“Something given for nothing has no value.”

— Patrick Henry Hansen

Highly successful salespeople and sales organizations employ numerous prospecting methods to find new customers. Obviously, not all prospecting activities are equal. When I first started my sales consultation business, I joined the local chamber of commerce and attended one of their networking functions where I exchanged business cards and brochures with dozens of attendees. Seasoned chamber of commerce members swarmed to get my business as a new member. I had insurance agents, financial advisers, printing representatives, and other salespeople calling my cell phone, office phone, and even my home phone. I spent the next month dodging salespeople attempting to sell goods and services to me! The experience proved to be so time consuming and useless that I was embarrassed to have attended the event.

Through experiences like this one, I have found that three most effective and validated prospect ing methods remain:

1. Asking For Referrals

2. Reference Selling

3. Cold Calling


There is nothing unconventional about asking for referrals, except that no one does it. When was the last time a salesperson asked you for a referral?

Asking for referrals is one of the most powerful ways to generate qualified leads; in fact, leads obtained from satisfied customers are almost always more qualified than leads generated from other prospecting sources. The close ratio on a pre-qualified, referred lead is invariably higher than a lead from any other source.

Research has shown that referrals strengthen direct communication with prospects more than any other method. Beginning a sales conversation with “Hi Ms. Thompson. Jerry Peterson suggested that I call you…” is the best way to begin a buyer-seller relationship.

Referrals also differentiate you from competitors and give you an edge. If out of six cold calls to your potential buyer, you are the only one who can say “Your colleague, Susan, informs me you’ve been investigating new CRM software and that I may be of service,” you have an advantage. Referencing a buyer’s colleague makes it much harder for him or her to toss you aside into the “send me a brochure” pile. SELLERS HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE AND EVERYTHING TO GAIN BY ASKING FOR REFERRALS. Since this principal seems obvious, why do many sales professionals overlook the opportunity of asking for a referral? There are two reasons: Forgetfulness, and Fear. Often times, salespeople simply forget to ask buyers for referrals, or sometimes they actually fear asking clients for referrals.

The key to overcoming these obstacles is knowledge and persistence. Sellers need to make asking for referrals a part of their modus operandi by keeping in mind the following three points:

1. Referred prospects represent a higher-quality lead than non-referred prospects.

2. Referred prospects are more likely to meet with sellers than non-referred prospects.

3. Referred prospects are statistically more inclined to purchase proposed products and services.

Once a referral has been provided, be sure to send thank-you notes, e-mails, and/or letters to the person who provide the referral. The well-rewarded customer will look forward to your calls and visits. I’ve had customers actually call me to ask how they may be of help. Wow! Think of the folly of not tapping into this resource of satisfied, happy customers.

THE POINT? Don’t underestimate the power of a referral from a satisfied customer. Make asking for referrals a standard part of your prospecting activities.


There are two challenges all sales professionals face when prospecting:

1. Getting through to ultimate decision-makers

2. Establishing trust and credibility with buyers

Reference selling overcomes both challenges. By having a satisfied customer call a prospect as an “account sponsor,” sellers increase the likelihood of getting through to ultimate decision-makers on the first call because it’s not a solicitation call; it’s a testimonial call.

I often ask training participants to raise their hands if they have satisfied customers in their ter ritory. Next, I ask them how many satisfied customers they have. Participants usually answer, “I’d say at least ten, maybe more.” “Forty-five.” “Twenty-six.” “Hundreds.” O.K. – so far, so good. I then ask them to keep their hands in the air if they have ever used one of their satisfied customers to make a call on their behalf. The fact that ninety percent of the hands never surprises me, but always amazes me.

Because most executives refuse to take solicitation calls, sellers find it difficult to start at the top of the business chain without employing nontraditional selling strategies. Existing client executives or satisfied customers calling on your behalf is both an effective and unconventional way to access top executives and decision-makers.

THE POINT? Executive-to-executive calls are typically (in fact, almost always) more effective than seller-to-executive calls. Utilize satisfied customers to contact potential clients as account sponsors to pen sales calls.


Asking for referrals and using reference selling principles are effective prospecting activities, but no prospecting game plan is complete without cold calling. Although most salespeople recognize the need for cold calling, they don’t like to make cold calls. In fact, only people who have “floored it in neutral” enjoy large doses of cold calling (they do exist; I’ve met them). Salespeople don’t like making cold calls, and businesses don’t like receiving cold calls, so why are people still cold calling? The answer is simple: because it works! COLD CALLING IS ONE OF THE MOST VALIDATED LEAD GENERATION METHODS IN SALES. Regardless of who prospects (sales representatives, sales assistants, call centers, outsourcing centers, etc.), cold calling consistently generates more qualified leads and sets more appointments than any other prospecting method.

Cold calling is like the grit in the oyster that produces a pearl. It’s estimated that every week close to one hundred million sales calls are made by telephone. Yearly these calls generate close to $380 billion dollars in sales revenue.

Most sales people are instinctive survivors. They not only face rejection on a regular basis, they over come it. They have their egos “shot off” on at least a monthly basis and consistently face the most difficult word in the English language – “No.”

Thankfully, to be successful and survive in sales we don’t need to blow each other’s thumbs off (al though we’ve all met buyers who deserve it). But very often, we do need to step out of our comfort zone, overcome our fears, and accomplish tasks that are not easy.


Because prospecting is the first step of the sales cycle and has such an immense impact on a salesperson’s success, sellers need to implement proven prospecting techniques to generate qualified leads. By asking for referrals, using reference selling strategies, and cold calling, sellers find new prospects to fill their pipelines with qualified opportunities.