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Reinforcing Your Referrals

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Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you. My objective today is to assist you in building a better business by improving your ability to gain referred leads and also to show you some proven prospecting and networking methods.

Here are some ideas about having more effective meetings and referrals that I have heard from MDRT members in different countries around the world.

Who are you asking the referrals for?

Most of us as professionals feel a bit uncomfortable asking for things that would benefit us personally. It’s always easier to ask for something that helps someone else than for something that helps you. Most of us feel strongly about the company or companies we represent (otherwise we would not represent them).

Therefore, MDRT members I interviewed feel more comfortable asking for referrals for the company they represent than for themselves.

Advisor (A): I noticed that you look pretty happy with your policy.

Client (C): Yes, I feel I will sleep better at night.

A: You are right. It is remarkable how many innovative financial products like this ABC Life has developed. Who do you feel, in your circle or among your colleges, might possibly benefit from ABC Life products?

Many people also feel strongly about education.

A: Mrs. Jansen, do you think that Mr. Bruin made a good decision when he referred this ABC educational plan to you?

C: Yes, I feel strongly about education.

A: Do you know others who feel the same way?

Are you getting the names first and the stories later?

A: Who could you think of who might benefit from a similar plan to yours?

C (Mrs. Curie): Well, I guess you could check with Heinz Krauthammer.

A: Krauthammer?

C: He said he nearly caught the Swiss version of the Loch Ness Monster. He was fighting for two hours to land it and then it got away.

Ten minutes later Mrs. Curie says with a big smile:

C: Well, now you too know the Krauthammer story.

True, but you only got one referral. This seems to work better:

C: Well, Mr. Krauthammer might be interested.

A: ‘Hmmm, Krauthammer. Who else?

C: Well, eh, maybe Madame Des Champs.

A: (nodding) Hmmm, who else?

C: Oh, well, I guess you could talk to my brother-in-law, too.

After you have several names, you can get the details about each one. Of course, you try to get the details on the referral that looks the most promising first. Then you whip out your smartphone:

A: Would you mind calling Madame Des Champs for me?

C: Well, eh, eh…

A: Or would you rather have me call her?

C: Well, eh, yeah, you know…

A: I understand. Could you give me her number, please?

Can you speak the language of your target markets?

In Monument Valley, on the Utah-Arizona border, I was once staying at Goulding’s Lodge, and I overheard two Native Americans, an Apache and a Navaho, talk to each other.

They spoke neither Apache nor Navaho. The Navaho could not speak Apache and the Apache could not speak Navaho. They spoke English. Linguists say that about 3,000 years ago all Native American languages were the same language. Now there are more than 5,000 different Native American languages.

Even among the Native Americans, the people in the valley have always worked hard to prove they’re a little better because they say things a little bit differently from those people over the hill.

Who are you? By using words and putting your sentences together the way the client does, you prove that you are part of the “tribe” of the client. Therefore, it makes sense that you should be listened to and referred to other members of the tribe.

I noticed the top producers always use different words when talking to different people. They try to customize their message in the language that can be understood by the client they are working with. In other words, they tune in before they decide what they are going to broadcast.

This helps you get referrals to people in that target market. For instance:

o “Mrs. Doctor, I recommend we do a thorough examination of your financial health. Then we will prepare a careful diagnosis. Our objective is to develop a financial prescription that ensures you the best possible long-term financial health with the least amount of short-term negative side effects.”

o “Mr. Contractor, this financial plan puts your family on a solid financial foundation right away no matter what happens. Then month after month, you build up your cash value.”

o “Mr. Truck Driver, every truck driver knows that the sooner you leave, the earlier you get there. It seems to me that you are a little bit late already to get to your destination. Let’s not waste time anymore and get going on this.”

o “Mr. Farmer, life insurance is like your crop out there in the field. You plant it. You keep taking care of it. At the end of the term you harvest what you planted. In the meantime your harvest is protected from everything.”

o “Mr. Police Officer, other police officers said that if they did not stop their runaway expenses right now and start saving, their family could be sentenced to years of poverty.”

o “Mr. Lawyer, we are here today to see if a case can be made for a financial plan. We will examine all the relevant financial evidence-for and against. Then you give your verdict–yes or no.”

o “Ms. Opera Singer, life is full of drama. Let’s create a policy today that gets some of the drama out of your financial life.”

