211 Who Do You KnowMany salespeople will not argue about the need to ask for referrals. Like so many necessary and supposedly simple tactics, few people can actually explain to you how to do it. They’ll just tell you that “it’s easy,” and “just do it.”

There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to ask for referrals. I would guess that 95% of the salespeople I work with use the “wrong” way. We tell salespeople to go out and get referrals. We just forget to tell them “how.” Without a thought out process, what follows is the standard, classic referral approach I typically hear:

“I just wanted you to know how much I’ve appreciated working with you. I intend on staying in this business for some time, and I would appreciate any help you could provide. Do you know of anyone else I could talk to? Anyone who would need the services I was able to provide to you today?”

I hope that you can see there is nothing inherently disturbing about this example. Given the percentage of salespeople I hear ask for referrals, I would venture to guess this probably is the type of request that you would make. The only problem with this approach is that the results are extremely limited. If you want proof, let me tell you what customers typically say when they are asked for referrals this way:

“Gee, let me think for a minute. Hmm. Well, I can’t come up with any names right now, but if you leave me your card, I’m sure I will come up with a name or two.”

Does this exchange bring back some memories? The customer truly wants to help, but can’t think of any names for you. The real problem is actually this: you didn’t help them.

Think for a moment, and try to remember the last good size party you attended. During that evening, let’s suppose you came in contact with 20 different people. How many of those people came up and asked you if you knew where to buy some life insurance? How many of them asked you for the name of a good copier salesperson, an accountant, a realtor or lawyer? With all those people around you, waiting to talk with you, how could you fail? And yet, you came in contact with all those people and you could not provide a salesperson with one referral!

I can assure you, New York Life never taught me to ask a customer if they knew of anyone who might need life insurance. If they did, the only sound I would have heard was the sound of crickets.  What New York Life taught me was to ask this: “Who do you know…” This simple little statement helped me net some of my most successful referrals, and something I use to this day. Rather than asking customers if they knew anyone who needed insurance, I was taught to break that statement down a bit and it sounded something like this:

“I just wanted you to know how much I’ve appreciated working with you. I intend on staying in this business for some time, and I would appreciate any help you could provide.”

  • “Who do you know who just got married?”
  • “Who do you know who just had a baby?”
  • “Who do you know who just bought a house?”
  • “Who do you know who just started a business?”

These might sound like simple questions to you, but the answers to these questions are exactly what an insurance agent is looking for when it comes to referrals. You would be amazed at how many customers, who previously couldn’t think of any referrals, can suddenly start spitting out names. Those names represent legitimate prospects, and this approach is not just for insurance salespeople.

Are you an office manager with a forte for organizing and supporting the people who work in your office? Instead of asking, “Who do you know who’s looking for an office manager,” why not ask this: “Who do you know who is planning to open up an office soon, or is currently expanding?”

Are you a business coach looking to pick up new clients? Instead of asking, “Who do you know who’s looking for a business coach,” why not ask this: “Who do you know who may have recently been promoted or taken on a new assignment?”

The questions will vary, depending on the product, person or the type of occupation that person is pursuing, but the concept will not. Break your questions down and you’ll glad you did. You’ll find there are a lot more people out there who can not only assist you, but who want to assist you. It starts by you helping them to help you.

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