Mark left a Fortune 500 Silicon Valley company to become VP of Global Sales for a start-up in the same industry. His team’s biggest problem, Mark told me, was building a consistent stream of qualified leads.

Prospects didn’t know their company existed, making it difficult for Mark’s team to even get meetings. Instead, buyers went straight to the well-known “big guys”—the safe choice.

Yes, working for an “underdog” presented this sales veteran with new challenges. Mark knew he had to level the playing field, but asking for referrals wasn’t even on his radar as the solution to his problem.

What Sales Approach Will Solve His Problem?

As Mark learned from our conversation, committing to a systematic referral program is a huge competitive advantage for sales reps—no matter the company size.


  • Decision-makers always take meetings with sellers who’ve been referred by people they know and trust.
  • Sales reps arrive pre-sold, with credibility already established.
  • The sales process shortens dramatically as reps spend less time prospecting and more time meeting with qualified prospects.
  • Sales reps attract new clients at least 50 percent of the time (most salespeople say the conversion rate for referrals is more than 70 percent).
  • The sales pipeline grows quickly, because those new clients refer other qualified prospects.

Clearly, asking for referrals matters, especially for small businesses. Sales teams don’t need a well-known brand to stand behind, because they have something even better: the word and reputation of people their prospects trust.

The Small Company Play

Lead generation isn’t so tough when your team is asking for referrals. They receive introductions to exactly the people they want to meet. But the power of referrals goes far beyond getting leads and getting meetings.

Referred sales reps also:

  • Get in early, ask smart questions to identify the prospect’s real need, and offer tailored solutions.
  • Learn about the buying process, the key players, and the budget.
  • Set the criteria by which their competitors are evaluated.
  • Build relationships and earn the right to ask for referrals.
  • Get the inside track (the deal is theirs to lose).

I own a small company. Yet, I scored a meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. How? Someone he knows well (in this case, a large client) introduced me. That never would have happened if I’d been cold calling.

The Payoff for Asking for Referrals

Adopt a disciplined, systematic referral program that includes skills, metrics, and accountability for results, and you’ll guarantee a consistent stream of qualified leads.

If you hold onto the underdog mentality, you’ll continue to be an underdog. But when you enlist your clients and colleagues in your referral network, your company will emerge as a key player and the “go-to” resource in your industry. When referral selling becomes your #1 outbound prospecting strategy,

You’ll go from “underdog” to “top dog.”

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