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Stop Asking for Referrals!

Instead of referrals, start asking for—and working toward—client recommendations.

By Stan Hustad

With the growing popularity of do-not-call lists, caller ID and voice mail, it has become harder—and potentially illegal—to reach new prospects through traditional cold calls. There are jurisdictional and legal battles in the making, but as of now, the fine for calling someone on the national do-not-call list administered by the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission can be up to $11,000 per violation. Increasingly, marketing strategies will have to rely on what I call personal performance marketing rather than on traditional cold calling and mailing. One of the best ways to operate in this new reality is to get recommendations from enthusiastic clients.

Change your language
The word “referral” may not have a positive connotation for your clients. For instance, when Special Prosecutor Ken Starr suggested that Bill Clinton be impeached, it was called a “referral.” What you want is a recommendation. Start using the word recommendation whenever you can. It is a better word and a stronger idea. It’s even better than an introduction. From now on, whenever you normally would find yourself saying referral, say recommendation. This also implies that a recommendation must be earned, which leads to the next point.

Deserve recommendations
Change your language and change your way of thinking from asking to deserving. Many people have proposed strategies and suggestions about asking for referrals. The issue is not how you ask, but how much you deserve a recommendation. Spend time making sure you have served good clients, colleagues and centers of influence. Remember that delivering a policy, giving good counsel, putting together a plan and servicing the client are what you are paid for. If you want a recommendation, think about what you have done to truly deserve one. What have you done above and beyond your duties to make it easy for the client to recommend you? Remember that when a client recommends you, he is risking his own relationship with the person he has in mind—who is perhaps a close friend, colleague or even a relative. He will do so only when he is confident of how well you will serve his friend and how well it reflects on him.

Don’t ruin the experience
The client, like every person, would like to be treated as if he was the most important person in the world. In a recent meeting with one of my advisors, I felt some real pressure to give him some names. You know, that old “who do you know” routine. It made me very uncomfortable, and I felt a bit used. I had the feeling that the whole purpose of that part of the conversation was to help him on his road to success—he was the important one. This interaction ruined the experience for me.

Create memories
Remember that your best recommendations are not given to you; they are given to another person on your behalf. Here is how it usually happens:

People are in a social situation, an issue or problem comes up, and your client says, “You need to talk to my advisor. He can help you.” That is the best way to get a recommendation. When that person calls you, you really have the sale well in hand.

You need to continually seek to create memories for your clients so that you come easily to their mind and your name comes out of their mouths. To paraphrase the old pop song, you have to be always on their mind by creating good memories.

Say thank you and be grateful
Does a client ever thank you for what you have done or how you have helped him? If he has not, you have to wonder whether you deserve a recommendation. When someone thanks you, that is the best time to seek a recommendation. Here is what you might say: “Thank you. I enjoy working with people like you, and I would be grateful if you would recommend me to good friends just like you.” No pressure, no hassle, just an affirmation of the client, a word of thanks and an expression of gratitude. That’s how you develop a great recommendation script.

Stan Hustad is the leader of the PTM Group, a performance coaching and personal performance marketing service to the insurance and investment industry. You can contact him at 612-729-0420,, or through

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