EPISODE 023: Mike Garrison Shares Three Critical Insights on Predictive Referral-Based Sales
Mike Garrison with Garrison Sales Consulting is a best-selling co-author of Truth or Delusion and a contributing author to the best-seller Masters of Success. He’s been a principal of Garrison Sales Consulting in various iterations for more than 20 years.
Mike is the evangelist for predictive referral-based sales. He understands the issues facing growing sales leaders and helps them crush quotas, love their jobs, and transform their prospects’ and clients’ lives through referral-based selling. He helps sales leaders get better appointments with better prospects with greater frequency and success.
Mike says every sales leader he meets knows that referrals are the best way to prospect for business, but they don’t know how to fill and manage their company’s sales pipeline by referral. They love referrals and know referral sales is where they want to be but don’t know how to get there without losing the ability to accurately forecast quota achievement or, worse, selling less effectively. In this podcast, he discusses some ways they can get better at referral-based selling.
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Fred Diamond: How’d you get into sales as a career?
Mike Garrison: It all started when I didn’t skip class at college. I was in a communications class and the teacher brought in an outside speaker who owned a copier dealership in Manassas, VA, Mike Hoover with TML Copiers. He talked about how he was doing sales by relationship, and I was hooked.
Fred Diamond: Tell us exactly what you sell today and what excites you about that.
Mike Garrison: When you break it all down, I’m a coach. Whether I’m training, whether I’m speaking, whether I’m doing a podcast, I’m coaching. Most of what my clients hire me to do is bridge the gap between where they are and what their potential is, and they usually are interested in my referral acumen.
Fred Diamond: Mike, we mentioned predictable referral-based selling. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that: what it is and what it might not be?
Mike Garrison: I think that one of the greatest problems that people face today with referrals is they, their referral sources, and their prospects all think of referrals as done deals. If you’ve had any formal sales training that means that you’re expecting it at the bottom of the pipeline. The customer knows what they want. They want to talk to you, and they want to buy. We hire salespeople and train salespeople, spend billions of dollars a year trying to get them to do it as a full-time professional, and yet we expect people to refer us that. Idiocy, lunacy, foolishness. All I do is move it to the top of the pipeline and help people understand that there’s nothing better than to get in front of a prospect who doesn’t want to buy right now but might be interested than a referral. It beats everything. From there, once you’ve had that introduction, even if it’s just personal, if you’re a good salesperson, you can move it down. That’s what I do. If you can’t put it in a sales forecast and the VP of sales won’t endorse it, it’s not predictable.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you learned from some of your first sales jobs?
Mike Garrison: I would say the copiers taught me how to work hard and that sales can be tough. I know we’ll talk about that later in the podcast, but it gave me some endurance. It gave me some resilience. It taught me how to talk about value. Back when I sold copiers everyone hated them, for good reason. In D.C. they break from humidity. The other big example I got is that referrals can be very powerful. From the very beginning, I had this desire, if not the aptitude or system, to be referral-based, and then another mentor came along and everything changed.
Fred Diamond: That leads us into the next question, about some of the impactful sales-career mentors that you had. Why don’t you tell us about that one you started to tell us about? Share with us who they are and how did they impact your career.
Mike Garrison: It was a gentleman named Art Radke, and he changed my entire life. He not only helped me become the man I am to come to faith, what guides me, but he also taught me how to take referrals from an accident to something on purpose. Art was probably the most gifted relationship developer I’ve ever seen, just amazing. His ability to take complex concepts and put them into something that, as a new salesperson, [I could understand] was very important. Art helped me within three months become 100% by-referral in Old Town Alexandria.
He was a great guy, still alive, still doing well. Art was the guy. I guess the biggest thing that Art taught me was he always asked how he could do it better. That’s kind of the guiding philosophy. Most people just settle for surprise referrals that happen every now and then—nothing wrong with that. I love surprise referrals. But Art always asked, “Could it be better? Is there a way that we could structure this, if relationships matter? Is there a way that we could structure our career, structure our organizations, so that we could rely upon sales as the base?” I never want to be a 100% by referral, because that means I’m not scratcher.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about referral-based selling, predictable referral-based selling? What are some of the things that the listeners on today’s podcast may not know about the referral process?
