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In the hot seat: Getting the most out of your request for referrals

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The sale is coming to the close, and you’re nearing the finish line. Your client sits across the table from you with a blank stare. You can see the cogs inside working, but there’s nothing coming out. You’ve just asked the dead question: “Who else can I contact about financial advice, guidance or products?”

Your client’s suddenly glazed eyes are not the result of your sales technique or the reality of the sale. Rather, they’re the consequence of an ineffective referrals pitch. All too often, advisors come out of the blue with a question that floors many of their clients. The clients are startled, confused and put on the spot, and the advisors are left with too few contacts or a handful of random names with little chance of real follow-up. How does an advisor avoid this costly mistake? By being aware of a few key techniques that put the referrals question on the front lines.

1. Let your clients know you’ll be asking for referrals at the end of your meeting. This simple statement is designed to get them thinking. You might even keep a pad of paper nearby in case an idea strikes them suddenly.

2. Be specific about your request. Have a few detailed questions prepared in case they don’t understand what you’re looking for. Though it may surprise you, many clients may not know what type of referrals you want.

3. Offer reasons why they should give you referrals. When it comes to requesting referrals, it is not enough to have done a good job for your client. Because they are putting their image and reputation on the line with each name they give, they must understand why it is in their best interest to help you. Help them see the benefits of the products before the sale is through.

4. Set up standards against which your performance can be measured. It may be tough for a client to know whether or not you deserve referrals, so when you first sit down, agree upon some basics that will help them know whether or not you’ve “done a good job.”

5. Avoid the dead question. Not only was the above example ill-timed, it was weak. Rather than suggesting referrals, ask for them. Being up front and honest about what you want to gain from the meeting (beyond meeting your client’s needs) can help your referral- gathering by leaps and bounds.

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