In “sales person school” they teach you about the importance of asking customers for referrals.  There isn’t a sales person alive who doesn’t understand the importance of asking for referrals.  So, why then do so many sales people struggle asking for referrals?



The answer is “head trash”.  Many sales people create stories inside their head that convince them not to ask for referrals.  I call these stories “head trash”.  Here are a few common examples of head trash stories sales people tell themselves:


  • I am not good enough (unworthy) for someone to refer business to me.
  • My relationship with the client is not strong enough yet for them to refer business to me.
  • I do not want to overstep my bounds with my client.
  • Asking for referrals is inappropriate because it’s my job to help clients, not visa-versa.
  • I don’t want my client to think I am desperate or needy.
  • I don’t want to annoy them or make them upset by asking for referrals.


There are two common threads that run throughout these head trash stories.  First, each of these stories is an expression of a fear or insecurity we have about ourselves.  Second, there is usually no supporting evident or facts behind these stories to prove they are accurate and true.  In essence, “head trash” is any untrue story (lie) we tell ourselves because of the fears and insecurities we have.



How can sales professionals avoid believing the head trash they create in their minds?  The answer is to ask for proof.  For example, the next time you know you should ask a client for referrals but the thought “the relationship isn’t strong enough yet” pops into your mind, ask yourself this question, “Why is that story false and not true?”  Force your mind to look for contrary evidence to support the opposite idea that the relationship IS STRONG ENOUGH to ask for referrals.  Your mind is a powerful thing and it will find reasons why the head trash is false and not true.


Avoid Head Trash and Friction when asking for referrals


Sometimes clients struggle to give referrals to sales people because they are caught off guard when asked who they know that the sales person could talk to.  When customers are caught off guard it creates friction (or drag) and slows down the referral process.  It is important for sales professionals to make it easy for customers to introduce them or refer them to other businesses.  Here are some suggestions to reduce friction when asking for referrals:


  • Don’t assume the customer’s comfort or trust level with you or your business is low. Ask them and verify it.  Prior to asking for referrals from a customer, ask them how they feel the partnership is going.  Ask them what they would like to see changed or improved.  This will help you gauge how comfortable they will be with introducing you to others.


  • Ask the customer for permission first before asking for referrals. Prior to asking a customer for referrals tell them that the bulk of your business is with referrals and repeat clients.  Ask them if they are OK introducing you to people they know.  If they say yes, which they usually do, they will not be surprised or caught off guard when you ask.


  • Help the customer know what to say and how to introduce you. If the customer is willing to introduce you to someone, offer to have them do it via email first.  This is easy and low pressure.  Offer to email them a short paragraph about you that they can copy and paste into their introductory email.  That way they do not have to think or be creative about how to introduce you.  Make it easy for them.


  • When asking for referrals and introductions focus on business problems and characteristics, not people or products. Below are a few bad examples along with some good examples.



“John, who do you know that needs business cards that you could refer me to?”

“Kevin, what business owners do you know that you could introduce me to?”


In these examples the focus of the question is on a product or on a person.  This type of focus always comes across as salesy and manipulative.  It creates a defensive reaction in prospects and they usually come back with “Let me think about it and let you know if I come up with any names.”



“Bill, 98% of my business is with referrals and repeat clients.  Which clients or vendors do you work with that have expressed a concern with closing more sales?”

“Teresa, who in your circle of influence has more than one business location they operate out from?”


In these examples the focus of the question is on a business problem or on a characteristic of the business.  This type of focus allows the customer to immediate focus their thoughts on people and businesses that meet that specific criteria.  Often times, they will sit in silence and think.  Be patient and let them come up with ideas.  If they can’t come up with any ideas, than give them a different criteria to think about such as, “Who do you associate with that is frustrated with the client retention?”  Keep going until they get some ideas of who to introduce you to.



Sales professionals know that asking for referrals is a fundamental part of growing their business.  As we have discussed, “head trash” and “friction” are two elements that keep sales professionals from asking, and customers from giving, referrals.  Using the strategies that have been outlined above will help sales people avoid being sucked into the false stories they tell themselves and enable customers to more easily provide referrals and more effectively grow their sales revenue.


Which concept or idea in this article caught your attention most?  How can you incorporate these ideas into your sales efforts?  Which element do you feel like is holding you back more than others?  Have you tried various other efforts to help your sales team ask for more referrals?  Have they worked?  Could it be time to get some extra help?  If you feel like it might make sense to get some additional sales training or sales management coaching you are welcome to contact Terry L. Hansen anytime at or by calling 844-205-5054.  Together you can determine what extra support might be needed to takes your sales to the next level. 


Terry L. Hansen is a popular speaker, consultant, trainer, and author on helping sales and customer service teams improve their ability to create value for their prospects and clients. He is regularly asked to train organizations on strategies to find more prospects, close more sales, and increase customer loyalty. You can follow or connect with Terry on Twitter (@TerryLHansen) or on LinkedIn ( To contact Terry please email or by calling 844-205-5054.