The Remedy for Referral Reluctance

Uncategorized Mar 22, 2021

Robert  is a consultant that works in the B2B marketplace.  During a recent conversation, he told me  something he thought he would never hear from one of his clients.  

Rob explained that he had just finished working on a nearly year-long project with a large tech company that was originally referred to him by one of his clients.  While the company loved the work he did, the money he saved them and the increased profits they were making from sales, when Rob asked his client if they would be willing to refer him to another tech company, the client told him straight out: “Rob, we love your work and what you did for us.  We would absolutely love to refer you…but we just can’t.”  Puzzled, Rob asked for an explanation.   He was told  “We just don’t do that.  In fact, we can’t because of who we are.”

Robert experienced something that those working in B2B industries sometimes encounter: Referral Reluctance.  It happens when your client intentionally does not want to refer others to you for some unknown reason.  (By the way, it can also happen in B2C but we see it more in B2B).  

One of the biggest myths in business is that your satisfied client or customer will refer other prospects who want, need, or desire the services or products that you offer.  Not only does practical experience prove this wrong, but many research studies conducted by universities and organizations on consumer motivation, behavior and word-of-mouth marketing have demonstrated that while most satisfied customers say they will refer others, the majority do not.

In B2B industries, there is an interesting dichotomy that exists. Three separate research surveys revealed that 84% of B2B decision makers start the sales process with a referral (Edelman Trust Barometer) and more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions are influenced by peer recommendations (  90% of C-Suite Executives do not respond to impersonal B2B sales, choosing instead to engage selectively with those that they trust (Harvard Business Review and Salesforce’s State of Sales Report).

So, it would seem that, one the one hand, getting referred by B2B buyers to another B2B buyer should be easier for most salespeople.

However, there will be times when existing B2B clients will not want to refer you to anyone else. Chances are that their reluctance has nothing to do with an unsatisfactory experience or poor performance on your part.  In fact, you probably do a phenomenal job and exceeded their expectations. They may have certain inherent and internal reasons for not wanting to refer you such as:

  • They are viewed as a unique leader in their field/industry and fear that by referring you to others it would diminish their position.
  • Your services/products are their best-kept secret. Even if you are not their “exclusive” provider or you did not sign a non-disclosure or non-compete agreement, they do not want to give their competition an edge or level the playing field by referring you to their colleagues and competitors
  • They are worried about their reputation. B2B clients are not companies – they are the people who manage and make the decisions for the company they represent. They have their own emotions, desires, and concerns that they deal with. Even though they like working with you, they may fear that if they refer you to another company and the experience falls short of that company’s expectation, it reflects poorly on the person referring you.

So while your B2B clients may not be willing to refer others like them to you, here are three ideas to encourage other types of referrals and introductions from your B2B clients that will reduce the risks they believe they have, be it real or perceived:

  • Ask them to refer you to one of their vendors/suppliers. While your client may not want to refer you to industry peers or competitors, seek to be referred to your client’s other vendors/suppliers. They may have similar needs to your client’s that you can help fulfill. A LinkedIn survey found that 69% of B2B buyers are more likely to do business when a salesperson is recommended by someone in their professional network. When you are referred to your client’s vendor or supplier, do your homework and research the company and the contact before reaching out to them.  Part of that research involves asking your client more about the person and the company they are referring you to.


  • Engage More Influencers: Who are the people that your B2B client listens to or follows in their industry?  If you do not know, ask them, and begin to follow them on social media and engage them as well. If they have relationships with these influencers and you believe your relationship is strong with your client, ask them for an introduction.  Whether you have asked for the introduction or just want to know who they follow, you need to put in the time and effort to research these influencers. If you seek introductions to these influencers and can demonstrate how you can help them or their followers, this could potentially result in more indirect referrals for you because your client made the connection, and it positions your client to be “top of mind” to those influencers.


  • Become a Thought Leader in your industry and develop and provide incredible, shareable content on social media and offer it to your clients first.  A LinkedIn study found that 92% of B2B buyers engage with a sales professional who are known as industry thought leaders. You need to become one to your clients. 33% of B2B buyers spend more time researching products now than before the pandemic and 25% of buyers spend less time talking with vendor representatives than they did before the pandemic. (Trustradius).  Do not just rely on the material that your company gives out to all their salespeople. Create shareable content which goes beyond a whitepaper. It includes everything from ebooks, blogs, podcasts and videos to infographics, webinars, and articles. Make sure your content tells your stories – not just your company’s – about who your client was, what their challenge or problem was, how you listened, understood and helped them.  Explain and emphasize you and your company can do the same for others in similar positions as your client. Post this information on your LinkedIn profiles as well as your social media accounts as it will help you to demonstrate that you are a knowledgeable, professional, responsible partner to your B2B clients.

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