Referral sales tip: No such thing as a slam dunk

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Any time you get a contact from a referral, it’s an exciting moment, but there’s no such thing as a slam dunk. While a warm lead has much better sales prospects than a cold one, freelance sales leads don’t just sell themselves, and they don’t always work out the way you imagined.

We’ll get to the sales tip in a moment, but first you need the backstory: I’d received a referral for an aspect of the writing business that I don’t even do. (Public relations.) So, my initial part of the conversation was essentially an anti-pitch: “I don’t do that, but I’d be happy to refer you to one of my trusted freelance friends in PR who can help you out.” The prospect was very appreciative, and maybe a bit shocked. And, yeah, I was initially a little disappointed.

But given that I was referred from a trusted source, I figured there had to be something else there. As we got chatting and I discussed the services I do offer, the referral realized that I might be able to help them in some other areas: brochures, videos, and other items that are my preferred freelance job types. They had a few freelance writers in their stable, but were seeking a variety of voices. In short order, the conversation evolved into “Sure, I can do this!”

So, the sales tip:

  • You need to consider who sent the referral. This will give you important insights into the prospect’s expectations. In this circumstance, it was one of my graphic design partners, so I knew it was a quality sales lead. Had it been a prior client with whom I didn’t have good rapport or who’s always haggling for low prices, for example, I would have been wary. If the prospect doesn’t offer the name, you should ask!
  • You need to be honest about your capabilities. I gained a significant amount of credibility by playing it straight about my freelance business specialties. Sure, I could have ham-and-egged my way through a public relations campaign and made some easy money, but I know that’s not what I’m good at, and I don’t enjoy it. For that matter, it might have also been a disaster.
  • If you think it’s a worthwhile prospect, do a little digging. It would have been easy for me to say “thanks, but no thanks” and ended the conversation early. I also didn’t have to help her find a public relations expert, but I took the time to do so. But the most important step was to just cultivate a slightly longer call by asking and answering a few questions. Who knows, maybe the person doesn’t need you right now, but you might make the call list the next time they do.

It’s easy to have the mindset that a referral is a slam dunk. Sometimes they are; but when they’re not, you need to go back to your sales basics: Get the prospect into your sales funnel, and see what happens.

Image courtesy of duchesssa.

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