Mar 17, 2017
The most important part of getting referrals is making it EASY for others to open doors by being so clear about what you want that others don’t have to think about it.
With all of your contacts, your goal is threefold:
a) Identify people who sound like potential prospects
b) Identify people that they like (they are not going to refer you to a boss they don’t care for or a sibling they barely keep in touch with). As you use the steps below, listen for their tone of voice - how they talk about that individual.
c) Keep it simple! Narrow your ask to 1-3 people most of the time. Almost no one is going to take a week off work to refer you effectively to dozens of others.
Since no one strategy works every time, you need a toolkit of approaches – at least three strategies.
If you work for a large company, it’s possible they have developed a planning or fact-finding tool that helps you find out who each person knows and likes who sounds like a good prospect. Otherwise, here are the seven ways to excel in this area:
Pre-plan your asks
Before you meet, do some homework on who your client is connected to:
What can you find out online or through LinkedIn contacts? What people have they already mentioned in their life?
If you’re using LinkedIn:
a) First focus on how YOU can help them.
b) Present a list of 5-7 names – CHECK: “How well do you know these people?”
c) Afterwards, DO send the referral source wording on what to say about you, but DON’T mention in that wording that you want to talk to them about their financial planning needs.
d) DO include a brief description about yourself: Mine for names
Do it! Once/week, look ahead in your calendar or diary and for every meeting, ask yourself: what would I love to ask this person?
Asking this question of yourself is one of the best referral habits you can have.
Make it a goal in every meeting to identify 1-3 names of people who sound like potential prospects and are people that they like.
When you do, you will find that you pay more attention to conversation that in the past may have seemed frivolous or unrelated to your agenda for the meeting.
You already know that there are times when you don’t listen closely to everything someone says. When you make a point to listen closely for names, you’ll start to notice that, more often that you realised, they do mention specific people.
Ask ‘fishing’ questions
If you don’t know yet what people are in their personal and professional world, ask different questions! Remember the goal is to identify specific people or opportunities for you.
Personal connection fishing questions:
One easy way to remember this is the acronym FORD:
Find out about people:
*In their Family/Friend network;
*Related to their Occupation;
*That are part of their Recreation in life (hobbies AND talents) – what do they love?
*Involved in one of their life Dreams/goals – emotional triggers (grandchildren?)
Who is in their personal network? Social media contacts, hobbies, friends and family, charitable work, children-related activities, other companies that get their business, boards/committees that they serve on, religious and political activities.
Other questions to ask sometimes:
What conversations do they have with others around your expertise?
Who do you currently talk to if you have questions in this area?
If you’re in financial services, more specific examples include:
What kind of guidance do you get at work about your pension/benefits?
“Did any discussion come up that you’d moved to a new (e.g.) wealth manager?”
“Some people talk about financial-related topics to others, some tend not to. What’s it like where you work? What’s been your experience?”
“Who talks about financial-related topics to you?”
Ask your clients:
“I’m curious: What do you tell other people about our work?”
A client of mine in Toronto started asking this recently and the responses he has heard have opened up several new referral opportunities for him. It makes sense:
a) People are going to tell you exactly who they talk to about you and perhaps even what they say. Do they talk to people you want to help? This can often lead to the next logical question – would it be worth introducing us?
b) You can learn what is missing to turn these conversations into business. Some of them may well have given out your business card – that ultimate frustration when what most people do is important but rarely urgent. And when most people procrastinate or just get busy doing something else.
c) You can coach them on the missing pieces and potentially turn these into warmed-up referrals.
d) And if they say that really don’t talk about what you do? Now you know the culture. Jesse, a client of mine last year, already had heard this objection from one of his clients. So he asked him what would be a way that he’d be comfortable opening doors for him to colleagues of his in a booming IT firm.
This moved the client from a defensive mindset to a resourceful one. After all, he did think highly of the work Jesse had done for him. He ended up suggesting a number of personal introductions at a social event (even better than what Jesse was asking him for).
