Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 212: Q & A with Joanne Black @ReferralSales


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If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can subscribe right at Sales Pipeline Radio and/or listen to full recordings of past shows everywhere you listen to podcasts! Spotify,  iTunesBlubrry, Google Play, iHeartRADIO, or Stitcher

This week’s episode is entitled What’s Old is New (Again): Timeless (and Pandemic-Proof) Sales Advice from Joanne Black“.  Joanne is the Founder of No More Cold Calling 

I’ve known Joanne for over 10 years. I can’t imagine a time when referrals or referrals and sales, referrals and business has been more important when channels are shrinking, budgets are shrinking. She’s been beating this drum for a long, long time and it’s been important and prescient that entire time, and I would imagine she’s probably hearing more from companies right now saying, “How do I build that referral culture?” I ask Joanne why she thinks it’s coming up more often now and how has her answer changed or evolved over time?

Companies are really realizing they have to do more than just give lip service to referrals, to say to their sales team, “I’ll just go ask for referrals.” And they’re finally realizing that’s not working and realizing everybody in the company knows someone, but this word culture is important.

Joanne shares how she was afraid to use it for years. She says, “Well, maybe afraid isn’t the right word, but it’s because I worked for a consulting firm and they did culture work and it took forever and cost millions of dollars. So, that’s not the picture I wanted, but it’s really about how do you set a strategy, have goals, have metrics, build skills, have accountability, and make sure referrals become the way people work? And Matt, I found this wonderful definition of culture:

Culture is what happens when people aren’t looking.

Listen in and/or read the full transcript below for this and a lot more!

Paul:  Hey, welcome back everybody. It’s time to grab your board, swim out into that sea of ideas that’s churning up all the time, and see if you can catch a wave. Like our main host today here, Matt Heinz, who is always, always ahead of the curve.

Matt:  I thank you for that, Paul, that is very gracious and generous of you. What I’m complaining about today in particular…

Paul:  Yes.

Matt:  … is it is July 2nd.

Paul:  Yeah.

Matt:  It is summer. It’s not even the beginning of summer. We’re a couple of weeks into summer. Most of the country, warm, sun’s out, right?

Paul:  Right.

Matt:  I’m here North of Seattle, Washington, and I went for a walk in my winter coat. It is cold, it’s drizzly, and the joke in Seattle here is that summer starts on July 5th. And we always say it’s a joke. It is true, I mean literally. So on the 4th of July it’s supposed to be nice. Next Sunday is supposed to be spectacular. So July 5th is going to be great here, but today it’s just…

Paul:  I know exactly what you’re talking about because I’m looking out the window here down in normally sunny Orange County and it’s overcast and drizzly and I can’t believe that it’s summer here. I believe the same thing. It probably went down to 65 today here. I was going to get my winter coat out.

Matt:  Well, if you are a regular Sales Pipeline Radio listener, you recognize Paul’s recurring theme of complaining about beach drizzle.

Paul:  It’s horrible.

Matt:  I put an emphasis on the beach part because it’s so lame my friend.

Paul:  We’re pretty close. Well, there’s always a silver lining. Before you get into your guest, silver lining, I understand you were part of the movement that got pro baseball to come together, finally reach an agreement and come out with a shortened season, because otherwise people like Matt Heinz would not have been happy here.

Matt:  No, that’s right. I was heavily involved in negotiations to get the season going. And I’m very excited that at least we’re going to hopefully get 60 games out of this, this season. It’ll be very different than what we’re used to. I hope that they get to play. I’m a little worried about continued health issues around the country.

Paul:  Yeah, it could roll back again here.

Matt:  I would prefer that people stay safe and if we can’t do that, then heck we could wait a year for some more sports. But it’d be sure nice to be able to watch a little baseball. Let’s do a little baseball, work in the garden, hear the play by play again.

But Hey, thanks everyone for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio, our 1st of July, our first of Q3, our first of the second half of the year. And I hope for those of you that are listening live on the Funnel Media Radio Network that you are doing so as you wind things down for a holiday weekend here in the US. We have given our team both Friday and next Monday off to say, listen, Q2 was something and we made it through and we’re still here and we had a good resilient quarter and we’re going to have a good Q3 as well, but first we’re going to take four whole days off. So hopefully you’re planning on doing something fun, whether you’re in the beach drizzle or whether you’re somewhere a little warmer.

