EPISODE 418: No More Cold Calling’s Joanne Black on Fixing Your Broken Lead Generation

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales Mindset sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on September 23, 2021. It featured “No More Cold Calling” sales expert and best-selling author Joanne Black.]

Register for the October 15, 2021 IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum here.

Find Joanne on LinkedIn here. To receive a copy of her ebooks on prospecting and referral-based selling, click here.

JOANNE’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “On LinkedIn, always send a personal invitation and I’d love to get one from you saying that you heard this podcast with Fred, that would be fabulous. I always send a personal response as well, that’s how you start a conversation. What I’d like you to do now is one thing I talk to a lot of clients about. Stop, start, continue. If you want to make referrals part of the way you work, you need to stop doing something that isn’t working that well. Then you would start with referrals, talk to me first and then start with referrals. Then what are you doing really well that you want to continue? Because we don’t have time for everything in our lives. Take that stop, start, continue. That’s the best advice I can give you.”


 Fred Diamond: Joanne Black is America’s leading authority on referral selling, and she’s not bragging. Her publisher gave her that moniker and she’s taken it on. We’re going to be talking today about referrals and how they work, whether you’re looking for a job, you want a promotion, you need more clients or if you want a date.

I first got to be aware of Joanne with her great book, No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust. Actually, I think I first became aware of you, Joanne, with Pick Up the Damn Phone! How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. We’ll be talking about that.

Joanne founded her company in 1996, she continues to work with sales leaders and their teams to create a referral culture. She’s an avid blogger and has won multiple awards for her social media presence. I’m really thrilled to bring on the great Joanne Black. She’s an author, speaker, and she’s also The Sales Contrarian. All right, Joanne, let’s get started with that. What does that mean that you are The Sales Contrarian?

Joanne Black: I have definite points of view, especially about referrals. Some people agree, some people don’t. We’ll be talking about those today, and that’s why I’m called that and it’s fine. I think we all need to put a stake in the ground and take a position.

Fred Diamond: I’m thrilled to have you here. You’re doing today’s show from the West Coast, so thank you for getting up a little bit early, but I’m sure you’re always up early. We’ll talk about that contrarian view and I’m excited to talk about referral. Referral selling, it’s been around for ages, it seems common-sense but again, Joanne, we’re 18 months into what people like to refer to as the pandemic. I’m doing today’s show from my house, you are as well, most of the companies that are members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales that we talk to every day, their salespeople are still at home because a lot of their customers are still at home, particularly in the B2B space that we deal with.

Why is referral selling more important today than not just before the pandemic started 18 months ago, but 10 years ago?

Joanne Black: It’s always been important. What’s happened, Fred, in any down economy – and this has been the third time in this decade – referrals are even better. Then you overlay the pandemic, because then who are people going to talk to? They’re always going to talk to someone who’s been introduced. During the pandemic and our down term last year, everybody was getting referrals and having conversations, and everybody else was hiding away and not getting so much luck or calling and saying, “Just want to know how you’re doing.” We got a little tired of that.

It’s even more important they always are, but especially in the world we live in now where there’s little trust in salespeople and everybody wants to know, how do I get those conversations started?

Fred Diamond: I want to get very basic here. Define referral-based selling, define what a referral is. It may sound obvious to you and I, but we have a lot of young junior sales professionals who are first, second, third year in their sales career. They’re taught as an SDR or BDR, they go through the bootcamp, they go through the onboarding process about scripting and how to use the phone and salesforce introduction. They probably don’t have many referrals to start with, especially in the first couple years in your career. Let’s get very basic before we get deep into the conversation. What is a referral? And give us a little more context about that for what we’re going to be talking about moving forward.

Joanne Black: A referral means you get an introduction, it’s very different than just getting a name. That’s historically what’s happened, people have gotten a name. I’m not saying that doesn’t work, it can, but the power of the introduction… We talked about trust and a lack of trust today in salespeople, we know that. Here’s what happens, when you’re introduced by someone your prospect knows and trusts, you get the meeting right like that. The trust your prospect has with the person who’s introduced to you transfers to you. All of us have referrals from time to time and you know when you’ve been introduced and have those conversations, it’s a different type of conversation.

