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Build a better referral

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At first glance, a referral is a pretty simple thing: A satisfied client gives you a name and phone number and you contact the prospect to explain your value proposition — a simple, straightforward process.

Unfortunately, this “do a good job and ask for a referral” approach is totally and completely wrong. Not only is it a waste of time and effort, it deceives salespeople into believing it is their fault it has not worked, when the fault lies in a “system” that is deeply flawed.

Generating a large number of high-quality referrals requires far more than doing a good job and asking for a referral. If you want to generate a large number of high-quality referrals from your clients, you must understand what creates a quality referral.

A high-quality referral is built on a foundation that has four solid pillars. As the seller, you have control over three of them:

  1. Your relationship with your client. Most clients don’t give referrals because they like you or even because you did a good job. Certainly there are a few clients that will give referrals at the drop of a hat, but most clients hate to give referrals and unless they have a deep trust that you will not embarrass them and that you’ll deal honestly and competently with the prospect they refer, they will shy away from giving referrals. To get clients to take this step doesn’t come without having first built a strong bond of trust.
  2. Your client’s purchasing experience. Discover what your client’s purchasing expectations and priorities are, then meet or exceed them. Few sellers ever exceed a client’s expectations, because even though they think they know what the client’s expectations are, they never really find out. They never ask. You cannot afford to guess at your client’s expectations. You must know exactly, and you can do that only by discussing them with your client. If you don’t specifically ask clients about their expectations, the best you can do is aim for what you think their expectations are. If their expectations are not fulfilled, they are unlikely to give you a quality referral.
  3. The relationship between your client and a prospect. This is the one pillar you have no control over. Clients will refer you to people they have very strong, positive relationships with — and people they have very negative relationships with. If the prospect trusts and respects your client, some of that trust and respect will automatically transfer to you. On the other hand, if a prospect distrusts or doesn’t respect your client, some of those feelings will also transfer to you. Your job is to identify the relationship between your client and prospect and then plan your approach accordingly.
  4. Your initial contact with a prospect. At this point, you’ve invested a great deal of time and effort in establishing your relationship with your client, making sure he or she receives the expected purchasing experience and finding out what the relationship is between your client and the person being referred. After investing so much time and attention, the last thing you want is a prospect’s name and phone number. What you want is a direct introduction. The best methods are a letter of introduction (ideally written by you and signed by your client), an introductory phone call (perhaps while you are present) or a lunch meeting (where your client can introduce you in person).

To succeed in sales, you need a well-thought-out plan of action, and the same is true when it comes to referrals. If you understand the underpinnings of a high-quality referral, you are much more likely to get one.

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Paul McCord is a best-selling author, speaker and leading authority on lead generation. He has more than 20 years’ experience coaching and mentoring salespeople. For more information, go to


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