o “Mrs. Teacher, most people in education usually are not so knowledgeable about the different financial choices that are available. Our purpose today is to learn more about what is available in the financial world these days.”

o “Mr. Computer Programmer, you never know when there is going to be a financial breakdown. This insurance is like a system backup.”

o “Mr. Soccer Star, in soccer you score if you go to where the ball will be, not to where it is. In five years, when you said you plan to leave the field, your checks will not be following you anymore. Other soccer players feel this plan is a defensive and offensive move at the same time. Getting protection is the defensive part and accumulating capital is the offensive move. But your plan is like a soccer ball. It does not move by itself. In finances, just like in soccer, you cannot score if you do not shoot.”

o “Mr. General, other generals feel it is their duty to tackle these financial challenges head on. The longer you delay attacking them, the stronger they get. Our purpose today is to design a time-tested strategic plan to prevent your family from being financially ambushed.”

o “Ms. Makeup Artist, wouldn’t it beautiful if you could somehow make your financial future as pretty as you make your clients?”

o “Mrs. Nurse, yes, you are right. The payments are going to hurt a little. But that’s the price you have to pay for good financial health.”

As you can see, by learning the language of prospects a relationship is much easier to build.


A client gave you a referral. You called the person to set up a meeting. He said, “Not now.” No meeting. But you kind of felt you could and would have gotten that meeting if only somehow you had sounded a bit more convincing.

Sound familiar?

Before an opera performance, the singers practice so that they sound good when the curtain goes up instead of when it goes down. So some MDRT members do a Pavarotti and warm up with “maintenance calls” to clients who already had referred them before they make a call to a new referral.

This would of course put them in a good mood because these clients are happy to hear from them, especially since they are not trying to sell them anything. They then sound much more self-confident when they make important calls to new referred people.

By the way, did you know that Pavarotti used to sell life insurance? This opera thing was just a big dream for him. Life insurance sales paid the bills. In fact, when the insurance company offered him a unit manager position, Mrs. Pavarotti pleaded with him to accept it. He had to promise Mrs. Pavarotti that if after the next performance in Trieste he did not finally get a singing contract, he would stop the opera nonsense and start working as a full-time unit manager.

He got the contract. The industry lost a mediocre manager. Opera gained the greatest tenor of all time.

Are you thickening the thread you are hanging on?

The only connection between you and the referral is the referrer. That’s a pretty thin thread to hang on to. You want to try to make that thread thicker right away. You could do this by showing how the referrer and you have discussed the referral and his situation. In other words, you want to prove that you have done your homework about him.

Of course, you also sound better and more convincing for the referral if you accentuate certain words and make them sound good:

A: Hello, is this Mr. Duhrer?

C: Yes, speaking.

A: Hello, Mr. Duhrer. This is Erik Vos from ABC Life. Mr. Albrecht recommended I give you a call. I hope I am not catching you at a bad time.

C: What can I do for you?

A: Last Wednesday Mr. Albrecht and I had a meeting. Mr. Albrecht had heard about some of the financial services of ABC from a friend of his. We managed to come up with a pretty interesting financial construction for the Albrecht family. He said you have been in the hotel business for…was it 15 1/2 years?

C: 16.

A: Yeah, right, 16 years. Mr. Albrecht suggested that it might be an interesting idea if we meet. He thought you might possibly have an interest in the financial products of ABC, too. Let’s meet next week to see if one or more of the latest ABC financial products could be useful for you and your family either now or maybe some time in the future.

As you can see this is not a very pushy script.

Are your action and motion words fighting the prospect’s maybe?

Most of the time, your clients do not say yes. They do not say no. They say maybe.

Then is it possible that if you use “anti-maybe words,” such as motion words, you could help your prospects make a decision? The ultimate “motion” would be a decision, wouldn’t it?

So if you could get the prospects to talk about some of their past big decisions, the prospects could feel a bit more relaxed and self-confident about their ability to make a move instead of doing nothing.

For example:

o “How did you decide to get into the building business?” (This helps the prospect to realize that he or she can make big decisions and things turn out okay.)

o “Mr. Prospect, what made youdecide to move from Smallville to Bigville?”

o “Yes, Mr. Prospect, you’re right. Other contractors who started their business also put all their money into the business when they began. Now many have decided to put 10% aside and invest into long-term savings.”