Fred Diamond: We have a question that just came in here from Jimmy, “Do all referrals come from friends?” Talk about that for a second or two. A lot of people think that you only get referrals from people you know. Friends, maybe friends of your parents. A lot of times when we talk to young sales professionals and they ask me for advice, I say, go talk to your dad’s friends who are in sales. Or, go talk to your dad’s friends who are customers. Maybe they’re in IT, maybe they’re CFO or something along those lines or in operations at a corporation. So that you can understand the challenges that your customer’s face.

Dispel that myth right there. Do referrals come from people who may or may not be friends or do they just come from friends?

Joanne Black: Jimmy, thank you for that question, I love it. It’s all about the relationships we have. For SDRs it’s a little different than account executives, we typically work with AEs although in the last couple years I’ve had SDRs reach out to me and want to learn more about referrals. The best referrals ever are from our clients. If you’re new, you may not have clients or you have just a few, or maybe you haven’t built that relationship yet, because that’s why people are going to introduce you.

When you think about it, referrals are really personal. If I’m referring you, Jimmy, I need to know you’re going to take care of my contact as I would. I need to trust that you’ll do that and won’t drop the ball. Therefore, it’s very selective and very personal. If you don’t have that many clients or you don’t have the relationship, Fred, I like what you said. Talk to friends, talk to parents, talk to other people.

In fact, one of the SDRs wrote to me and said, I don’t have any clients yet. He said to me, I’m 22 years old. I said, well, I’m sure you have a bunch of friends that you can talk to. You need to start some place, and people will refer us no matter what job we have. Some people say, “I’m new to the company” or, “I’ve switched companies.” No, they refer the individual because that’s where the trust comes in.

Fred Diamond: I have a question about that. You mentioned that a lot of referrals come from customers. Let’s get a little bit deep into the mindset of somebody referring someone to you. It’s always great when a customer sends you an email and says, “I’d love to introduce you to a peer of mine at another company, we used to work together, I think he could be a good prospect for you.” Those are gold, obviously, unsolicited warm introductions. Why would somebody want to make a referral to you? Talk a little bit about that, about what’s the value. I know you talked about trust, so you need to have that relationship but why would somebody have the confidence to want to make an introduction? What’s in it for them?

Joanne Black: What’s in it for them is – maybe this is contrarian. My perspective is, and I work from this, that people want to put good people together. It just feels good. If they’re not willing, they probably wouldn’t be your customer or your friend. That is what happens and I’ve had my company 25 years, Fred, and that continues to happen. It’s not, what’s in it for me? It’s, I’m putting good people together and I will get not only that good feeling from it, but I’m going to also learn something. That’s big right there.

If you’re talking about customers, why would they refer us? People ask me that sometimes. “They’ve paid me, what do they have?” Here’s the thing, we have done such great work with them, they’d be glad to introduce us because we’ve built those relationships. However, they’re not mind readers, they don’t know we’d like more clients. I get that question a lot. “Joanne, do you need more clients?” and I’m thinking, what planet are you from? It could be crazy busy, we manage it, then we get a little low. However, it works, it’s never even. But they’re delighted, they just don’t know what to do.

You mentioned, Fred, about the cold email outreach. I divide this asking for referrals into two buckets. One I call inbound and it’s like what you said. A client will tell somebody to call you or they’ll contact you and say, “We want you to come in and do more with us.” I call those inbound, we have done nothing to generate them. What’s missing is outbound, is a proactive, intentional, measurable referral methodology that we are asking for referrals. It is the #1 way to prospect to get those meetings.

Fred Diamond: We have a comment here from Jane and Jane says, “Absolutely, Joanne, I am a connector first and foremost. I love referring people.” Jane sells legal services, so thank you Jane, for that comment there. Talk about that word for a second, the connector mentality.