And if you’re listening to this on the podcast, thank you for subscribing. Over 115,000 of you are downloading and listening to Sales Pipeline Radio. So thanks so much for doing so. Every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio, you can find past, present and future on We are featuring every week, some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today, Paul, like one of my favorite people, not favorite people in sales, not favorite people in B2B, one of my favorite people overall, we have Joanne Black. She is the founder of No More Cold Calling. Joanne, welcome to the show.

Joanne:  Matt. Thank you. We’re talking about my favorite topic.

Matt:  Oh, I know. I know we are. And I’ve known you for now over 10 years. And I can’t imagine a time when referrals or referrals and sales, referrals and business has been more important when channels are shrinking, budgets are shrinking. You’ve been beating this drum for a long, long time and it’s been important and prescient that entire time, and I would imagine that you’re probably hearing more from companies right now that are saying, “How do I build that referral culture?” And I know that’s been a theme of what you’ve heard for a long time, but why do you think it’s coming up more often now? And how has your answer changed or evolved over time?

Joanne:  Companies are really realizing that they have to do more than just give lip service to referrals, to say to their sales team, “I’ll just go ask for referrals.” And they’re finally realizing that’s not working and realizing that everybody in the company knows someone, but this word culture is important. I was afraid to use it for years. Well, maybe afraid isn’t the right word, but it’s because I worked for a consulting firm and they did culture work and it took forever and cost millions of dollars. So, that’s not the picture I wanted, but it’s really about how do you set a strategy, have goals, have metrics, build skills, have accountability, and make sure that referrals become the way people work. And Matt, I found this wonderful definition of culture. Culture is what happens when people aren’t looking. How’s that?

Matt:  Well, and you talk about this culture of referrals. It’s very different than just, “Hey, go ask for referrals.” And I’ve certainly found that that is true, is if you just go say, “Hey, go get referrals,” that’s not very helpful. And usually there’s a little more, it’s not just culture, it’s also how to ask for referrals, the structure in which you do it. Talk a little bit about why that’s so important and what are some of the core components of creating that kind of a culture and that kind of a system.

Joanne:  Well like anything we’re doing, it starts at the top. So as an example, I was working with a client about a year ago and that’s how this all started. First time people started talking about a referral culture, and what he wanted to do and actually is doing, is start with his managers and then his sales team, then customer success, and then roll it out through the entire company. Now this doesn’t just happen. You have to have the right messaging and the right KPIs, the right rewards, because we’re not asking people to take us through the sales process, those of us who aren’t in sales, we’re asking them who they know they can introduce us to and then do the handoff, broker it well, goes to sales, boom, we’re going to close that minimum 50% of the time. So, that’s what it takes. It’s stepping back and looking at a lot of things. It doesn’t take long. It’s not a huge thing, but it takes focus, commitment, measurement, strategy, and always having the eyes on the ball.

Matt:  We’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Joanne Black, she’s the founder of No More Cold Calling, which is also the title of one of her books. Her other book is appropriately called Pick up the Damn Phone. And I think some people may say, are those in conflict with each other? But you’re not necessarily saying, listen, you can’t call people you don’t know well, but having that referral, having that warm introduction is really important. Can you talk a little bit about though, in this pandemic, in a time when you’ve got your buyers are working from home, we don’t have in-person offices as often, you would think that this would be the time for digital selling strategies to really shine. But if social selling really was a be all end all, this is when it would prove itself. I don’t know that we have seen that. So what has been your advice to sellers relative to the channels that they now have available to them that they have had for the last couple of months and it looks like may be focused on for the next several months as well?

Joanne:  Referrals work in any economy. But when we’re in a recession, it’s even better because who are people going to talk to? They’ll always talk to the person who’s been introduced. Always. And by the way, the subtitle Pick up the Damn Phone, is how people, not technology, seal the deal. And that means you have to have a conversation. You can’t hide behind technology. We need to be able to talk to people, not pitch, et cetera, like that. That’s the difference it makes. But what’s really driving this, Matt, is that every sales leader will say we need more leads, we need more leads, we need more leads. I’m sure you’ve heard that as well, right? Because they come to you for that, but they forget the word qualified. That’s the challenge that’s been going on for the last eons and it’s going to continue.