Mike Garrison: I always say there’re three problems. The first problem we talked about earlier, which is that most people do referral training and referral thought process around trying to emotionally earn a referral at the end of the sales process. That’s the first problem. [Referral-based selling is] a mindset, so I encourage anybody listening to have a referral culture. Are you really by referral?
The second big problem is that people don’t understand how to give referrals. Think about it. I would challenge anybody who’s listening, if you’ve talked to a so-called referral expert and they worked with you or your company, if 50% of what they talked about didn’t give you a predictable, systematic way to produce referrals across a wide variety of inputs, they’re a charlatan. They suck. No better way to say it. Yeah, I’m calling out everybody in the industry. They always talk about how to get referrals, but that’s not the secret. Don’t be a predator.
Fred Diamond: Some of the people listening on today’s podcast, they work for large corporations, enterprise type of companies. Let’s say somebody works at a Fortune 500 company. How does referral-based selling play into something like that when they have a defined list of accounts or certain type of industries they are supposed to go after?
Mike Garrison: The more defined your target is, the better referrals work, because it’s not about who can refer you, it’s about who will refer you—which is the third problem. Those are the three big problems. People always talk about who can refer you. You don’t have enough time, and since referrals are relationship-based, the essential measurement is not money, it’s time. And so, if you want to be really successful by referral, you now have to be deeply personable but you also have to be very strategic and calculated about how you invest the one thing you can’t make more of, time.
I just got back from working with a client in Michigan that sells to enterprise businesses. We created referrals in the meeting. I like to create pipeline. I don’t like to talk about it. I like to create it. That’s another difference between the other people. They’ll talk about it all day long, but can they actually give you referrals too. The big thing is this: Who has influence over the decision to buy? When you’re selling to enterprise businesses it’s all about the buying committee. They’re all doing VendorStack. You cannot break VendorStack from the outside unless you have a referral. It’s got to come from a client or from another salesperson. Here’s your hint, big sellers. Find other salespeople who are targeting your accounts for different industries. They have your entire client base right there. They already know how to sell. They already know how to talk about value. Stop thinking your customers are the best way here for us. They’re not.
Fred Diamond: Mike, what’s the number-one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Take us back to that moment.
Mike Garrison: That’s a wonderful question, and it’s going sound interesting, but it was the referral to a client that had been a client. It’d been 10 years since I worked with this current client who’s wonderful, manages a large team of salespeople all over the East Coast. He had worked with me in a different organization. The big win for me is he called me up and said, “I’m stuck. I’m looking at all the technology, I’m looking at all this digital, and I feel like an old fogey.” We laughed, and I said, “I understand.” I was there a year and a half ago before I met this guy named Tim Hughes. Social Selling: best book ever if you’re over 40 at sales. Must read.
I told [the client], “There’s hope. You can do it.” I had no idea he wanted to reengage me as a client. No idea. I mean he’s a super professional, very successful, and we were just talking about the transformation challenges and about his organization, and at the end of it I said, “Hey, wait a second. Are we talking about my working with you?” He said, “Of course, we are.” I’m like, “Wow.”
[Throughout] my career, I’ve worked with a client, and then it was time to move on because they’ve got to work on different things. When they moved to the next level and [then later] they called me up, even though it was a surprise, that’s the most meaningful thing for me. That I made a difference that I didn’t hang on and be a parasite, because that’s what I hate with rent-a-friend coaches: They’re there trying to be friendly to you. I guess that was it. It just feels so great to have client come back to you.
Fred Diamond: That’s great stuff. Mike, you’ve had a great career in sales. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment when you thought to yourself “It’s just too hard” or “It’s just not for me”?