Joanne Black: Connector means relationships. I’m just going to continue to harp on that because it’s something that we blah-blah-blah about relationships, so what the heck does that mean? That means we trust the other person, we’ve known them a while, we know they’re good people, they know – excuse this term – that we’re not going to bullshit anybody, that we’re going to follow through, which is huge, and that we do what we say we’re going to do, that’s important.

A connector is one who builds relationship and just as an aside, women are fabulous at building relationships. Not that men aren’t, we just have a different way in doing it and we tend to do it quickly, and we also play the long game. We know that it takes a while and it’s not tomorrow or five minutes from now, it may be a month, six weeks, a year, whatever. But we’re staying in touch, we commit to building those relationships.

Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. Let’s talk about technology for a little bit. Again, you wrote that great book, Pick Up the Damn Phone. Let’s talk about the role that technology plays in referral selling.

Joanne Black: The subtitle of that book is that it’s about relationships and not technology. Here’s the thing, technology plays a huge role in our sales life. Of course it does, we know we have to use it, it saves time, it makes us more efficient. However, people do business with people, not with technology. What we’ve all seen today, it’s gotten way worse during the pandemic is probably I get maybe 60 to 80 emails go in my junk every day. That’s outside of the ones that sneak past that and I get and it’s always like, “I’m not sure if you got my previous message” and it’s just garbage like that.

I’m saying that it’s not their fault, someone’s making them do it, they’re accountable for sending so many emails, making so many cold calls. When I say no more cold calling, I mean no more cold outreach. It can be phone, it can be email, it can be social media. If you don’t have the relationship, it’s cold and there’s no such thing as warm. Some people say to me, “Well, I’ve done my research.” Come on, in this day and age I hope you have. “Therefore, it’s warm.” No, the person knows you and expects your contact and your call or they don’t. It’s hot when you get that introduction.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about referral building to humans as compared to people that you know virtually. Of course, they’re also human. We’ve all been living in this virtual world for a long time, it’s accelerated over the last 18 months and there are people that you may never physically meet, but you have wonderful warm relationships with on places like LinkedIn and obviously, other social media. But from the business side, LinkedIn is where the majority of these relationships happen. Talk about that for a second. Everything you’re talking about, is it also similar in the virtual world where these relationships can be built and then used for referral building or do you think you have to make the connection face-to-face, live for them to be of value?

You’ve probably rethought this over the last 18 months, the whole world has had to rethink this. I’m just curious on your thoughts about, do you need to physically touch and meet the person or can the same concept work with someone who you’ve never met who’s in Europe, Australia? I’ve met so many great people in Australia over the last 18 months. Actually, I got a lead from somebody in Brazil and we’re probably never going to meet. Talk about the virtual world of trust building and relationships versus the hand-to-hand, face-to-face people that you meet in your city or at conferences on a regular basis.

Joanne Black: I’ve been virtual a long time. We’re so fortunate to have Zoom today where we actually see people, and I don’t think there’s any difference. Some salespeople have told me that they used to get to know the person going out for a beer after work, at lunch, breakfast, wherever you are, going to social events we got to know people from the personal side and that’s missing sometimes. However, when you’re introduced and you get that referral, it’s very different.

Also, selling virtually is different. What surfaced now are many different companies and options to learn how to sell virtually, because it’s different. However, it’s way better than the phone. Especially the way some people talk, they’ll pause and on the phone till I get used to that, the person said, “Oh, I was just thinking.” You can tell if people are just thinking. But there are some tips, tools and sources out there for virtual selling, it’s very similar but it’s different. I believe you can get to know people equally as well, especially when you’ve been introduced.

Fred Diamond: I have a question about referral culture. You talk about that a lot as well and again, you’ve discussed this in various social media places, blogs and things like that that you do. It’s interesting, we work with some of the biggest and best companies in the world at the Institute for Excellence in Sales and we have a program called the Premier Sales Employer Program where we recognize companies that are essentially, great places to work if you’re in sales. I don’t think too many of them have what I like to call referral culture. They may, but they mainly focus on the outbound process and the sales process, integration of sales and marketing, the academic side of sales, if you will. But talk about a referral culture, is this something that you recommend companies do first and foremost? And what does it take to have a referral culture?

