How NOT to Use a Referral

Mar 04


The other day I received an email with the subject line, “Name gave me your name as a referral for web and graphic design.” The referrer’s name was someone I knew and respected so I opened the email even though I had absolutely no interest in talking to someone about my website.

Unfortunately, that was the only reference to the referrer. 

The entire email focused on “who we are”, “what we do” “who we work with” etc.

At no point did the sender of the email explain how he helped my colleague or demonstrate why I should call him. In short, he missed a big opportunity to leverage his referral.

Here are three things he could have done differently to use that referral more effectively.

Open with a testimonial

Testimonials are powerful especially if they come from someone we know. The sender of this email could have asked the referrer to describe how he benefited from the services rendered. This would have captured my attention and increased his credibility.

Used an introduction

It would have been very effective for the sender to ask the referrer for a direct introduction rather than sending a standard email.

Focus on results

Rather than use a generic approach, the sender could have outlined the work and results he had achieved with my friend/colleague. Combined with a testimonial, this would have been much more effective.

What do you think?

What else could the sender have done to use that referral more effectively?

  • Anthony Brugess

    Great stuff Kelley! What are your thoughts on making that initial contact by phone rather than by email? Sincerely, Anthony

  • Dan Waldschmidt

    What a tool bag! I got the same email from the same idiot. Which made we want to go yell at this dude for wasting my time with his cluelessosity…

    Don’t drop my friend’s name and your pants at the same time. That’s just downright sh%&tty sales behavior. If ever make it into the same town I might deliver a switch kicks to the stones…


    p.s. Don’t make me tell you how I really feel. :-)

    p.s.s. But seriously, this is short-sighted selfish behavior.

    • steven rosen

      Why Dan? You sent him the nastiest email I have seen.

      At least Kelley has class!

      • Dan Waldschmidt

        Class? Really is that what we are arguing about? My style?

        Here is the substance. Philip sent me the blanket HTML email telling me that I should pay attention because he did work for for you and Tibor. Kelley wrote a professional post about it and I fired off an angry email.

        (I also apologized to Philip for my poor choice of words. I was wrong about calling him “stupid” and a few f-bombs…)

        The fact remains that it was ridiculous marketing play. No empathy. No try at a relationship. Just forcing his way into my universe because he found my email address. That’s bullshit. And it offends me.


    • Tibor Shanto

      Full disclosure, I know the person involved, they have done work for me, good work I may add, and my name may have been used as a reference, which I am fine with.

      I think it behooves us so called sales experts to set an example, it is easy (and cheap) to ridicule someone who is not a seller or may not be a good seller, but is good at what they do; someone trying to find new business. I think Kelley, while not pleased, did the right thing and offered up constructive criticism, and offered usable advice on how to avoid this kind of e-mail in the future.

      We put ourselves out there as people who can contribute to the discussion and help develop sales skills and habits to help people sell better. Let’s face it not everyone tasked with generating revenue for their company is good at that, which frankly is a good thing, because if they were we would have to find a new profession, which we may suck at at first, till someone takes the time to help us.

      As soon as we put ourselves above our the very people we are trying to help, the people we make our living from, we risk being drowned out by our bombastic noise.

      Dan, in the past I have gone to the matt for your use of certain words that people misinterpreted, but dropping the f-bomb (one of my favourite words in the right context), and calling someone an idiot does nothing to help the message get through, and frankly is below us. We talk at infinitum about trust and relationship, I just want to remind us that it is a two way street.

      One thing I will say for the person who wrote the bad intro e-mail, at least he acted, someone gave him an idea, and he executed, perhaps questionably, but he executed! More than can said for many professional sellers, or sales experts.

      What’s in Your Pipeline?

      • Dan Waldschmidt


        I know that you are as edgy as I am. You say the truth whether it wins you friends or not.

        The truth is that you don’t need to be a salesperson to care about other people. You don’t need to be a guru, an expert, or a “ninja” to send a personal email. That’s just LIFE 101.

        And how do you know that I dropped the “F-Bomb”? I didn’t share that email. I wrote it personally to Philip. Obviously, instead of replying to me he decided to share that personal email from me with everyone else. Fair enough, I guess.

        In case you didn’t get the whole email, here is what I wrote:


        Are you fucking kidding me? Sending me a MailChimp email that has my friends name in it is downright short-sighted bullshit. You couldn’t fucking sit down and send me a personal email. Are you stupid? Come on. Act like you care. ”

        My delivery was harsher than necessary. For that I apologized without excuse to Philip.

        Frankly, this is bullshit. And you know it. You may not want to admit it publicly, but this apathetic behavior is why sales is broken. Instead of caring we just want to deliver more mass emails.


  • steven rosen

    As sales leaders do we owe it to other business people to help them get better at promoting. Some of us think we are better and shoot off their big mouths. Gives the rest of us a bad name. Class is about helping others. That’s why I coach people.

    • Dan Waldschmidt

      I don’t think I am better than anyone. I was/am outraged and wrote a harsh response that was out of line.

      I am not a coach, an expert, a guru, a “ninja”, a trainer, a specialist, a judge, or a master. I just offer my opinions and sometimes people pay my firm for me to do that.

      I won’t debate about the definition of “class.” I apologize when I am wrong. And I did.


  • Kelley Robertson

    Well, I never expected this post to generate this amount of dialogue AND controversy! Thankfully, we live in North America and are entitled to free speech and to express our opinions. Dan was ticked off, vented his frustration and later apologized…end of story.

  • Leanne Hoagland-Smith

    Funny I also received the same email and personally, internally, I had many of the feelings that Dan expressed. However since the referral and I shared a mutual contact who I respect, I refrained from using those initially emotional feelings and simply wrote back “Thanks for the outreach. At this time I already have resources that I currently use and am quite happy with.” Of course the entire time I was shaking my head.

    Actually I did not have time to provide constructive criticism and focused my efforts on something more productive. This is not the first time this has happened and nor will it be the last.

    The lesson learned is so many salespeople are 100% clueless about effective marketing that being attracting positive attention and beginning to build the relationship. My sense is this individual will remain clueless given he shared the comment and did not think about the why behind Dan’s remarks. Yes the “F bomb is edgy and as I share with my clients actions have consequences and be prepared to accept them.