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Becoming Referable Is A Matter of Earning, Not Asking

by Jeffrey Gitomer

A good friend gave me a book about building your business through referrals. The author says, “The best marketing strategy is to be referable.” He is correct. He writes, “Referability means that your very best clients and customers are continually cloning themselves – continually introducing you to those like themselves or better than themselves.”

Well, kind of – but not really clear.

According to the author, your referability depends upon four habits:
1. Show up on time.
2. Do what you say.
3. Finish what you start.
4. Say “please” and “thank you.”

 Eh, no. Could being referable be that simple? The author asserts that these four habits convey respect and appreciation toward the customer. He says that if you’re arrogant or erratic, you won’t be referred, no matter how talented or charming you are. He says that if you’re not getting enough referrals, cultivate the four habits. He is partially right. Very partially.

I say his four elements don’t create referability – his four elements are a given in any business relationship. To be referable, you have to go way beyond showing up on time and delivering what you promise.

Those habits may have worked in 1955, around the time when “Happy Days” was set, but becoming referable and earning referrals in today’s times (unhappy days) is far more complex.

In my experience, a referral is earned, not asked for. When you ask for one, you immediately put your relationship in an awkward position, especially if the customer is reluctant to give you one and you keep pestering him or her.

Here’s why: The one-word definition of referral is “risk.”

When someone gives you a referral, it means she is willing to risk her relationship with the referred person or company. She has enough trust and faith that you will perform in an exemplary manner and not jeopardize her existing friendship or business relationship.

Once you understand the definition of a referral and realize how delicate, yet powerful, it is, you at once realize why you get them (or not) and that you must become risk-free in order to earn them.

Referrals are awkward to “ask for” and often create discomfort on the part of the customer.

Here are the elements that breed proactive referrals:
1. You are likable. This is the first prerequisite. Without a friendly relationship, there is no need to go further.
2. You are reliable. The company, the product, the service and you must be “best” and “there when needed.”
3. The customer considers you an expert in your field. To be referable, you must have an expertise that breeds customer confidence.
4. The customer trusts you. The customer is certain that you will do everything in the referred party’s best interest, like you have for him.
5. You have a track record of performance. You have already done the same thing with the customer and she is comfortable that you can repeat the performance.
5.5. The customer considers you valuable – a resource, not a salesman. Not just “do what you say.” There’s no real value there. I mean, provide value to the customer beyond your product and service. Value beyond the sale. Helping the customer to profit more, produce more or some other form of value, either attached to your product or not. Not value in terms of you, value in terms of the customer. Referable value.

And there are telltale signs – clues that you “qualify” for a referral:

REFERRAL CLUE: Your phone calls are returned. This means there was a purpose, a value or a friendship reason. Returned calls connote respect for who you are.

REFERRAL CLUE: You get reorders. This means they want to do business with you and they like to do business with you.

REFERRAL CLUE: There are no problems with service issues. Your interactions are smooth and your execution is flawless.

REFERRAL CLUE: They accept your lunch invitation. And the conversation is more personal than business.

Here’s the secret: If the one-word definition of referral is “risk,” then you must be risk-free – or at least risk-tolerable.

Here’s the strategy that will work 100% of the time: Give your customer a referral first. Not only will it blow them away, but they will also become an advocate on your referral team.

Here’s the report card: The referral you got turned into a sale.

If you want more information on the value of a referral, go to – register if you’re a first-time visitor – and enter “referral” in the GitBit box.

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of 12 best-selling books, including “The Sales Bible,” “The Little Red Book of Selling,” “The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude” and “21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling.” His real-world ideas and content are also available as online courses at For information about training and seminars, visit or or email Jeffrey at
Submitted 8 years 328 days ago
Categories: categorySales Moves
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