Joanne Black: I never wanted to use that term, because a consulting firm I work for did culture work, it took forever, cost millions of dollars and I didn’t want to have that translation. Then I found this definition, culture is what happens when no one’s looking. It’s the way we work, it’s like it’s in our DNA, that’s what culture is. My clients who have committed to that start with the sales team and of course, management, and then lately they’ve been including customer success. It’s all the people who touch the customer. It doesn’t mean for people who aren’t in a standard sales role that we’re going to have them take it through the sales process. But we are asking them to make an introduction and then spread out from there so that everyone in the company understands that instead of just talking about referrals, that we’re actually going to integrate it into the way we work and solve the business’ biggest problem, getting meetings and getting qualified leads.

Fred Diamond: This question comes in from Mary, “I hate when people ask me for referrals over and over again.” You see that a lot of times in Chamber of Commerce and certain types of industries like insurance or real estate. Even though they might be great people and they’re bringing a valuable solution to a customer, every single time you get an email every day like, “Can I get a referral? You haven’t given me a referral.” Talk about some of the misconceptions about referral selling.

A related question as you were answering a question before, I had a relationship with somebody for 10 years. I never got any business from them and I chalked them up to just being a good friend. Ten years into the relationship, she calls me with an amazing referral when I was doing independent consulting before I created the Institute for Excellence in Sales in 2012, and it led to a nice 6-figure client for my marketing consulting business. Ten years after we commenced the relationship. To Mary’s question, talk about some of the misconceptions people have about referral selling, and is that one, the one we just talked about?

Joanne Black: The big misconception is that I can ask for referrals in any digital format. In an email, like you’re saying, on social media, but social media bad behavior is the most egregious. Social media – I’m talking about LinkedIn – is the place to begin a relationship, have a conversation, that’s what it’s about. I never ever ask for a referral on LinkedIn, never ever through email and here’s why. You don’t know if the person knows the person they’re connected to, but the big reason is you’ve missed the opportunity to have a conversation with a person who knows your prospect and can tell you all this intel you’ll never get from any place else.

I was introduced to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, so I talked to the person who referred me. I said, “Tell me about him” because I had a conversation scheduled. We had the best conversation and there was a lot of what I didn’t use that he told me, but that’s our opportunity that is missed all the time. No digital format, no social media, no email. I get emails that I have a fax, forget it. I get emails that I have a video, a phone call, no. It’s so personal, so that is a huge misconception that we can just ask that, because it’s a shortcut. And as we know, most short cuts don’t work, they’re not lasting.

Fred Diamond: Let’s do a bit of a follow-up. We have a question here from Linus and we talked before about LinkedIn. He says, “How do you go about getting meetings on LinkedIn to build a relationship first in order to eventually get referrals?” That’s a great question. If you think about what I just said a few minutes ago, someone that I met ten years prior to getting the referral – and we met in person, we started seeing each other at events, LinkedIn didn’t really play. But let’s think about LinkedIn, because as we know, most of these relationships are coming in virtually from people that aren’t in your town, that you’re probably not going to see in a conference, and so many more people have gotten on board with LinkedIn recently. Give us your advice about how you can use LinkedIn to eventually get to the point where you’ve built that trust to be in a place to get referrals.

Joanne Black: I always look at LinkedIn and if I want to meet someone, I look at our mutual connections. Then I can do this through email or LinkedIn, I can write and say, “Do you know Fred Diamond?” I found that they’ll say, “No, but what are you looking for?” and we’ll come up with something else. Not always, but it does happen. The other thing, and there’s people who specialize in this on LinkedIn, is how do you build those relationships? One of the ways is you comment on what people are posting, and then if you share similar ideas, invite them to connect, you just start a conversation that way. Follow them on LinkedIn, that’s what you do, but never ask for a referral like, “Oh, Fred, I see you’re connected to Linus. Please introduce me.”

