Right this minute, you are probably sitting on tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of commissions. Most registered reps have a database of current and past clients whose potential referrals are worth several thousand additional commission dollars per month. Yet, this resource goes virtually untapped for most advisors.
Why? Simply because most reps have not learned how to successfully convert their client relationships into referral relationships. Acquiring referrals from clients is not as simple as "doing a good job" and then asking for referrals. Generating a large number of highly qualified referrals from a client is a process that starts from the moment the prospect is first met, not a one-time act after the sale has been completed. It requires an understanding of what a successful referral is based on, and how to exploit the referral to insure a successful contact with the referee.
Every referral involves the interaction of three people and four relationships among those three individuals. The strength or weakness of each of these interactions will influence the success or failure of the referral for the advisor:
- The Advisor/Client relationship: In order for the client to be willing to give a quality referral, there must have been built a strong bond of trust between the rep and the client. A client may give a "referral" to someone they do not trust, but they will not give a referral to someone they know well and respect if they do not trust the salesperson. If there is only a weak bond of trust between the advisor and client, the "referral" the client is likely to give will be to someone the client either believes will not meet with the advisor or someone the client does not know well or respect.
- The client's purchasing experience: Clients will not give high quality referrals if their purchasing experience did not meet or exceed both their expectations and their priorities. All clients enter purchasing relationships with certain expectations and priorities. Expectations and priorities are not the same. A client may expect to be kept fully informed during the course of the sale and may have certain product or service functionality requirements as his top priority. In order to receive a large number of high quality referrals, the rep must make sure that they meet or exceed both the client's expectations and priorities. Despite the current parroting of the buzz phrase, "exceeding the customer's expectations," meeting and exceeding client expectations is seldom accomplished. Few people take the time and effort to discuss with their client what the client's expectations and priorities are-rather most reps, and companies, assume they know. At best, all they can knowingly accomplish is meeting or exceeding their expectations of what they think their client should expect.
- The Client/Prospect relationship: The trust and respect relationship between client and referee are of great importance. The stronger the bond of trust and respect between the client and the prospect, the easier it will be for the advisor to set an appointment with and then sell the prospect. In referral selling, a great deal of the rep's credibility, or lack thereof, is built on the trust and respect the prospect has for the client who made the referral. If the client/prospect bond is strong enough, the rep is virtually guaranteed a sale. On the other hand, if the bond is particularly weak, the referral is little better than a cold call. Consequently, it is of utmost importance for the advisor to know as much as possible about the client's relationship, and likely bond of trust, with the prospect.
- The advisor's initial contact with the referee: based on the client/prospect bond, the advisor must determine how best to contact the prospect to produce the greatest opportunity to acquire a meeting. The weaker the relationship between the client and the prospect, the stronger the contact method the rep should seek to employ. If the client/prospect relationship is extremely strong, virtually any contact method, including a phone call from the salesperson mentioning the client's name will suffice, but for a weak relationship, the rep must strive to use the strongest contact method possible. In descending order, from weakest to strongest, possible methods of contact include a phone call to the prospect from the advisor, an email from the client, a client letter, a client phone call, a client/prospect/advisor lunch meeting.
Fortunately, the advisor can control most of the above interactions. Only the client/prospect relationship is completely out of the rep's hands. Even then, the rep can compensate for a less than ideal client/prospect relationship through using a stronger initial contact method.
If you understand the foundation of a referral, you can quickly increase your referral-based business and begin to mine that gold mine in your client database.
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