Business connection fishing questions:
You are still looking to find out who each person knows and likes who sounds like a good prospect for you. Ask those in business (including current and potential centers of influence/introducers) about:
a) Their best sources of business
b) Who they work closely with (colleagues and clients)
c) Most interesting projects
d) Where they meet people and make biz connections
e) Where they get best practice ideas from (e.g. peer group)
f) What they are spending your time on
g) Any target markets they have or specific industries they focus on
h) What type of business they are most looking for
i) What else they are hoping to accomplish this year
Who is in their professional network? Learn about work, associations, social media contacts, their client base, places they network for business, past professions/employers, competitors, boards/committees, public speaking – and any memberships
Also consider this one:
“If you were me and building a business in this area, who would be the important people for me to know?”
Suzanne, a past client of mine in Chicago, asked this of an insurance agent in Kansas City. He produced a two-page list of the top estate planners in town, and got her three meetings. At one of them, she met with a lawyer who sat her by his wall of fame featuring himself pictured with the last three U.S presidents. When she asked him for a referral to the best M&A investment bankers in town, he picked up the phone and set the appointment.
Tip 1: Pay attention to the questions business professionals ask you. Instead of just answering the question (which is our natural inclination), ask yourself WHY are they asking me this question? Sometimes people have someone in mind they want to introduce you to but want to qualify you better without always disclosing that they are connecting the dots to a specific person. Sometimes that person just needs a little more nudging from you on the topic. “Do you know someone who might have this need?”
Tip 2: If you want to explore either getting the other person’s business or simply finding out about their past experiences with someone in your line of work: Ask that professional who helps them with the work you do: e.g if you are an estate planning lawyer, ask a COI: “It would be silly of me not to ask you, but what has your experience been with doing trust and estate work?”
Do it! Start asking 1-2 new questions to ‘fish’ for names of people.
Use generic specifics
If have yet to identify anyone: take your broad ask and narrow it down to one or two people: instead of 30 family members say ‘siblings’ or ‘parents’; ‘close friend’ beats ‘friends’; and ‘favourite colleague at work’ beats potentially dozens of anonymous ‘co-workers’.
Business owners: favourite clients, favourite vendors that they outsource to, and top referral sources.
Do it! Use this approach instead of saying ‘friends, family or work colleagues’?
Memory jogging stories
Educate people about the different types of work you do by sharing stories so they know all that you’re capable of. During general conversation, start weaving in more stories of how you have helped other people in different situations.
Client asks: “So how’s your week going?”
You tell story: “It’s been pretty interesting because I’ve helped two people….”
“Things are really good at the moment. In fact, just recently I had a great experience…”
The goal is to hear: “I didn’t know you did that. You know, you might want to talk to…” Look for flickers of recognition.
You could even legitimately ask: “Do you ever run into people in that situation?”
Do it! Incorporate 2-3 stories of recent clients to plant seeds with others about who you want to work with
Memory jogging lists
A few people have success presenting a list of prospects or memory joggers to a client. If you’ve got water in the well with someone, it ought to be perfectly appropriate to say: “Before we wrap up, I’m curious to ask you about a list of area businesses that I put together the other day. (Show list) Do you have any decent contacts at any of these places? I’d love to talk to them about their (fill in the blank) needs because I’ve worked with a lot of similar organisations and they’ve turned into excellent relationships.”
There are many ways to spin this. It could be a specific list of prospects. For many professionals who can’t do that and don’t know who has a need at a specific time, your list might be examples of specific situations when people use your services. As ‘memory jogging’ indicates, your goal is to help people connect dots in their heads to people they know who they can connect you with.
Do it! Create an ideal client list of specific names, companies, locations or professions and life situations. Consider titling it “Some People We’ve Helped Recently.”
Highly specialised subject matter
Explaining a highly specific topic to someone else that applies only to a small number of people can help narrow a network down to an effective ask. David is a financial professional past client of mine who met with a lawyer recently to talk about how he was helping a few of his clients. He showed him a highly specialized estate planning strategy that applied to just two of this lawyer’s fifty or so clients. Because it was so defined, it made the ask and getting the referral easy. Had the strategy applied to all fifty of this person’s client base, it would not have worked well since fifty is an overwhelming and an impractical request of anyone let alone a busy professional.
What to do now: identify which one or two of the above seven strategies you already do and add just one of these seven to your toolkit for identifying prospects until it seems to be clicking and turning into a habit. Only then plan to add another strategy otherwise it will be overwhelming and you’ll end up not doing any of them effectively.
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Author: Matt Anderson, The Referral Authority, Author of Fearless Referrals