We have to have a conversation because I’ll always refer you because you’re a nice person, but that’s not why your prospect will take the meeting. They’ll take the meeting because there’s a valid business reason because otherwise, it’s a waste of time. Ask what has to be communicated.

Fred Diamond: One thing I always do, if Linus sends me a request via LinkedIn, “Hey, I see you’re connected to Joe Smith, I’d like to have an introduction” I’ll usually ask why. What do you want to get for the introduction? Then I’ll always go to Joe Smith, “Hey, Joe Smith, this guy or lady would like an introduction, let me know if you’re okay with making the introduction.” If Joe says sure, I’ll make the introduction. If Joe says not really interested in that right now, I’ll gently reply back to the person making the request, “He’s not interested right now but let’s reconnect in a couple of months.”

We have a great question here from David. David asks, “Joanne, thank you so much for the great information. After you get a referral, is it better to communicate with the referral in person/on the phone or Zoom, or should you just continue through email?” That’s a great question, David. Talk a little bit about if you get the referral. What is the next step besides just getting to the point of getting it? What are some better ways for you to optimize?

Joanne Black: This is what I do. The way I get it is after I have the conversation with the person who’s referring me, and they communicated with the other person as you do, Fred, the business reason for taking the meeting and the person says great, they send an email copying both of us. Here’s what I do, it’s really simple. I say, “Hi, Fred. It was great of you to refer David to me. David, let’s set up a time to talk” because David already knows about me. Then depending, I may send my calendar link or I may send several options always in their time zone. Boom, we have the meeting. No attachments, no long emails because what’s your goal? Always think about that. If you get an email, what’s your goal? Your goal is to schedule the meeting. That’s what you do.

Fred Diamond: That is the commonality with every single Sales Game Changers webcast and podcast we do, the goal in almost 100% of the cases is to get the meeting. Then of course we spend a lot of time talking about how you come across the right way and how you understand the customer’s challenges, but today we’re getting to that point.

Joanne, before I ask you for your final action step, I want to thank you so much for all this great insight. You just celebrated 25 years in business. What are some of the big changes you’ve seen?

Joanne Black: There’s a couple. One is in 1996, I had to really explain why referrals are great. Don’t need to do that anymore, everybody knows it. Every sales leader knows it, every salesperson knows it. What’s changed is the singular focus on getting client referrals, and this happened last year. The smart people, all the clients I had last year from June to this January, everyone said, “I want to focus on how to get referrals from my clients.” They’re our best source of new business and we’re not talking to them. That has been the huge change, that’s the gap right there between inbound and outbound. That is a big shift.

Fred Diamond: Joanne Black, I want to thank you so much. You may not know this, but your books have touched tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of sales professionals. Your social media presence and your guidance on how sales professionals get better at their craft, as we like to say, the art and science of sales, at the end of the day to help them sell, help their company and help their families and basically get happier. That’s the mission of the Institute for Excellence in Sales. Congratulations and kudos on all of your success and the value that you’ve brought to so many business leaders and sales professionals.

As we like to wrap up every Sales Game Changers podcast/webcast, give us a final action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas, give us something specific people should do right now after they stop watching today’s webcast or as they come to the end of today’s Sales Game Changers podcast.

Joanne Black: I’m going to give you two things because we talked about LinkedIn. Always send a personal invitation and I’d love to get one from you saying that you heard this podcast with Fred, that would be fabulous. I always send a personal response as well, that’s how you start a conversation.

What I’d like you to do now is one thing I talk to a lot of clients about. Stop, start, continue. You probably heard that before. If you want to make referrals part of the way you work, you need to stop doing something that isn’t working that well. Then you would start with referrals, talk to me first and then start with referrals. Then what are you doing really well that you want to continue? Because we don’t have time for everything in our lives. Take that stop, start, continue. That’s the best advice I can give you.

Fred Diamond: Not only is that great advice for your sales processes and your sales career, it’s probably a great bit of advice for what you’re focused on in your life as well. If it ain’t working, stop, start and continue. Once again, Joanne Black, thank you so much. For all of our listeners or viewers, thank you all so much.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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