Why Aiming for Second Place can be a Winning Sales Strategy

When I train business professionals and trades from BNI Berkshire about winning referrals I demonstrate a technique called ‘Second on the List’ which is ideal for any sector brimming with competitors.

Consider accountants. Most businesses will already have an accountant so it is rarely straightforward to get a referral for your own accountant or an accountant in your chapter. You are much more likely say, to encounter a business without a website or an out of date site that needs updating.

So imagine you are chatting with a business owner who would be an ideal referral for the accountant in your BNI Chapter and the conversation is going well – after all this isn’t going to be your opening question!

You say: “Tell me, do you have a good accountant?”

They reply: “Yes, I do…”

You respond: “Oh… that’s a shame…”

Then you shut up. Zip! Say nothing and as hard as this can be it is important you let them speak next as they are most likely to ask the one question that will bring you nearer that referral.

“Why?” they almost always ask, or variations of that question. This opens the way for you to explain something along the following lines:

“It is just that I know a great accountant who I think would be great for your business… but I understand you already have one… Just a thought though if you are ever less than 100% happy with your accountant you should speak to my guy…”

At this point they are most likely considering whether they are 100% happy and there is a good chance they are not. It is said that only a third of businesses are happy with a supplier, another third are indifferent and a final third are actually unhappy.

Time to secure that referral:

“Do you imagine it could help to speak to them?” Which prompts them imagine just that.

“Shall I ask them to give you a call, so at least you have a relationship when you need a second opinion or have any questions your accountant cannot answer…?”

Now, there is no guarantee they will say “yes”, but there is a very real likelihood they actually would and at that point you have your referral to pass to the accountant.

Remember to fully brief the accountant or whoever on the nature of the referral. It is important that they understand they are going to be ‘second on the list’ and it may be a slow – but effective burn.

This works with other professions and trades too and it is worth exploring how best you can use this approach during a one-to-one. For example if you can also ask specific questions that may differentiate who you are talking about from their current supplier, this too can open up the opportunity for a referral – and remember it is only a referral if they are expecting the call.

What do you think of this approach? Do you have any tried and tested methods for winning referrals in these circumstances?