“NINE referrals today,” Dan, a financial advisor in one of my workshop programs, wrote to me.
This doesn’t sound like a big deal to some people, until they put it in perspective. Up until that day, Dan was averaging four or five referrals per YEAR. The fact that he could receive his usual year’s worth in a single day had monumental significance for him. It would be career-changing and life-changing.
But the only thing that had actually changed was that Dan had found a more comfortable way to start referral conversations with his clients. He had long ago stopped having these types of conversations.
Back in the days when I was practicing law, no one taught me how to have a referral conversation. I even had a sense that such a dialogue was, somehow, a violation of the “ethics rules” on soliciting business. Like me in those days, most attorneys and other professionals that I work with today have simply never been encouraged to engage in a referral discussion.
Even in fields such as insurance, real estate, and financial services, where professionals are taught to ask for referrals, they’re usually instructed to focus their requests on their own need to grow their business. This leads to the feeling that asking for referrals makes them sound needy—and it does—so they do it for a while under the close watch of their supervisors and then quickly abandon the practice.
Still, studies of client engagement patterns across various fields confirm that the way people most want to meet new professionals is through an introduction from someone they already trust—through a friend or another professional.
Now let’s add these facts:
1. Even the most enthusiastic of our clients won’t generally be focused on helping friends who might also need our help, unless we draw their attention to it, and
2. When they do help a friend or family member by introducing him or her to a new professional, our clients generally feel great about having made that connection.
When these facts remain unclear, we’re left with professionals who won’t promote themselves and people who need their help who don’t know where to turn for it. It’s madness!
Here’s how to stop the madness:
1. At the beginning of meetings with your best clients, go over the agenda for that meeting, and include at the end of it some time to talk about the people they care about who might need your help (not about ‘people who can help you build your business’). Let them know you’re busy, but never too busy to help someone who is important to them.
2. Before you have the referral discussion, be certain you’re already doing everything you can for your current client. Ask how you’re doing: “Is there anything more I could be doing for you now, or in the future?” If there’s anything wrong here, fix it, and wait to have the referral talk on another visit.
3. Ask permission to brainstorm with your client about people who might need the same kind of help that you’re giving him or her. If there is someone specific you’d like to meet (his/her friend, family member, or colleague), start by asking about that person. Again, this isn’t about your need; it’s about you wanting to do one more good thing for your client by helping a peer or a loved one.
4. If he or she shares a name with you, don’t stop there—ask if there’s anyone else who needs your services. Later, go back and discuss the first person your client mentioned. How would your client and the person named be most comfortable broaching your introduction?
Let your clients be heroes in their own lives by allowing them to introduce the people they care about most to someone who can save the day: you. Soon, you’ll be sending me a note about your nine referrals.
If you want professional help of your own to master a system for obtaining new clients that works, contact me to talk about it. In the meantime, keep REACHING…