Other motion words:

o “Mr. Engineer, this plan transfers the risk away from your family on to the insurance company. Do you think it might be possible for you and your family to change your spending pattern and start putting funds away and accumulate some capital?”

o “This plan has helped other teachers arrive at a position where they are in a comfortable financial situation.”

o “Mr. Client, if you would have started this program three years ago, you would already have built up some savings.”

o “Many people find it difficult to get out of a situation in which they spend all their income every month and are vulnerable for a calamity, and turn it into a situation in which they have built a nest egg.”

Are you helping clients to understand?

I tried to get my prospects to understand that it would be a smart idea to get some life insurance. I did my best to explain all their options. But many times I felt that I did not seem to be getting through. They had to think about it. They just did not seem to understand.

When I complained to my former agency manager, Harvey Levine, he said, “How do people understand things? As you have probably noticed people usually do not understand things by thinking about them. The more people think about something, the less they seem to understand it.”

o A cat understands things by smelling.

o Blind people understand things by touching.

o People hear things and understand.

o The Dutch say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

No wonder the prospect did not understand. I was selling life insurance. Life insurance is invisible, untouchable, and unable to be tasted. So I figured the more sense words I used, the more “real” our meeting would become. Therefore it’s better to say:

o I have heard many managers mention this.

o You’ve probably heard about the ABC Financial Services Company.

o Other secretaries also smell trouble with the government’s ability to provide them with a good pension.

o This is money you cannot touch, so it just keeps on growing.

o You have probably seen other farmers take action.

o You have probably noticed that quality education is not getting cheaper.

Accumulation words

There are two things in life we all seem to have too little of: time and money. When you meet a prospect, he might feel that you want to remind him that his time might be up unexpectedly (and even more ironically, that he has to pay for this). No wonder most people do not look forward to meeting life insurance advisors!

Unfortunately, you can’t sell time in a bottle. But if you show prospects that you are there to help them to get money instead of lose money, won’t they be more willing to listen to you?

Everybody hates to pay but loves to get paid:

o “Life insurance is simple: If you live, the insurance company pays you. If you don’t, it pays your family. Just imagine that you would have made this wise decision today. Now let’s imagine it’s 2015. Nothing has happened to you. You get a nice check. If in 2015 you were to look back at today, would you then say that you had made a wise decision today?”

o “Many other engineers who started this program some years ago are quite happy with the savings they have accumulated.”

Power words

Everybody wants to be powerful. On Halloween the kids in my neighborhood usually dress up like Superman or the Powerpuff Girls. I know some 50-year-old agency managers who like to dress up in combat fatigues on the weekend.

o “With this insurance you guarantee that your present buying power and standard of living stays intact.”

People like to have something made just for them:

o “This financial construction allows you to keep the ability to finance your children’s education no matter what happens.”

Goal words

MDRT members use the word goal much more often than average advisors. Then the word goal must be one of the most powerful words available. Isn’t it your job as an advisor to help prospects figure out what is really important for them (in other words, to help them identify their goals)? And after that, to show them how to achieve those goals?

o “Mr. Client, if I understand things correctly one of your most important goals is to take care of your children no matter what happens. How do you feel this insurance would fit into achieving that goal?”

o “Imagine that you could have Aladdin’s lamp, and you could make three wishes about your financial future. What would they be?”

o “Mr. Client, this policy will help you accomplish your goalof sending Carla and Hank to a great university.”

To achieve any goal you need a plan. People who want to lose weight go on a diet plan.

o “This plan enables you to put something away every month.”

o “What standard of living is acceptable for you in your later years? What plans have you made so far for this?”

o “Mr. Client, who do you know in your family who also might be interested in a financial plan?”

Are you selling on all cylinders?

“Did you make a sale?” asked Harvey Levine, my agency manager.

“They said they were going to think about it, and we all know what that means. Now you are probably going to say that I am breaking the agency record for most amount of meetings without a sale,” I answered.

“What do you think the problem seems to be?” asked Harvey.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I keep on explaining and explaining to my prospects how good our products are.”

“Your presentation is probably too rational,” Harvey said. “Buying life insurance is an emotional decision for which people give a rational explanation. Probably 80% of the people buy for emotional reasons and only 20% for rational reasons. So if you talk only about the rational reasons, it’s like running your car on less than one cylinder.”

