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Diagnose your damage threshold

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Why don’t agents ask for referrals more often? The truth is that many of us fear that asking for referrals will damage our client relationships. Of course, like most fears, this one is a ghost. It appears real, but it isn’t. Have you ever damaged a client relationship by asking for referrals? Has anyone ever fired you because you asked for referrals?  This is an extremely rare occurrence that happens only when someone gets too aggressive.

The damage threshold

My friend and colleague, Phil Simonides, has developed a concept he calls the damage threshold, in which a person thinks that X behavior will damage X relationship, though this has never actually happened. Phil describes this as, “imagining the worse possible scenario that never happens.” This is a great way to look at it. Fear occasionally holds each of us back from taking more effective action.

As you might expect, Phil encourages his advisors to find out what their own individual damage threshold is. Only once this is determined can they start the journey toward being more effective. Phil also coaches his advisors, “Have fun doing it. The more fun you have, the harder it will be to find that threshold. And, in the meantime, you’ll be collecting a ton of referrals.”

Here’s the bottom line: Asking for referrals will almost never hurt your client relationships. The worst thing that will happen is that you won’t get a referral. Even then, you’ll plant a powerful seed that will likely bear fruit later.

As you think about your own damage threshold, consider these misconceptions that often stand in the way of closing more sales.

Misconception No. 1: “I’ll blow the sale”

Many advisors believe that by asking for referrals, they’ll blow the sale. They think that their client will move their business or ask for their check back. The truth is, when a client has made a decision to do business with you, their perceived value of you is at a high point. This is one of the best times to ask for referrals. I promise you, nobody will ask for their check back or decide not to do business with you, so long as you don’t get too aggressive in your request.

Misconception No. 2: “I’ll look unsuccessful”

Many reps fear that asking for referrals makes them look less successful.  My response to this is always, “It depends on how you ask.”  If you ask in the old-school manner by telling clients you get paid through referrals or by saying something like, “I’m trying to build my business and I need your help,” then I could see how that might make you seem less successful.  How you ask is important.

There are two things to consider here. First, asking for help is a sign of high self-esteem. The most successful people I know have learned how to ask for help (from clients as well as others) in a way that doesn’t diminish their “status,” but rather enhances it. Second, when you ask for referrals, don’t base the request on helping you; make it about bringing your valuable process to others.  Believe in the value and importance of your process.  (You do have a process, don’t you?)

Misconception No. 3: “People feel uncomfortable being asked for referrals”

No! Some people feel uncomfortable being asked for referrals. There is a term in psychology known as “projection.” We hold a certain belief or feeling about something, and our psyche projects that “truth” on to someone else. We feel uncomfortable asking for referrals, so we assume others would feel uncomfortable being asked.

Not everyone will give us referrals. Our job is to identify the ones who will, without hurting the relationships with those that won’t. You don’t need all of your clients to give you referrals. You just need enough of them to. When you have a soft yet proven method for asking for referrals, you can ask just about every client you have and not worry about damaging the relationship.

One way to do this is to ask your clients value-seeking questions. Check in with them at the end of meetings. Determine if they see the value. Probe their perception of the value you bring. This is the best lead-in to the referral conversation. It allows you to ask “Who’s the next person to receive the value?”

Become aware of how your mistaken assumptions are sabotaging your efforts to create more and better referrals.  Then take the necessary action to remove those barriers and start producing better results. 

For more from Bill Cates, see:

5 steps to leverage your referral process

How (and why) to target a niche market

How to face referral objections with confidence


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