Do you ask a new prospect for referrals during the first appointment? Do you wait until the second appointment? Do you wait a year into the relationship? The answer to all of these questions is, “It depends.”
There are at least two things to consider in determining when to ask for referrals. First, value must be provided to, and recognized by the prospect or client. Second, you must consider the personality of the referral-giving candidate.
Not too long ago I had an insurance agent set up an appointment with me. As we were about to hang up, he mentioned that he built his practice from referrals and that at the end of our first meeting, he would be asking me for referrals. “So perhaps you could be thinking of some folks between now and our appointment,” he said. Was I ready for this aggressive approach? No! This is “old-style” referral gathering, and it creates more bad will than good referrals. Oh, I might give him a referral or two, but not very good ones.
Value given and recognized
Sometimes it’s easy to know when you’re providing value because your prospects or clients will tell you. They’ll say things such as, “This has been a very helpful meeting,” “I’m glad I finally started working with you on this,” or “Should have done this 20 years ago.” That’s it! Value recognized. That is the time to ask for referrals—but not before.
After someone says, “This has been great! I’m sure glad I’m finally doing this with you,” all you have to say is, “That’s great. I’m glad you’re pleased and I’m glad you’re seeing the value of the work we’re doing. I was wondering if we could brainstorm for a few minutes to see if we can identify who else we can offer this valuable process. Can we try this for a minute?” Notice I made this a “we” process and not a “me” process. Now you go about the collaborative process of brainstorming who you can serve together.
Can you provide referral-giving value to your prospect during the first appointment? Absolutely! In fact, I hope you do that on a regular basis. Don’t be there just to sell. Be there to educate, ask good questions and find out what their needs, values and concerns are. You’ll earn their trust as you learn their story. Then it will be time to tell your story and move on toward the sale.
The question mark
One habit I strongly encourage you to embrace is that of asking value-seeking questions. In fact, I strongly suggest that near the end of your first appointment—with about 10 to 20 minutes left to go—you ask your prospect, “Bob, of all the things we talked about today, what do you think is the most important?” Another thing you might ask is, “We’ve been through a process over the last two meetings. What’s been the most valuable part of that process?”
In most cases, these questions will yield a conversation that demonstrates to both of you that value has been given and recognized. When that happens, and if you feel the referral candidate likes you and trusts you, it’s time to ask for referrals. The worst thing he can say is “no.”
On occasion you’ll hear something like “I’m not sure what the value is yet.” Wouldn’t you rather know this before the end of the appointment, so you can address it right away?
Open vs. guarded
Determining if our clients or prospects are open or guarded is something we need to consider when asking for referrals. Open people are more willing to let you into their lives than guarded folks. They are, therefore, more likely to let you into the lives of others more quickly. So, you can ask open people about referrals sooner into the relationship. Guarded people can be great sources of referrals, but they like to have greater control of the process than the open types. Give them a little more time to trust you.
The bottom line is that when your prospect or client lets you know that value has been received, that is the time to ask for permission to engage in the referral process—not just to help you, but to see who you and your prospect or client can help together.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Bill Cates, CSP, is the author of Get More Referrals Now and the creator of the Unlimited Referrals® Marketing System. Cates works with producers and their companies to increase sales by attracting high-quality clients through a steady and predictable flow of referrals. To learn more about his book, CDs, coaching program, boot camps, seminars and training, call 800-488-5464, or email him at BillCates@ReferralCoach.com.