Mike Garrison: Yeah. Short story, I think, I forgot, maybe I’d been in copier sales for about five months. It was August in D.C. I paid 25 bucks for a freaking parking spot—and this is a while ago; I’m not going to admit how long ago it was—to deliver a box of toner for one of the owners of my company. I finally find this place. I’m completely sweated through my suit. I know you understand, Fred. I’m drenched. I come in, and the receptionist looks at me and goes “Oh, you poor child.” She gives me a glass of water and she goes, “What are you here for?” “I’m here to help out with the copier.” I come in. I give them the toner, and these two very cute women are like, “You’re a big strapping young man. Could help us move this desk?” Fred, I had a custom-made suit. I was wearing it for, like, the first time. I go to move because I was 25, totally susceptible to feminine wails. I go to move the desk, yank it up and move it, and feel a sudden brisk breeze. I had split my suit from zipper to belt and I had to do the walk of shame six blocks, noon, Washington, D.C. on a Thursday. I was miserable, embarrassed. I was like, “This is awful.”
The other time was more personal. I had a son born very premature, and it was very hard emotionally. I lost the ability to have empathy. I’m a pretty driven person, and there was just so much pain. I wasn’t able to do empathy, and if you don’t have the ability to think of the customer, sales is a very empty, leeching kind of thing. That was a bad moment too. So exposure and no empathy.
Fred Diamond: But the customer got the toner?
Mike Garrison: They got the toner, and the desk was successfully moved.
Fred Diamond: Mike, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the sales professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Mike Garrison: Think about the risk. One of the biggest challenges that people have with really developing their sales career is being able to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, and if you’re referral-based, in your referral partner’s shoes, and understand how they perceive risk in the introduction, the seduction, and then the consummation of the sales process. That’s what changes everything. Jeffrey Gitomer, in his book The Little Red Book of Selling, said something that changed my career. He said, “Sales is all about risk. You as a salesperson, it’s your responsibility to take the risk, not your clients.” They’re paying, you’re not.”
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful. What are some of the things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Mike Garrison: I read like a fiend. I buy at least one book a week and try to read one book a week or every other week. And even if you’re an individual salesperson, read as much as you can on leadership because the secret of being a professional salesperson is understanding how to lead yourself, those around you, and your customers.
Fred Diamond: Mike, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Mike Garrison: I’m not going to announce it yet, but I am working with someone who is turning all of my systems into intellectual property over the next three or four months, and what we’re going to do is expose all the people who talk about getting referrals as the predators they really are, and we’re going to teach people how to give referrals. That’s why so much of referrals is like a bad sine wave. You go out, you do all this activity that’s only designed to get for yourself, and then you wonder why it drops off. It’s because you’re burning out your sources.
Fred Diamond: Mike, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued in sales as a career? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Mike Garrison: Even though I’m mostly referral-based, people still don’t return my phone calls, even when I’m referred, so get used to it. It happens, and it’s okay to take it personally. I always tell my people not to lie. I would say that what keeps me going are the customers who choose to perform better. The greatest thing about being a coach is when the right athlete chooses to use you to make them better. You get to watch a high-performer. I am not a great salesperson, but all of my clients were amazing before they met me, and they’re even better afterwards.
Fred Diamond: Mike, why don’t you wind it down here? What’s a final thought you can share to inspire our listeners today?
Mike Garrison: I would say Keenan is a friend of mine socially on the internet. Keenan has a great saying that I think I’d like to end with, which is “Give a shit.”
Fred Diamond: Okay.
Mike Garrison: He says that. I made a direct quote. I wouldn’t normally nearly say that, but if you want to be in sales, you have to really care about your customers. That’s what will make it different. If you can understand that it’s not about what you sell. It’s not about what you do. It’s about what happens as a result of that for the client. If you could focus on that, you could change lives.
Fred Diamond: That is amazing, “the result for the client.”