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I've met with hundreds of salespeople and business owners over the years. I have yet to meet one that wouldn't like more and better referrals.

Referrals shorten the sales cycle and your chances of success are greater. But most people have no system for building their business through referrals! And no, putting "The best compliment you can give me is a referral," on your business card and in your email signature does not qualify as a system.

So how can you build a referral system? Create an ideal client profile, find referral partners, share the profile with your referral partners, and start asking others for referrals as well.

Let's look at a story that illustrates the benefit of doing all that, then at the process itself.

Giving a qualified referral

You may or may not have heard the term "target market" or even "ideal client profile." Simply put, it's knowing what your best customer looks like. Not just in your head, but written down somewhere.

Several years back I was meeting with the head of a nonprofit board. During that meeting, she shared something she was frustrated with. It immediately stood out to me because I knew someone that had shared their ideal client profile with me and it looked like a good match.

"If I had somebody you could meet with, would that make sense?" I asked her.

"Absolutely!" she responded.

I went on to share a little bit about the person, how I knew him, and why I thought they would be a good match for what the person was looking for.

After I finished she asked, "Can he call me today?"

Building your ideal client profile

Of course, I may have known multiple people who did what the head of the board was looking for. But not only did I trust the person I recommended, he had also trained me on what his ideal prospect looked like.

That can be a powerful approach for almost anyone!

When you're building your ideal client profile, look at your best clients and think about the following:

  • What observable traits do they share?
  • Are they in specific industries?
  • Are they in specific geographic locations?
  • Are they a specific size in terms of staff or revenue?
  • What common pains might your ideal clients be telling others?

If you don't have great clients already, you can always make a list of clients you would like to have and use that for your research.

The more specific you are when creating your ideal client profile, the better. I love the quote from American Sniper, "Aim small, miss small. Aim big, miss big." A super-detailed ideal prospect profile allows you to aim at a much smaller target. You'll either hit it or miss it by a little, instead of a lot.

Finding referral partners

Next, you'll want to find referral partners. Think about your best client that came from a referral. Or maybe even a few really good clients that came through referrals.

Think back to where that client came from. What other people were involved in the referral? Was it one person? Or did multiple people recommend you?

Now think back to the people who gave the referral. Where did you meet them? Why did they have enough confidence to recommend you? Keep in mind events, conversations, places, and methods of communication.

Just like you did with your best clients, use those items to build an ideal referral partner profile. Also use the information to create prospecting activities to find more referral partners. Then, start doing the prospecting activities on a regular basis.

You should repeat this exercise on a regular basis. You can sit down yearly and see who your new best clients are and where they came from.

Asking for referrals

You'll find that once you have your ideal client profile built, it's also much easier to ask for referrals from people that may not qualify as ongoing referral partners.

You may think the best time to ask for a referral is when you finish up a project for a client and they're happy. While that's a great time to ask, why wait? In fact, there are three times early on in the sales cycle that you can ask for referrals once you have your profile built:

  • During cold calls
  • When closing a sale
  • When not closing a sale

Of course, throughout the referral process remember Emerson's law of compensation: If you want to get more, you have to give more. So be sure you're helping everyone out that you can by giving before you get.


Referral partnerships can be a powerful resource in building your business. There are many articles we've written on how to get better at getting referrals.

Here are just some of them:

We also have tools available to help you understand the how of doing things versus the what. First up is a video that talks about getting specific in asking for referrals.

Second, we have a book by Sandler Trainer John Rosso, Prospect the Sandler Way. In this resource, Rosso shares 30 core principles for mastering stress-free lead development, including how to use LinkedIn to generate referrals.

You can read more and even download a free sample here:

Third, you may prefer an interactive workshop environment. We often help managers, business owners, and salespeople get better at referrals during our Referral Growth Boot Camp. We put that growth session on multiple times a year. You can find out all the information including when the next one is scheduled here:

Finally, you may want us to help your team get better at referrals. If you or your team need that sort of help, we would be happy to talk with you.

You can call us at 405-844-1700 or email me at


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