MDRT members in different countries often say something like this:

o “Mr. Client, I understand how you feel.”

o “Many of my other hairdresser clients felt the same way. Then they found that to always be spending as much or more than they earned every month was not satisfying.”

o “Although it was difficult in the beginning, many of my other firefighter clients are now quite content that they are building up savings while protecting their loved ones.”

o “How do you feel about Susan’s and Peter’s education?”

o “What would you like to do in your retirement years? Do you feel that the government will provide you an adequate pension for that?”

People feel good when they finish something unpleasant, such as going to the dentist or buying life insurance:

o “With this construction you never have to worry anymore about the financial implications of your children’s studies. You get it done and over with.”

Are you getting referrals from the whole totem pole?

I’ve always gotten along well with entrepreneurs. I enjoy talking about their business. Many times they want to buy at the end, and their wife would say it all sounded very good but that they want to discuss things in private first. I often ended up losing a sale that I thought was mine.

In June 1990 I was visiting the Vancouver Indians in the Canadian province of British Columbia. They showed me their oldest totem pole.

I asked the tour guide, “How do these totem poles of yours work?”

He explained, ‘The animals in the totem pole first want you to see them as a whole unit. So we all used to dance around the totem pole and say, ‘Huh, huh, huh’ to the whole totem pole. The totem pole was then satisfied that we saw them as one unit. Then the individual animals in the totem pole wanted to be addressed. So we danced around the totem pole and looked at the bear and we all said, “Growl, growl, growl” to the bear. Then we looked at the eagle and said, “Squawk, squawk, squawk” to the eagle. This way all the animals in the totem pole were happy.”

I realized I had lost sure sales and referrals because I do not do a totem pole interview and presentation: one interview and presentation with the wife, and one interview and presentation with the husband. I spend much more time with the concerns of the husband and too little with those of the wife.

So you should have two interviews and presentations going on at the same time. It’s not too easy for you because they are probably interrupting each other. In the interview you should find two needs: What does the wife really want? What does the husband really want?

You should make sure that both are very happy with your services so that they can both give you referrals. During the presentation tell the wife, “This system provides your family with security, which you said was so important for you no matter what [you look at the wife as you say this], and it also guarantees the finances for that education you had in mind” [now you look at the husband].

Usually I try to get referrals from the person who seems the happiest first. After I get referrals from the first person, I try to get them from the spouse. Many times when the wife sees that her husband cannot think of anybody to refer, she will help refresh his memory.

Should you use the present-past-future method?

Most people experience time as one worry at a time. But what you are selling only looks good many years later. Many people cannot see that far ahead in time.

I just read a study Allianz did in Germany. Even in Germany only about one-third of people said they could think and plan for more than ten years in the future. About one-third could plan for things between three and ten years. More than one-third said they could not even plan for more than a year.

Many times when I’m talking about the faraway future-when prospects are worried about this week–I was talking about something that they could not see. No wonder that at the end of my presentation they usually said, “I have to think about it.” If you can’t see something, you have to think about it.

In the early 1980s in Hollywood, a movie actor prospect asked me, “Erik, why do you think Back to the Future is so successful at the moment?”

“Back to where?” I asked. The meeting ended soon after.

The next evening I went to see Back to the Future so that I could figure out why this film was so successful. I still haven’t been able to figure it out, but I did realize how it could make me successful. I decided I first had to ask about the present. Then instead of asking about the future, I would ask about the past.

After the client had discussed past big decisions, he would not think in terms of days or weeks anymore, but rather in terms of years. All of a sudden the future was not something he had to think about, but rather something he could now see.

This is how it works.

Their present?

Are you telling them how they are different?

I have noticed that many MDRT members in other countries do not make a compliment when they start a meeting. Young people especially feel offended by anything they believe could be insincere.

A: “You have a very nice house!”

Instead I have noticed that many MDRT members around the world ask a question or make a remark that gets clients to give themselves a compliment.

o “Your cat seems to have a healthy self-esteem.”

o “Is that a real Bauhaus chair”?

o “Is this the oldest oak tree in the neighborhood?”

o “I see you are painting the house. Yours will be the only gray one in the street.”

o “This Saint Bernhard looks like he has a good sense of humor even for a Saint Bernhard.”

People also like a compliment when they show you how they are different from others. The average person wants to prove he is not an average person:

o The average person feels that he or she looks, on average, 6 1/2 years younger than he or she really is.

o 85% of teenagers believe they are in the top 10% in the ability to get along with other teenagers.

o 94% of drivers say their driving is above average.

