Bill Cates saw his future on exactly the fifth sales call he went on with the company he worked for right out of college.
For the previous four calls, he had simply ridden shotgun and watched how the sales manager, Larry, handled the potential customers and pushed the home improvement products they were selling. Now on the fifth attempt, he was getting his first shot to actually run the show. “It went great,” says the 49-year-old Cates. “I made the sale without a hitch.”
There was only one problem: When he happily returned to the car, Larry wouldn’t let him start the ignition, saying instead, “You forgot the most important part, kid. You forgot to get the referrals.”
Cates eventually got the referral that night and learned from the experience the importance of focusing on that aspect of salesmanship. Now, over 20 years later, he’s busily sharing his own lessons on the subject of referrals through his consulting firm, Referral Coach International.
“I was fortunate enough to learn the importance of referrals early on in my sales career,” Cates says with a nod to that fateful night with Larry. “I’ve since then tried to focus on that aspect of business.”
For the past six years Referral Coach International, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, has been teaching financial services professionals the art of getting referrals, primarily running seminars for the representatives of large institutions like American Express Financial Advisors, Merrill Lynch, Solomon Smith Barney, Prudential Securities, New York Life, and Northwestern Mutual. Two years ago, however, Cates set up a two-day seminar, held twice each year, called The Unlimited Referral Bootcamp for small, independent financial planners, insurance salesmen, and estate attorneys. “It’s only for people involved in financial services,” he says of the course that costs $995.
At the Bootcamp as well as in the institutional version of his seminar, Cates teaches advisors what he calls a comprehensive and systematic approach for getting referrals. He calls this system “The Unlimited Referrals Marketing System” and bases most of it on the concepts in his book on the subject Unlimited Referrals (Thunder Hills Press, 1996).
The system begins with a fundamental approach to investment services in general. Cates stresses making the entire process into an “experience” that will not only be memorable for the client but one that they will want to share with others. “There are a lot of ways to go about this,” Cates says, “but the main thing is that you want to inspire them and teach them, make them excited about the financial process in their lives.”