So it’s not about getting more leads. It’s about getting more qualified leads in the pipe. And with a referral, you get every meeting in one call and it’s pre-qualified because the person’s agreed to meet with you and you’ve described who you want to meet. And they have that issue. That’s what it’s about. Whereas, other ways take eight to 12 touches to even reach someone. And I’m thinking my gosh, isn’t that a monumental waste of time?

Matt:  What are some mistakes people make when they’re implementing a referral strategy or a discipline around referrals? And part of the reason I ask that is I get emails, I wouldn’t even say from time to time, pretty frequently from people in my network that say, “Hey, it looks like you know so and so, can you make an introduction for me?” Some of the people asking that, I know well. Some of the people that they’re asking for, I know well. Sometimes I don’t know either very well. So it seems like the intent there is good, but the fact that I’m looking at this and saying, I don’t know that I have juice on either side. I may not be the right person. What’s missing in those scenarios and what’s your recommendation to make sure that those requests land with someone that can actually authentically fulfill?

Joanne:  Let’s give the two of us as an example. Say I see someone on LinkedIn and I don’t know if you know that person or not, but I’m going to reach out to you and say, “Hey Matt, I see you’re connected to Sue Smith on LinkedIn. I’m curious how you know her.” And you’re either going to say, “Don’t know her at all,” or you’re going to say, “yeah, she’s actually my next door neighbor,” or my sister in law or whatever. And if you say that, then we’re going to have a conversation about how you know Sue, what she’s about, what would resonate with her, et cetera. If you don’t, that’s fine. But what’s happened in the past for me, is that I find if people don’t know the person, they’ve said to me, “Well tell me, Joanne, what you’re looking for.” And because I know them well, they’ve come up with other possibilities for referrals. The conversation could totally end if you don’t know the person, but it also could do more than that.

And that’s one of the reasons that I will use email to say, do you know the person, that if you know the person, we’re going to get on a phone call, because I need to get all that intel from you about the person. That’s what’s key.

Matt:  And it seems like, the piece that I’m honing in on in your answer there is it’s the act of the referral is one part of this, but the context of the referral is perhaps even more important. To know what’s in it for all parties there. And what do you have of value that maybe makes the referral work well? Because if I’m referring someone that I may not know very well, to someone I don’t know well, that’s kind of risky. Like I’m assuming that the person I’m referring in is going to provide value and if they don’t, it reflects worse on me maybe than it does on the person asking for the referral. So I think both parties, the asker and the intermediary, really need to be pretty clear on what’s in it for the person they’re going after.

Joanne:  And that’s a great point, Matt. That we only refer people we know are going to take care of our contact as we would, because our reputation’s on the line. So if you refer me and you don’t know me that well and I mess up, they’re going to say, “Oh, what’s Matt doing here?” And you’re going to feel miserable. So don’t do that. If you don’t know someone well enough to be confident referring them, don’t do it.

Matt:  I know we’re going to have to take a break here for a quick commercial, but what are some of the well-meaning mistakes people make when asking for referrals? Because I think that a lot of people will listen to this and say, “Yes, I need to get better at my referral game. I need to do it more often.” And then with the best of intentions may do some things that keep referrals from coming, that keep people from making the connections. Are there any things that you see that are clearly not malicious, but people that haven’t done this as well, are doing and making mistakes that they don’t know about?

Joanne:  Most people will say something like, “Well, if you know anybody who could use my services, please let me know.” Well that does nothing. People are very uncomfortable asking. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been in sales. It doesn’t matter our gender. I’ve heard this for years from salespeople, they’ll say to me, “Joanne, I’m just not comfortable asking.” Because when you think about it, it’s the most personal kind of selling we can do, right? It’s just what you said, Matt, we put our reputation on the line. So we’re thinking, Oh my gosh, what if they say no? Well, in my 24 years in this business, no one’s ever said no, but that’s what we think. But we’re asking people we know. And I work from the premise and I’ve seen it happen that people really want to put good people together. But they’re not mind readers. They don’t know. Sometimes they don’t know we want more business, odd as it sounds. They don’t know who we want to meet. There’s all these, I don’t knows.

