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Put referrals on your agenda

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A few years ago, I hosted a seminar on referrals, which was televised across the U.S. During the live broadcast, Paul, an advisor from the Midwest, expressed frustration at trying to grow his practice by asking for introductions.

“I ask my clients about people they know who could use my help,” he said. “But it feels awkward, and then my clients start to feel awkward and I get put off.”

“Who gets awkward first?” I asked.

“Well, I guess I do,” was his response. “But it’s because I know they are going to feel uncomfortable.”

“Did it occur to you that maybe they get uncomfortable because you’re feeling awkward and that your discomfort actually triggers theirs?” I asked.

“I never considered that,” he admitted.

We then went through three steps Paul could take to diffuse the discomfort of asking for referrals:

1.  Start your meetings by giving clients (verbally or in writing) an agenda which includes, as a final item, a discussion about friends, associates and family members you might be able to help. Don’t surprise them with a sudden request at the end of an appointment. If a client is uncomfortable with this agenda item, give her a chance to tell you why before you discuss this important subject. For example:

“…The last thing I’d like to talk about this morning is some of the people in your life you think I could help. I’d much rather be working with someone you want me to work with than someone whose name I took off a list somewhere. We can talk about some of the people you know, and, if we decide it makes sense, we can figure out the best way to get in contact with them.”

2.  Always ask about the value you’ve brought to them, either during that particular appointment or over time. Ask your client what he got out of your meeting, what he learned and what he will get or has gotten out of his relationship with you. Ask him to tell you specifically what he found helpful. Then utter the magic question “What else?” Keep probing until your client can’t think of anything else. Then direct him to the ideas you hoped he would find helpful, and ask if he did:

“Did you find our discussion this morning helpful? Was there one specific idea that you found particularly useful? What else? What else? How about when I explained…”

3.  Now you can ask your client about people she knows who could be helped in the same way you have helped her. Remind her that this was one of your agenda items and ask her who came to mind:

“Mary, I’m glad you found the work we did here today so helpful. The last thing I promised you we’d do this morning is discuss some of the people you care about who might want the same kind of help and decide whether it would make sense to arrange an introduction—and how we would go about that. Who is the first person who came to mind?”

Speak with confidence, I told my seminar audience. Even if you don’t feel confident, try to act as if you do. Paul admitted that part of his problem was that he had not practiced being firm, clear and self-assured when bringing up the subject of referrals. With practice will come the confidence you need to land those introductions.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to


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