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When you receive a referral, what do you usually do with it? Do you say, “Thanks, I’ll let you know what happens.” Or do you linger a little longer to learn more about your new prospect?

I always advocate quality over quantity.  Coming away from a meeting with 12 referrals all at once doesn’t usually yield the kind of results you’d like, because the quality of the referral is usually not very good. 

Two reasons to upgrade your referrals

When you take the time to upgrade your referrals, you benefit in two ways.  First, you learn the type of things about your prospect that will help you have a better conversation with them.  You’ll be able to demonstrate your relationship with their friend more clearly and build rapport more easily.  Second, when your referral consists of little more than a name and phone number, it doesn’t feel like much more than a cold call. In contrast, when you learn about your new prospect, you’ll feel more comfortable about the call — maybe even excited about it — and will be more likely to call the prospect right away.

Don’t stop the stream of consciousness

When asking for referrals, there will be times when your referral source gets into what I call a “stream of consciousness” mode, where they’ll grab their smartphone or directory of association members and rattle off a dozen names (or more). When you catch a referral source in this flow, don’t stop it.  Write the names down and encourage more.

However, after the flood is over, go back and identify 3–5 people you can learn more about in order to have a high-quality call with them. Tell your referral source you’ve learned through experience that you’ll be more successful in reaching, and eventually helping, these folks if you take a few at a time and learn as much as you can about them.  Then tell your referral source that you’ll call them in a week to learn more about the next batch.

Some questions to ask

Here are a few general questions you’ll want to ask your referral source during the “upgrade” process. 

  1. Why did you think of him first?
  2. Has she expressed a concern in this area?
  3. Could you give me a sense of his personality?
  4. How do you think she’ll react to his name coming up in conversation and me calling her?
  5. What do you think is the best way to approach him, so that he’ll be open to speaking and meeting with me? How can I pique his interest?
  6. Could you tell me something you like or admire about her?

The golden key to rapport

I need to emphasize the importance and power of question number six. Every time you get a referral, ask your source what they admire about their friend (or colleague, or family member).  Then use this in your opening conversation with your prospect.  You will be absolutely amazed at how easily this opens the door for you.

Of course, you may have other questions specific to the situation that you will want to ask, as well.  Your own list of questions might help you qualify the prospect as appropriate to receive your call in the first place. Don’t ever hesitate to make sure it’s a good match. You don’t need to waste time calling people who don’t fit your practice.

Time, relationship and courage

There are three major factors that will allow you to have these types of conversations with your referral sources. The first is time. Manage your appointments well, so that this conversation isn’t rushed. Some producers like to schedule special meetings just for the purpose of discussing referrals. 

The second is relationship. The better relationship you are able to establish with your clients, the more willing they will be to have this type of conversation with you. 

The third is courage. If you’re not in the habit of getting upgraded referrals, you will have to tap into your courage the first few times. Soon, it will become second nature.

For more from Bill Cates, see:

6 Referral Seeds Worth Planting

When’s the Best Time to Ask for a Referral?

The Client-Appreciation Event: Your New Prospecting Strategy