Speak with seasoned, successful professionals in virtually any industry and you’re apt to hear a common refrain: “Most of my business comes from word of mouth or referrals from satisfied customers.” Sounds like marketing nirvana, doesn’t it? After all, getting a solid endorsement from an existing customer gives an advisor a huge advantage with the prospect; you’ve already been “pre-approved” by your mutual associate.
But asking for referrals sometimes can seem awkward or pushy, especially at the end of what often can be a lengthy LTCI sales process. Here are some ideas to help you maximize your referrals and reap the rewards of meeting with clients who are already favorably inclined toward you and your products.
1. Approach your current customers
Asking your current customers for referrals is the oldest marketing trick in the book. That’s not to say it’s always an easy process, however. How do the pros do it?
“I’ve been in the business 30 years, and I ask for referrals in a little different way,” says Jim Geitgey of Geitgey Financial Services in Springfield, Ohio. “In each interview I have with my clients – whether it’s to work up a plan or do a review – I give them five of my business cards and ask them to pass them along to anyone they think might benefit from my services. It’s a continuing process with my ?A’ clientele, who know I’ll give their friends and colleagues the same type of help I’ve given them. Because they know me and have worked with me, they know I’m low-key and not pushy. Consequently, many of my clients give me referrals and I gain new business every year as a result.”
2. Develop alliances
Jack Keeter, owner of Pacific Sales & Marketing LLC, in Henderson, Nev., takes the referral process one step further. “There is a big difference between a referral and an introduction,” he says. “To me, a referral is when someone tells somebody else, ?Call him; he’s a good guy.’ It might be a customer’s friend, neighbor or someone they go to church with, and that’s certainly a technique that can work.
“However, what I prefer is to be introduced to people. There’s nothing like being personally introduced by either a customer or another business professional; it’s so much more effective. When it comes to referrals, my goal is always to be introduced, in person.”
3. Close the generation gap
Geitgey finds some of his most effective referrals come during the educational process of the LTCI sale. Educating the customer often involves talking with the individual family members who will ultimately carry forth his clients’ long term care directives and wishes. Often, the process of working so closely with his clients’ relatives gives him an opportunity to gain their trust and work with them on their own long term care plans.
“I try to do multi-generational planning, and when I plan with mom and dad, I also suggest that we develop a plan with the daughter and son,” Geitgey says. “Many times I have to talk with the adult children anyway about how we are going to structure the plans to take care of their parents. So I’ll often suggest that we have them get started with the same process and make their own long term care plans. Many of those prospects are baby boomers, and because I’m a boomer as well, I can explain the product in a way they can relate to and help them make a thoughtful plan.”
4. Network it forward
The ambiguous concept of “networking” often can involve a lot of legwork without a lot of payoff. Attending networking events and professional mixers may yield a pocketful of business cards, but how many of those contacts actually turn into customers? Keeter has learned that “paying it forward,” by changing the focus away from his agenda and toward his colleagues’ goals, actually produces better results.
“I’m constantly working on building a professional network,” he says. “First, I try to help the professionals I meet grow their business; that’s always my initial objective. But interestingly, reciprocity comes to roost right back to me. As a result, I don’t have to spend much money on traditional promotions like direct mail.”
5. Try the direct approach
Carol Hunsaker, CSA, CLTC, CIC, owner of Preferred Benefits LLC, of Denver, has been selling LTCI since 1984. Six years ago she started her own business to focus primarily on the product. She also enjoys plenty of referrals from financial planners, CPAs and estate attorneys.
“I used to try to make professional connections at events like the chamber of commerce, but I have less time to do that now,” Hunsaker says. “Instead, I’ve developed a rather direct approach. Now I simply call those professionals I’d like to have a referral arrangement with and ask for a short appointment. I meet with them, explore how they feel about LTCI, offer my services, and leave them with a brochure and card.