A: “What is different about your dental practice?”

C: “The quality of my work is what distinguishes my dental practice from other dental practices.”

A: “How did you get started in the car business?”

C: “When I got started in the car business I was so poor I drove a bicycle to work.”

A: “How do you see the future of the roofing business?”

C: “Since the beginning of time, people have always needed a roof over their head to protect them from the elements. The elements will always be with us, and so will my roofs!”

Their past?

People like to talk about their past. It’s easy to do because it has already happened. People often like to exaggerate a little bit about their past. You know, the older a guy gets, the faster he thinks he could run as a boy.

Today you are going to ask them to make a “historical” financial decision. It is historical because they don’t make it every day.

If you are not so sure about something, you have to think about it. The prospect’s and your biggest enemy is maybe the attitude of “I have to think about it.”

As an advisor you are always up against big competitors. But your biggest competitor is “maybe.” “Maybe Unlimited” has more market share than the biggest life insurance companies in the world, such as Prudential Ltd., MetLife, ING, Allianz, Aviva, China Life, and AXA combined!

If you can get them to talk about past big decisions, they’ll tell you about times when they did not think, but acted. If they took action, something–some goal–got them to take action.

Maybe if a goal was big enough for them to take action then, it will get them to take action again today. If they talk about past big decisions, they’ll realize they are capable of making big decisions, at least sometimes.

Action would be a nice outcome of today’s meeting. Wouldn’t it? For example:

o “How did you get started in the car business?”

o “Are you originally from here? Oh, you are from Houston! What made you decide to move from Houston to Atlanta?”

o “How did you find this house?”

Their future?

Because of your intelligent questions about the past, you have now put the clients in a different time perspective. They hopefully do not look at things from a day-to-day perspective, but you have made them more open to think longer term.

o “How do you want your retirement years to be different from those of your parents?”

o “What are your educational plans for Kevin and Melissa? Have you figured out what this is going to cost?”

o “Is there going to be a major change in your financial situation in the coming years?”

This helps your clients look in the future and tell you about inheritances, college expenses, and early retirement, and it helps you get a better picture of what they need.

o “What standard of living will be acceptable for you in your later years?”

This works because “to accept” usually creates an emotional response.

o “If, say, yesterday if a catastrophe had happened, how many months could the family survive financially?”

It is not so good for you to say, “Mr. Client, let’s imagine that tomorrow you get hit by a truck.” Clients in many countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, think that you seem to wish them bad luck. But you cannot wish someone bad luck in the past.

A: “What, if anything, worries you about your financial future?”

With the past-present-future method you have removed the curtain from their seeing the future. In the proposal part you want to keep it removed. How do you do that?

Do you kangaroo?

In the bush outside Sydney I once saw a kangaroo hopping through the desert. It hopped so fast that it looked as if it were flying. Now I understand why Qantas puts a kangaroo on its airplanes.

I like to call talking about goals in time “kangarooing.” I have noticed that when I “kangaroo’d” and talked about the client’s goals in time, the client would look at me in a fascinated way.

o “In the past people did not live so long and there were many workers for each retiree.

o “At the moment, there are three and a half workers for each retiree, and 25 years from now, when you will want to retire, there will only be about two workers.”

o “Many of my contractor clients, when they got started in business, invested all of the money they had in the business as you did. Now many of them are deciding to invest for the future.”

o “By the time they reach 65, many people like to have built healthy savings.”

You could be one of the first people who ever paints a picture like this for the prospect. By doing this you are doing a lot more than pushing product. You help clients crystallize priorities!

Of course, your clients will not be grateful if you do this (gratitude is after all one of the least experienced of human emotions), but MDRT members who use this method have noticed that they made more sales, got more referrals, and most importantly felt better about what they were able to do for clients.

Twenty-five years of experience have taught me that if you work for money alone, you will always be underpaid.

Today we have discussed many proven techniques to enhance your ability to network and prospect 365 days a year. I have no doubt that if you implement them into your business, not only will your prospecting ability improve, but your production will also increase to record levels.

This is a published version of a focus session presented by Eric Vos at the 2011 MDRT annual meeting in Atlanta. Vos is a principal and founder at Erik Vos and Associates, Budapest, Hungary.


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