A Pipeline Built on Client Referrals Starts with the Right Conversation

Kevin Trokey on March 24, 2011

I know that one of the most difficult things to do as a producer is to keep your pipeline full. And every day as I talk with producers, I see plenty of opportunity available for filling that pipeline – the easy way. And, at the same time, filling it with highly qualified prospects, with methods other than cold calling and networking/lead events. Let’s stop making it harder than it needs to be and focus on getting prospects through your existing, and already pre-qualified, network. It will be time well spent.

Let me ask you the same questions I have been asking the producers I coach:

  • How many referrals/introductions did you get from your clients last year?”
    • Typical answer – “Maybe a couple, but certainly not enough.”
  • Of those you did get, did you ask for them or were they brought to you?”
    • Typical answer – “Mostly they were brought to me.”
  • Of the referrals you received, how many did you close?”
    • Typical answer – “Almost all of them.”

Every producer recognizes the need for client referrals. When pushed, they will admit that they either lack the confidence or the ability to ask effectively. The real problem is they are afraid to find out if they have done a good enough job to earn a referral. This is because they never took the time to have a discussion with the client about what it would take to actually earn a referral.

1. You should be having the following conversation with every new client.

I appreciate the confidence you have shown in hiring us to be your broker. I know it is a high standard we had to meet in order to earn that confidence. However, I want you to know there is an even higher standard we are going to work towards, a standard that earns us the opportunity to ask you for introductions to other decision makers you know.

I would like to make sure we both can agree on what that standard looks like so we both know when it has been achieved. Since it’s the promises we have made to you that earned us your business, it is usually considered fair that once we have delivered on those promises the referral standard would have been met. At that point, you would hopefully be confident enough that we are an organization that not only promises the right things, but one that clearly delivers on those promises and does what we say we will do. Hopefully, at that point, you would be comfortable recommending us as an organization to which other decision makers should consider doing business. Is that fair? (Of course it is!)

2. Let them know why it benefits them.

Beyond the obvious, referrals and introductions are a core part of our business model. You can see, by what we have promised to you, that our business model is one built on a high level of proactive service. For us to be able to deliver that level of service for the amount of compensation we receive, we have to continue to build our business off of high probability referrals. We need our team’s time to be available to serve our clients and deliver on those promises rather than waste their time quoting insurance for someone else’s clients. Make sense? (Of course it does!)

I understand that you can’t go back in time and have this conversation at the beginning of the relationship, but there isn’t any reason you can’t go to every client you currently have and have a modified version of the conversation.

3. Now, let’s put this idea into practice and get your pipeline filled. Get out your entire list of clients and sort them into the following categories.

Tier 1 – Those clients for whom you know you have done a good enough job to earn referrals, and you know they feel the same way.
Next step – Go ask for referrals, like tomorrow!

Tier 2 – Those accounts where you have some level of doubt.
Next step – Set up a meeting with each client and have the referral standard conversation. Tell them you realize the right time to have had this conversation would have been at the beginning of the relationship, but better late than never. They will appreciate that you are recommitting to that higher standard, and I’ll bet many of them will tell you that you have already delivered at that level.

Tier 3 – Those accounts that have some level of tension.
Next step – Be honest about why the tension exists and go fix it. Not until after you have fixed the tension and have been consistently delivering on a higher standard of service should you have the referral conversation.

4. Don’t make them do your work.

Don’t ask clients who they know that they can introduce you to. If you do that, you’re making them do your work. Use LinkedIn, Google, etc. to identify boards they sit on, clubs they belong to, or other connections they have, and use that information to identify referrals/introductions they are likely to be able to make. Take them the list and ask for those specific referrals/introductions. And be sure to always ask them “the one” question.

“When you look at this list, who is the one company who immediately comes to mind that I should have included on the list that I missed?”

It’s funny, if you put a blank page in front of them, they likely won’t be able to add a single name. However, if you put a list of names in front of them, they will always be able to add one more.

Referrals/introductions are the lifeblood of a producer. Earning those referrals should be a natural part of every client relationship. You just have to communicate that expectation with your clients. Prospecting can be fun and easy; you just have to ask yourself the question, “How badly do I want it?”

 

Photo by Kris Hoet.

Topics: Selling + Process