I was coaching a top producer the other day and he was frustrated because one of his top clients wouldn’t give him referrals.

He said, “I asked him if he was pleased with my performance, and he was. I asked him if he would refer me to a few of his colleagues, and he said he would. But I’m still not getting any referrals. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Of course it doesn’t make any sense,” I responded. “Not giving referrals is usually not a logical decision.”

As we begin this discussion of dealing with referral objections, I’m assuming that you are doing everything you need to do to become referable quickly in your relationships, and doing everything you can to stay referable over the lifetime of your client relationships.

If you’re asking for referrals, then these typical objections should sound all too familiar:

  • I don’t give referrals.
  • I’m not ready to talk referrals yet.
  • Let me think about it and get back to you.
  • I’ve been telling people about you. I’m surprised no one’s called.
  • Give me some of your cards to pass out.

When I host live seminars, I like to play “Stump the Referral Coach.” Applying the following formula allows me to deal with virtually every objection thrown my way.

Step 1: Acknowledge and validate their position.

Whatever they say, it’s okay. Let them know it. You understand their perspective.

Step 2: Explore the objection.

This is the most important step in this formula. You must learn the nature of their resistance before your attempt to give them a different perspective. To do this, ask a few questions and try to figure out the true objection. The initial objection is usually an intellectual response, such as “I don’t give referrals.” But the real objection is usually an emotional response, perhaps “I had a bad experience in the past and I don’t ever want to repeat it.”

Step 3: Re-frame their perspective, if you can.

Once you know the nature of their resistance, you can attempt to re-frame their perspective, so that they see the process in a different light. Usually all you need to do is say, “What if you called them first, to let them know why I’m calling?” Once they realize they have some control and that you’re going to help them protect their relationships with their friends or colleagues, they become more open to the process.

Step 4: Collect referrals.

If you’ve been able to re-frame their thinking, you can move onto collecting a few names. Since they’ve been somewhat resistant, you may only go for one or two referrals at this time.

OR Step 5: Plant a seed and back off.

If your client just doesn’t want to go there, back off and live to ask another day. Plant a seed. Say something like “Bob, that’s fine. I do have one simple request. I’m just trying to see if you want to help others in your life through the work we do. If you come across someone whom you think might get value from the work I do, don’t keep me a secret. Fair enough?”

Let’s take one of the most difficult objections ,“I don’t give referrals.” Here’s a likely conversation applying the above steps:

YOU: I was hoping we could brainstorm for a couple of minutes about who you care about that might also find value in the work I do. Could we do that for a minute?

CLIENT: I don’t give referrals.

YOU: Well that’s fine. Many folks don’t like to give referrals. Can I ask you a quick question about that?

CLIENT: Well, I guess so.

YOU: I have other clients who have told me they don’t like to give referrals because they had a bad experience and they don’t want anything like that to ever happen again, or they’re not sure how their friends or colleagues might react from their name being given out. I’m curious, what’s true for you?”

CLIENT: Well, actually, I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with referrals.

YOU: Sorry to hear that. What happened?

CLIENT: I gave my best friend’s name out to a car salesman. This guy bugged my friend for two months. My buddy, to this day, won’t let me forget it. I’ve sworn to never give another referral again.

YOU: Given that, I can appreciate your reluctance. I’m wondering if you might indulge me for a second. I’d like to explain how I make contact with the referrals I receive. If you feel comfortable with that, we can go on. If not, no big deal. Fair enough?

CLIENT: I guess so.

YOU: Great. I’d probably contact them much the same way I contacted you. I’d call them to let them know their name came up in conversation. I’d see if I can set up a quick meeting like the one we had. Then we take it from there. I promise that I’ll do nothing to jeopardize my relationship with you, or your relationships with anyone you know. What do you think?

CLIENT: Sounds okay, I guess. Let’s try one, and see how it goes. If it works, I may have a few others for you.

Read this again, with an eye for the formula. You’ll see that I validated the client’s position. I even gave the client a multiple choice offering of how others feel. In this case, I got a referral. If the client didn’t want to go there, I would have backed off and simply planted a seed to nourish down the road.

Remember, when seeking referrals, the two most important rules to live by are:

  1. Don’t try to overcome the objection. Instead, explore it to see if there’s an objection behind the objection.
  2. If the client shows heavy resistance, back off and live to ask another day.

As I said earlier, a decision to not give referrals is usually not a logical one. It’s an unconscious emotional decision based on some fear the client has. Address those fears, and you’ll have a chance to reframe their thinking and get referrals. Don’t address their fears, and you’ll likely get nowhere.

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