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A Guide To Getting Referrals That Are Just Right

Not all referrals are created equal. Sometimes a client or center of influence knows exactly who to send your way and you love them for it. But others will refer folks to you with no regard for fit.

Sometimes you end up taking on clients who aren’t a good match out of some sense of obligation to the referral source. And with that can come a bit of resentment.

I want to discuss quality over quantity — about how to increase the likelihood of getting introduced only to prospects who are a perfect fit for your business.

Referrals Vs. Introductions

I sometimes use the words “referrals” and “introductions” interchangeably, but there is a difference. Referrals don’t work very well any more. Your client says, “Call George and use my name. That should do it.” But George doesn’t pick up his phone if he doesn’t know who you are. In fact, he’s probably wondering, “Why did Laura give my name out to this guy?”

Instead, we need to get connected — introduced. From this moment on, whenever you are talking to prospects, clients and centers of influence about others who might value your work, use the word introduction. “How do you feel about introducing me to your sister and brother-in-law?” “Let’s discuss the best way for you to introduce me to him; he’ll probably prefer to hear from you before he hears from me.”

Strategy No. 1 — Teach Your Sources Who You Serve The Best

If a potential client doesn’t really fit your business — isn’t suited for the work you like to do and the direction in which you are taking your business — are you the right person for them? I would submit that you are not. They should be served by someone who is jumping-up-and-down excited to work with them.

The first line of defense against receiving ill-fitting clients is to teach your clients who you serve the best — the people for whom you do your best work.

“We have built our business in a way that allows us to work with certain types of folks who meet a specific criterion. [As you do.] We’re not the right firm for everybody, and I want to make sure we have a chance at being a good fit for the right person. So I thought maybe you can identify someone who you think should know about us, since you have a sense of who we best serve. While I don’t expect you to know the specifics about anyone’s financial situation, you probably have a sense, and that’s very helpful.”

Now you go on to describe some of the demographics of an ideal client, covering such topics as income, assets, age range or anything else that’s important to you.

Strategy No. 2 — Qualify The Prospect Before You Speak To Them

You’re in a meeting with a client and they say something like, “Hey, I think I might have a referral for you.” Be flattered that they trust you enough to introduce you to someone, but don’t feel obligated to take that client. Assuming you haven’t made the decision to take on anyone and everyone, just because a client wants to give you a referral doesn’t mean you have to accept it.

Earlier in this article, I made the point that if a client isn’t the right fit for you, then you’re probably not the right person for them. If you agree with that, then why would you even be tempted to create a lose-lose-lose situation?

The language for this situation is much the same as previously.

“I appreciate the trust you have in the work that I do, enough so you want to let others know about us. Let’s talk about your friend Keith. I’ve probably mentioned to you that we’re not the right firm for everyone, that it’s important for everyone that the fit is just right.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions about Keith’s situation and why you thought of him to see if it makes sense to follow through with an introduction. While I don’t expect you to know the specifics about his financial situation, you probably have a sense, and that would be helpful.”

The words you choose might be very different from this suggested verbiage. It’s important that whatever you say is authentic for you.

Strategy No. 3 – Qualify The Prospect Over The Phone

What do you do if a prospect reaches out to you — referred by a client or center of influence — and you’re not sure if they are a good fit for you? Qualify them over the phone!

You don’t want to waste this person’s time or your time if the fit isn’t right. One of my coaching clients, Jayson, isn’t shy about this at all. Here’s what he says to these folks.

“Bobby — It’s great that Diana suggested you reach out to me. She’s been a wonderful client for many years. I know that we are not the right firm for everyone. It’s important to you that you work with a firm perfectly suited for your situation. Let’s chat a bit to see if it makes sense for us to get together.”

Jayson then shares some of his criteria for a perfect fit. He told me that if the prospect is not a great fit, they will recognize it and pretty much self-select out of the next step.

Important note No. 1 — As soon as you get off the phone with a prospect who isn’t a good match, pick up the phone and leave a message for the referral source.

“Diana — I just got off the phone with Bobby. Nice guy! I appreciate the trust you have in us to recommend us to him. Through our conversation, we determined that the timing wasn’t right for us to get together. Again, thank you so much for this recommendation. I look forward to the next opportunity.”

Important note No. 2 — In this message to your referral source, you don’t want to reveal any proprietary information. Perhaps the next time you visit with this referral source in person, you can teach them who you serve the best — in a conversation totally separated from this situation.

Remember the two main things to avoid taking on clients who don’t fit your business:

  1. Teach your referral sources who you serve the best.
  2. Qualify, qualify, qualify. Don’t create lose-lose relationships.

Bill Cates, CSP, CPAE, is the author of Get More Referrals Now, Beyond Referrals and Radical Relevance, and the founder of The Cates Academy for Relationship Marketing. Bill may be contacted at [email protected] [email protected].


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