So it’s up to us when we’re asking, to be very clear about the business problem we solve and the person we want to meet.

Matt:  We’re going to have to take a quick break. We’ll be back after paying some bills here, more with Joanne Black, talking about referral sales, referral strategy and we’re going to talk about how to get your customer success team engaged and how to make sure you’re doing cross functional work to improve referrals from your customer facing teams. We’re going to talk about what marketing can do to support this effort and more. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Paul:  Okay. I was a little slow on the trigger there today here, but Matt Heinz as always, thank you for your patience and for the perfect setup.

Matt:  I was a little worried about that Paul, thinking we’re still on Pacific coast time. It’s not even the afternoon, but I think we’re all itching to start a little bit of a long holiday weekend.

Paul:  I had one foot out the door. I was trying to make a couple of cold calls here before, but again, your guest says it’s the end of cold calling. So…

Matt:  No, we’re not cold calling anymore Paul. There’s no cold calling and it’s a good segue. I don’t think what you’re saying, Joanne, is that you can’t make calls to people you don’t know, but if you’re calling without value, if you’re calling without context, if you’re calling without something that compels that person to want to talk to you, your conversion rates are going to be so bad it’s just not worth it. And even those you contact, you’re not going to get a good conversion rate from those you don’t get connected with, and they still resent you for having tried to call them without a lot of value. Talk a little bit about this concept of cold calling and especially as we’ve evolved into not only a modern selling world, but also a work-from-home selling world, the role of reaching out in an unsolicited way.

Joanne:  Well, cold calling is now a term that’s broader. It’s not just the phone. It’s cold outreach of any kind. It’s called outreach on LinkedIn. I mean, how many times have you gotten a LinkedIn request and then boom, they send you back, “Please listen to this,” or “Review this,” it’s a sales pitch right there. That is absolutely wrong. I block people immediately.

And then the emails we get, they’re still happening, Matt. It’s cold outreach. And then two days later, “You must be busy. I guess you didn’t have time to read my email.” And then two days later, “Well this is the last time you’re going to hear from us,” but it’s not the last time. Then you’re going to get another one. To me it is like the stupidest thing you can do. And it’s not the fault of the reps. Somebody’s making them do it, and they’re accountable for making X number of calls a day. It doesn’t matter. And the belief is if we make X number of calls, X number of outreach, either social media, email, whatever, and we finally reach someone, isn’t that great? I say it’s stupid because all of these people are spending their time cold calling and people who do it have told me they can’t stand it, and they might reach a couple people in a day and actually have a conversation. Otherwise, they’re leaving messages.

Well, if they are leaving messages, they’re typically not leaving the messages like you talked about of any value. They need you for marketing. Matt just tell them what to say.

But to me, I can’t even fathom it. I’ve talked to SDRs at networking events, we can’t do that now, but they always look at my name tag that says, “No more cold calling.” And they want to talk to me and the person, they’ve told me, I don’t like it, I can’t stand it and all I have to do is be on the phone. And what I think is so sad is that that’s the entry point for sales people today. So what kind of experience are they having around sales when that’s what they have to do? Anyhow, that’s my rant about cold calling.

Matt:  No, I love asking you this question because the answer evolves to the moment, right? And I love that you’ve expanded the definition to cold calling beyond the phone, because you asked about getting those cold LinkedIn messages and I feel like those happen almost daily, right? Sometimes people look like they’re a decent connection to someone. I’m pretty liberal about who I’ll accept connections with. If someone’s got a marketing role or if they look like a junior marketing person, I’m like, yeah, I’m fine with connecting with them. But half the time, fool me once, fool me twice, fool me every day, like they come back and they just want to pitch. It’s not welcomed, it’s not responded to and it reflects very badly on the company, not just that individual doing it. But you have to be careful if you have reps that are doing this, even if you fire that rep next month, the reputation is left on you, the organization, and that will stick in people’s minds the next time someone comes at them, even with a good message and good approach.

