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The Death of Cold-Calling

Mastering referrals is more important than ever.

By Bill Cates

Cold calling is quickly going the way of the dodo bird, and it’s not hard to understand why. While still a prevalent practice, it’s under attack from individuals, businesses and even the government.

There’s a reason why people have all their calls go directly to their voice mail. There’s a reason why caller identification is more popular than ever. There’s a reason why people buy call-blocker equipment. There’s a reason why most states and the federal government are adopting do-not-call registries. The reason: People don’t like to be cold called; it’s not how they want to meet you.

For now, the financial services industry is exempt from the do-not-call registries. But it’s only a matter of time until that exemption runs out. Did you know that if you call someone on the state of Indiana’s do-not-call registry, you could be fined $20,000? That’s how bad people want to avoid cold calls.

Your business plan should be based on meeting people the way they want to meet you—through a referral.

Are you committed to referrals?
Most financial professionals know that most long-term success comes from a referral-based business model, yet most have not mastered referrals. Most dabble in referrals. They know what to do when they trip over one, but very few have a systematic approach that generates a steady flow of clients.

In all the years I’ve taught my referral system, one thing has stood out: To become really good at getting referrals, you must be committed to the process. You must decide to become a student of the game. You must be willing to learn a system and eliminate mistaken assumptions and other barriers that keep you from mastering referrals.

Referral sources
The two main sources for referrals are happy clients and centers of influence.

The best time to ask clients for a referral is after you’ve provided value. When they express satisfaction with your performance (not the market’s performance, but your process and your service), it’s time to ask for referrals. Ask them what they value in your relationship, then keep delivering it and keep asking for referrals.

People don’t like to be cold called; it’s not how they want to meet you.

Use a client-centered process
The way referrals have typically been taught in this industry is what I label a producer-centered approach. You’ve heard the trite phrases “I get paid in two ways …” and “I’m trying to build my business, and I can really use your help.” This approach is all about the advisor, usually at a time when he should focus on his prospects and clients. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a producer-centered approach, you’ll have more success with a client-centered approach.

A client-centered approach has little to do with your success and has everything to do with the value you bring to your clients. It’s based on your clients recognizing the value of your process and service, and that they can help those they care about. With this approach, you’ll enjoy better connections to your new prospects. When a client gives you referrals because he feels obligated to “pay you” with referrals, you cannot expect the best referrals, and the client doesn’t care if you make the connection. On the other hand, when you help a client identify others he can help (client-centered), he has a vested interest in your making contact.

A client-centered approach to referrals always puts the client or prospect’s interests first. For example, if you want to tell people that you get paid with referrals, make sure you do it in a client-centered manner: “One way I get paid is that if you see value in the work I do for you, you’ll introduce me to others who might also value this work. What this means to you is, I hope to earn the right to those referrals. I’ll make sure you get the perfect policy for you. I’ll make sure you understand everything along the way. I’ll be there for you. Because of my value and service, I hope you’ll feel comfortable introducing me to your friends and associates.”

The key phrase here is “what this means to you.” Whenever you tell people about your practice, if you’re saying "what this means to you" and following that up with a benefit to them, you’re being client-centered. A client-centered approach to referrals results in better connections to your new prospects, which results in more new clients.

Your own personal sales force
Centers of influence are people who are generally unlikely to become clients. They have the ability, however, to send high-quality prospects your way. Typical centers of influence are CPAs and attorneys. But centers can also be religious leaders, association presidents, real estate agents, bankers and high-profile business leaders—not to mention family and friends.

Look for people with whom you can establish mutually beneficial relationships. Do what you can to serve them—with referrals, other contacts and quality advice. Make sure they understand who you are looking for, how you serve them and how you would like to be introduced.

Form 10 to 20 strong relationships that you can nurture over time, and you’ll have your own personal sales force—and you won’t have to pay them a dime in commission.

Bill Cates works with producers and their companies to increase sales by attracting clients through referrals. For more information, visit or call 800-488-5464.

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