SalesBuzz: Three things to maximize an executive referral

Tibor Shanto, VARCoach and chief sales officer at Renbor Sales Solutions

, VARCoach and chief officer at

I am one of those guys that tell anyone who will listen that when prospecting you should call as high in the organization as possible. I tell them to call low too, call everybody, at worst you’ll make new friends.

While some reps do call executives, one frustration they have is that they are often referred down stream to someone a few pegs down on the totem pole. This is a very real picture, the question of course is what are you going to do when it happens to you. In fact at times, it is the desired outcome, to be referred from on high to someone tasked with making a decision, if indeed they have been. Again the measure is how you leverage it for maximum impact for you.

There are three things you must do to fully benefit from an executive referral, sequence here is recommended:

  1. Thank them for the referral, than say something along the lines of “Mr. Brown thank you for suggesting I talk specifically to Steve Howe, just so I am better prepared, is Steve gathering info for a recommendation, or is he in a position to make a final decision?” If Brown tells you Steve will be recommending, then you are in a position to probe who is getting the recommendation, about their buying process, and a whole bunch of other things that can only help. Not to mention the benefit of having that knowledge in case Steve is one of these “I’m the man” types, pretending to be able to make decisions till you put paper in front of them.
    Wouldn’t you rather know, such a simple question, one that executive have the answer to and will provide it when asked. Some reps get hung up and ask me “can you really ask a president that?”  Well I checked in all 32 states and 8 provinces that I have worked in and it’s legal, so check with your local legislature and then it’s down to you.  Further, if you ask the question directly, professionally, like a peer would, they’ll answer; if you take a subservient stance, not sounding like a peer, even with respect, they won’t answer.
  2. Thank him/her again, and then say “well I look forward to discussing this with Steve, once I’ve done that, I will let you know the outcome.”  And that’s how you get a call back card; I’ve rarely needed to use it, but if it goes to either extreme you have something you can capitalize on. If it goes really bad you can circle back and try again. If it goes really well and there is alignment of requirements and solution, it’s your chance to get Brown engaged based on what you learn from Steve.
  3. This is important, rather than just asking for Steve’s number, once you have the number or extension, ask Brown to transfer you to Steve. Why be an outside call, in a caller id-voice mail world, when you can be a call from the EVP?  There is going to be little or no doubt in Steve’s mind that you have spoken directly with Brown; and when you say “Steve I was talking to Mr. Brown about meeting to discuss (insert value your clients derive from you offering here), and said I should have that conversation with you, how is Monday at 9:00?”. (BTW, you don’t need to share the answer to question 1. with Steve.)

Steve will check with Brown, but after you have set the appointment. Of course between now and the time you meet, you will thoroughly prepare to engage Steve, who as a result of your preparation and charm will be completely impressed, as will Brown.

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Tibor Shanto

Tibor Shanto is Sales Practice Director of VARCoach and VP of Sales Effectiveness at Channel Test Factory. Tibor is a recognized speaker, author of award winning book Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers. Called a brilliant sales tactician Tibor helps organizations increase sales through execute. Tibor is at Tibor.Shanto@SellBetter.ca, or + 1 (416) 822-7781. 

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