So you can’t afford to have that negative equity. It’s just not a good strategy. We’ve only just got maybe seven or eight minutes left with our guest today, Joanne Black. If you haven’t picked her stuff up, make sure you visit her website, it has some amazing content, Her books, No More Cold Calling and Pick up the Damn Phone, required reading for sales professionals. But this referral culture is not just for the sales team. I think you’re seeing more companies include their customer success teams in the referral initiatives as well. Can you talk a little bit about what that looks like and how companies do that?

Joanne:  So asking for referrals? Well, I’ll tell you one of the things that’s missing, is no one’s asking their clients. I ask people all the time, “Have you asked your clients for referrals?” That means everyone you’ve come in contact with during the sales and buying process. Well, the answer’s always no. Part of it is because the way companies are organized, mainly, if I’m an account executive, I sell a deal, hand it off to customer success and then I move on because I am compensated for new logos, not necessarily doing more business with that existing company or getting referrals from those people to their counterparts in other companies, and our existing clients are our highest value revenue stream.

I want everybody to remember that, our highest value revenue stream. They know us, we’ve done great work. They love us, and of course they’re going to refer us, but we’ll just never lead them there, without asking. And there’s many reasons for that. One of them is the way companies are organized, but then a lot of that discomfort comes in. And people sometimes feel even more uncomfortable asking their clients. They may be thinking, Oh my gosh, if I ask a client and we haven’t been on top of things and they tell me something we’ve missed and I should’ve known it before, then I have to fix it and emphasis this whole process. And it feels even riskier because we have these relationships with clients. But the fact is, they’re glad to refer us, not to their competition of course, but they’re glad to help.

And I want to use that word help, which used to be, we didn’t want to ask for help. But in today’s world, that’s shifted. People really genuinely want to help each other.

Matt:  I love it. We just got a couple more minutes with Joanne Black. And now I got to pick between questions. Maybe we’ll do a follow-up on the blog or somewhere else here. But we talked about how customer success can get involved. We have a lot of marketers listening to these podcasts and many of them are probably thinking, how do I, as a marketing organization, help create a referral culture for my team overall, for my sales organization, what do you recommend marketing teams, marketing leaders do to help facilitate this?

Joanne:  Well, the first thing is we need to develop a strategy. Actually, no, the first thing is you need to contact me and talk about it.

Matt:  There you go.

Joanne:  I always share best practices and don’t pitch, you should know that by now. Because there’s things that sales leaders can do. But the first is, they have to commit to saying, “Oh, we’ve been missing out. Look what could happen with referrals.” That exact thing happened to me. And when somebody I knew for years, a CRO said, “30% of our business is referrals.,” I said, “That’s fabulous, how did that happen?” “Well, the client reached out and wanted to do more business with us or they referred other people to us.” And then I said, “What about your sales team? Are they asking their clients?” And it was like this blinding flash of the obvious, “No.” Think about the difference that could make. So for every sales leader, think about what your reps are doing that they could be doing differently. It’s either the way you’re organized, the way you maintain relationships, that’s how that works.

And then if you decided that you wanted to work more through an outbound measurable referral system, here’s what it takes; number one, you need to commit. Number two, you have to have a strategy. Three, you have to have metrics. Four, referral selling is a skill, it’s behavior change. And because of that, it has to be reinforced and coached. But the most important thing is that everybody who’s involved in building your referral culture is accountable for a result, otherwise, it’s an exercise.

Matt:  Love that.

Joanne:  Does that help Matt?

Matt:  That definitely helps. And that’s a great way to wrap up. This is so good, but this went away too fast. I had way more questions to ask. So we’re definitely going to have to have you back on soon.

Joanne Black, if you want to learn more about her, you can go to You can find her on Twitter as well as @referralsales. Highly encouraged. She is a regular, she is on the top list always of top speakers, talk writers, top bloggers, just one of the best people in B2B sales and marketing. If you want to share this episode with your colleagues, your marketing team, your customer success and sales leaders, you’ll find this episode on demand up at in just a couple days.

Listen, Paul, I don’t know what you got after this, but it’s about time for barbecues, beers and fireworks, safe fireworks, social distancing fireworks. But congratulations everyone for getting through Q2. We’re going to go out and kill it in Q3. It’s going to be great. You’re going to generate more referrals and more business. I guarantee it. Thank you everyone for listening on behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for listening to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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