Client Referrals and Recommendations: Asking is a Good Thing!

I was recently involved in a sales discussion, where one of the folks posed a topic to discuss. “I hate asking customers for recommendations or referrals. It feels, well…pushy. It’s like I’m making it about me instead of about them.”

I get it. The most trusted salespeople focus on the needs of the client and not their personal agendas. It’s all about the client. As a result, asking for an endorsement can feel uncomfortable, as though it is in opposition to customer centricity.

Simply stated, the testimony of a happy customer is one of the best possible marketing tools. Seeking recommendations is not mutually exclusive from taking care of the customer.

A few tips:

  1. Start with your best clients—those with whom you have the best relationships and that you know are achieving their desired results.

  2. Shift your perspective. Remember, people like to help people. Typically, if you have a happy customer, they will want to help you.

  3. Begin the conversation by asking if they are pleased with your product, service, their results, etc. If they are happy, you are in an ideal position to ask “do you know of anyone else who would benefit?” or “Would you be willing to talk with a potential customer about your experience with me?”

Regularly asking questions about the customer’s experience is a smart practice overall. If you receive critical feedback, you’ve gained additional knowledge and an opportunity to make the client happier. When you hear positive comments, your efforts are affirmed. Asking for referrals/recommendations becomes increasingly natural, and everyone wins.

For Your Development

I was recently catching up with a friend, and the topic shifted to work. “How have things been going?” I asked. “I’m getting frustrated. For over a year, they have been piling extra projects on me, telling me it is ‘for my development,’ and that I am getting ready for the next level. It feels to me like they are just giving me extra work because there is no one else to do it. There is no talk of what skills I need to develop, or any communication about when they think I will be ready for that next level.”

I suggested that he ask for a meeting with his boss to understand what skills he needed to build, get feedback on the work he had completed, and start a dialogue about his development strategy.

Providing special assignments, such as leading a cross-functional team or mentoring, is a fantastic talent development strategy. Ambitious employees gain an opportunity to grow and shine while meeting a business need of the organization. Often, the recipient gains increased exposure to leadership, an occasion to expand professionally, and a chance to demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond.

However, if not managed appropriately, this practice can go south, mainly if it is frequent, and create frustration for the employee. For best results:

  • Set the foundation with a development conversation. Ask the employee to articulate his/her career goals. In return, provide honest feedback about the development that will best serve the employee to reach said goals. Establish additional assignments as a vehicle for growth and discuss how they benefit both the person and the company.

  • At the onset, clarify expectations and illustrate how the employee will benefit.

  • Support the employee through the duration of the project. Provide guidance and feedback. Doing so is especially important if the assignment is a stretch for the employee.

  • Be appreciative.

  • Call a spade a spade. If it’s not a development opportunity, but merely extra work that needs to be done, do not misrepresent.

Taking these steps also ensures that everyone is on the same page, and that open two-way communication ensues, creating a win-win situation.