. Despite the fact that most companies have marketing automation solutions, targeted outreach by SDRs, and intense social media strategies, B2B salespeople are still struggling to win and retain customers. The problem is, there’s too much competition and not enough competitive differentiation.
I Feel Like We’ve Met Before
I’ve just returned from three conferences, and the #1 challenge that sales leaders repeated again and again was how to get leads in the pipe. Every speaker complained they didn’t have enough leads. No one mentioned “qualified” leads.
It’s the same old story. None of us stands out. How could we, when we’re all standing behind screens? Our messages are mostly digital, and they all sound the same. Worse yet, in many cases, the promises that salespeople make are … well, suspect.
Talk to any software vendor, and they can’t wait to show you their cool software. But buyers don’t actually buy software. They buy what the software does for them—how it saves time, decreases costs, engages customers, tracks referrals, etc. They don’t want to see your demo. They want you to ask smart questions about their business, engage them in conversation, and articulate specifically how your product will mitigate their challenges.
You have a choice. You can look like every other company, or you can set yourself apart from the rest.
The trick is getting in front of your buyers before they even know they need you, helping them identify the pain points they didn’t know were hurting, gaining their trust, and building a relationship.
It’s Your Turn to Stand Out
How do you ensure that your sales team gets in the door before your competitors? You ensure they receive referral introductions to their prime prospects—from people those prospects know and trust.
Salespeople know that building trust is paramount, and it can be difficult to achieve. In groundbreaking research by Steve W. Martin, business buyers said they think about 12 percent of salespeople are excellent, 23 percent are good, 38 percent are average (whatever that means), and 27 percent are just plain bad at their jobs. Worse yet, only 18 percent of the salespeople these buyers met over the past year were “trusted advisers whom they respect.”
With referrals, your team walks straight into meetings with their ideal clients. They don’t have to worry about getting past gatekeepers or heading off the competition, because they have the best possible competitive advantage—a relationship built on trust.
Why Does a Referral Program Ensure Trust?
I may have answered my own question. Reps cold call, send cold emails, do cold outreach on social media, and rely on marketing to nurture prospects and send them qualified leads. They forget that technology doesn’t close deals. People do. We seal deals by building trusted relationships, and that’s exactly what happens when companies adopt referral selling as their primary outbound prospecting approach.
When reps get a referral introduction, they arrive with credibility and trust already earned. Why? The trust the prospect has for the referral source is transferred to the salesperson. Referred reps get every meeting in one call, because their calls are expected and welcome. Then it’s up to them to reinforce that trust by having intelligent conversations, uncovering needs, and sharing insights and best practices. No pitching, no promotions, no duplicitous sales tactics.
Here’s the beauty of a referral. Because buyers trust referred salespeople, they typically share important inside information—including how decisions are made, who is on board, who to watch out for, and what reps need to do to seal the deal. Referred reps are privy to important timelines and budget concerns. They have the inside track, and their probability of closing a deal is well more than 50 percent (most salespeople say it’s more than 70 percent). No other lead generation approach comes even close.
When you prospect through referrals, you set the standard by which others must compete. Your competitors don’t stand a chance. You’re different. You stand out. You get the meeting. You get qualified leads in the pipe. Why would you work any other way?