Want to know why most salespeople who walk away with a signed contract fail to also get a referral?

Two reasons: First, they're so happy to have gotten the contract that they just want to get out of there. Second, they don't want to push any further.

REFERRALS For me, getting referrals is a whole different sale. Why do people give me referrals? Because I have treated them in a way that lets them know they'll be fine with the way I treat their friends.

There are two opportune times to ask for referrals. The easiest is when the work has been completed and the client is thrilled — that's not difficult.

The other is at the end of the presentation. To get referrals then, you have to get prospects to lower the shield. If you ask and they say they'll consider it when the work's completed, it means you left something out.

From the moment you meet and greet, there's a barrier between you and the prospect. The prospect works to keep that barrier in place. Your job is to remove it. Every sales step offers opportunities.

When I begin my presentation, I tell prospects up front that “My job here tonight is to get you to trust me and to like me. If I can get that done, we're going to have fun.” Of course the shield's up and they may be squirming.

I get the shield down by asking certain questions. For instance, in the middle of the presentation, I might stop to ask: “How am I doing so far?” Another way is to keep the presentation short. That will especially work in your favor if the homeowner has already spent three or four hours with someone else. What I do is call and ask if I can come early to measure. With measurements in hand, I try to keep the presentation to an hour. Nine times out of 10, salespeople fail to get referrals simply because they've been in the home so long.

TAKE A FEW SECONDS To close, you must meet every objection before it's actually stated. In the same sense, you need to sound prospects out on their social connections long before you ask them for referrals. You might say, “You folks know a lot of people, don't you?” If they say they do, then it's natural to move, after closing, into referrals.

So, say they've signed and you've answered all their questions. That's when I say, “Before I go, there is one other thing: I just want to take a few seconds” — not a few minutes, a few seconds — “to ask you about something.” I take out a yellow legal pad and number it 10 to one, with 10 at the top. “You guys just told me you know a lot of people. Well, our company invests a lot of money to get new business. And we'd like to share some of that with you.” I ask who they know that might be interested in windows or siding. I'm looking for 10 names. My average is five.

CONSTANTLY ASK I also explain that my company will send a card to the people they refer us to, telling them we were in the house and asking them to keep us in mind for future work. I ask if they mind me calling the people they refer. I only call after the work is done. But by constantly asking, I always have a fresh supply of names to call.

Of course it's easier to just come back after the job is done, ask if the customer is happy, and request referrals. But chances are, if you won't bother the night of the sale, you're probably moving on to your next appointment, and prospect, when the work's done.

—Phil Sutko has been selling home improvement products for 24 years and currently works for a window and siding company in Lincoln, Neb.