One of the primary reasons our clients approach us is in the first place is their struggle with empty pipelines. While most of them struggle for the same reason, we never make that assumption.
Before offering advice, we ask questions. We could ask how many cold calls they make, have them role-play their script, or inquire about handling objections, and eventually we do.
But here are the questions we ask first, and the answers we often get:
- “How often are you asking existing clients for introductions?”
- Typical answer – “Yeah, I know I/we should, but that’s not happening.”
- “Why is that? Do you not do a good job for your clients?”
- Typical answer – “Oh no, that’s not it at all. We do a GREAT job for our clients.”
- “Hmm. Then do your clients not LIKE you enough to introduce you to others.”
- Typical answer – “Are you kidding? Our clients LOVE us!”
- “Then, what’s keeping you from asking?
- Typical answer – “I don’t have a good answer.”
On the rare occasion we come across a producer who does ask for referrals, they usually tell us, “I ask pretty regularly, but nothing ever happens.”
When I ask them to role-play their request, it usually sounds something like this:
“This is going to be a big year for me; I’ve set a pretty aggressive sales goal. However, I don’t want to take on just any new client. I’m looking to add more clients who are like the best clients I already have, which is why I’m having this conversation with you.
You are so generous in sharing your appreciation of what we do for you, and we genuinely love working with you and your team. We’d love to have a dozen more clients just like you.
I’m guessing you know other decision-makers who are a lot like you. If you can think of anyone else who would benefit from us doing for them what we have done for you and you could introduce me, that would be SO helpful.”
Here's what happens next.
That client will enthusiastically reply, “I’d be happy to help! I can’t immediately think of anyone but let me think about it a bit and get back to you with some names.”
The meeting ends, and the client goes back to a desk full of work. The note they write reminding themselves of their promise to you gets put off to the side. They see it a couple of weeks later and tell themselves they need to take care of that. When a couple of weeks becomes a couple of months, they’re embarrassed and pretend the promise never happened.
What you really asked for
While the producer's request above is better than not asking at all, it is what led to this failure.
It asks the client for two things. First, it asks the client for the favor of making introductions. Second, it asks the client to do the job of figuring out to whom to introduce you.
Now let’s look at these two “asks” a bit closer.
The first ask
Asking a client for a favor is what keeps most producers from asking in the first place. They are afraid they will appear weak and jeopardize the relationship.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s human nature; we all like to do good things for those who have done good things for us. Asking your best clients for introductions will not damage your relationship—it will make it stronger. (If this is a struggle for you, read “Go-Giver” by Burg and Mann. It will change your thinking.)
The second ask
As healthy as it is for you to ask your clients for a favor, it is not okay to ask them to figure out who to introduce to you. That is a job you need to do before asking for the favor.
Make it easy for your clients
Get out your client list and sort them into the following tiers, according to the strength of the client relationship.
- Tier 1 – These are the clients for whom you know you have done a good job. They love you, and you love them. You know they are comfortable saying nice things about you.
- Tier 3 – (I’m skipping Tier 2 for the moment). These are clients with whom there is some level of tension. If they call, you send them to voicemail. If they email, you avoid it for a day or two. Maybe you don’t have anyone who falls into this category, but most of us do.
- Tier 2 – If you look at a client name and don’t immediately put them in Tier 1 or Tier 3, by default, put them in Tier 2.
We can discuss what to do with the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clients at another time if you like, but this post is about leveraging your Tier 1 relationships.
The “magical” next step
For each Tier 1 client, make two lists.
The first list is all the things you have done to bring value to the client. It may be a technology solution you put in place, a compliance problem you addressed, or even how you handled their renewal. You will create this list to see, in writing, how much value you have delivered.
The second list is where the magic starts. Make a list of other decision-makers they know to whom you would like to be introduced. Start by looking at their LinkedIn connections, but also think about their other business relationships:
- Who else they buy from
- Their best clients
- Friendly competitors
- Business neighbors
- Boards they sit on
- Associations they belong to
When you use the script above to ask for help, you only ask for the favor. You've done the hard work. Show them the list and tell them:
“If there is anyone on this list who you aren’t comfortable or able to make an introduction to, I’ll cross them off.
However, when you look at this list, who is the one company that immediately comes to mind that I should have included but 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 and explain why you included them (description of your ideal target client), they will almost always be able to add more names.
The power of the right few
Don’t get overwhelmed with the research. You don’t need 20 names for each client—if you identify even a couple of names to take to each Tier 1 client, you will likely have more than enough opportunities to fill your pipeline.
Not that you need further motivation, but there is another reason to fill your pipeline with introductions. You are five to seven times more likely to close an opportunity that comes from a client introduction than if you got in front of the same prospect through a cold call.
This approach isn’t necessarily easy and still requires a fair amount of work. However, I have yet to find an effective form of prospecting that isn’t challenging.
Why would your preferred prospecting method be anything but leveraging the goodwill you have already built with your best clients? Don’t make your difficult job of prospecting and selling any more difficult than it needs to be.
Note: I have intentionally used the word “introductions” rather than “referrals.” Asking for “referrals” may feel a bit heavier than it needs to for both you and the client. However, being the social animals we are, we are all happy to make an “introduction” of one good person to another. How non-threatening is this?
“I believe you know Decision-maker Mary. She seems to fit the profile of the type of client who most benefits from what we offer. Would you be comfortable introducing us to one another?”
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