How to Get Internal Referrals

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If you sell B2B, you probably work with at least a few companies that have multiple departments. But are you selling to all those departments or just one person in one department? If the latter, you're leaving a lot of money on the table. Once you've got a foot in the door, you might as well use that leverage to sell to multiple people within the company.

Internal referrals are a powerful way to turn one customer into many customers. After all, warm leads are (statistically speaking) roughly twice as easy to sell to as cold leads. For some products, internal referrals don't make a lot of sense—if you sell accounting software, it's likely that only the people in the finance department will be interested. But if your product is not so specialized, or if you sell products intended for different audiences (for example, accounting software and inventory software) then internal referrals can be incredibly helpful for you.

The first step in getting internal referrals is to identify the contacts you'd like to meet. A company organizational chart is a great place to start. If you don't have one, ask one of your existing contacts within that company for a copy. Another option is to find or create a blank organizational chart and bring it along with you to a meeting with an existing contact. Odds are, your contact will be happy to fill in the blanks for you. At the same time, he can probably provide you with useful tidbits of information about the people he's adding to the chart.

Once you have an organizational chart with the basic information filled in, your next step is to decide who you want to be referred to first. It's a good idea to make some general decisions about this ahead of time, before meeting with your existing contact. That way, once you have the specific information, you can decide quickly who would be the most valuable new contact. After all, you don't want to have to ask your existing contacts to keep spending time helping you out.

Pick out the one or two most valuable new contacts from the organizational chart, and ask your existing contact if he can help you get in touch with those people. How much help you're willing to ask for depends in part on how strong your relationship is with the existing contact. If you've been working with him for a long time and have a great connection, you could ask him to speak with the new contact directly and set up a meeting for you. If you're not comfortable asking this much of your existing contact, you can simply ask him if you can tell the new contact you do business with him and essentially use him as a reference.

Another, slightly sneakier way to meet a new contact is to ask your existing contact to invite the new person to your next meeting with the existing contact. An account review is a great tool for such a meeting. You can kill two birds with one stone: reaffirm your business relationship with your existing contact, while impressing the new one with your helpfulness.

Whatever happens with the new contact, be sure to express your appreciation for your existing contact. At the very least, you'll want to send him a thank you note—preferably on an actual, physical card rather than an email. Sending him a small gift certificate would also be quite reasonable. If your introduction to the new contact turns into a major sale, take your existing contact out to lunch or dinner to thank him. Remember, the more appreciative you are, the stronger your relationship with your existing contacts will become.

And of course, they'll be far more willing to do you favors in the future—in fact, they may even make internal referrals for you in the future without being asked.