You know far more people than you might imagine. Years ago, an article in The New York Times found the average American knows about 600 people. Hold that thought for a moment. We approach people for business all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if they actively told your story and sent prospects in your direction? Here are some strategies to help make that happen.
The agent and the $10 bottle of wine
Before considering your strategies, it’s important to understand the mindset you want to create. Let’s assume you are a wine fan. You specifically like Cabernet, a famous red varietal. You have some favorites, costing $50 or $75 per bottle. One day, you discover a new wine at your local wine shop. It tastes just as good as the more expensive bottles, but only costs $10. Would you tell your wine-loving friends? Some readers might say “No,” but the majority of wine fans say, “Yes, of course I would tell them!”
Why would you tell them? The reasons come easily: “It’s a great find.” “I love it and they will love it too.” “They will feel I’m doing them a favor.” “I’m sharing something good.”
That’s the mindset you want friends to have when considering you in your professional capacity.
Strategy 1: Overcoming referral reluctance
You help people in many ways. You sell insurance. You might also offer financial planning or help clients manage their investments. You are much more than an insurance agent.
When we think about referrals, it’s often in the context of finding fresh money. We ask our friends and clients to be on the lookout for people with a recent cash event. We want prospects who inherited money, sold a business or received a big bonus. There are two problems present: First, this doesn’t happen as often as we imagine. Second is the liability issue. Imagine the following: Friend A recommends Friend B to the financial advisor. The advisor helps them invest their money. Something goes horribly wrong, and Friend B loses a lot. Friend B decides to sue the advisor and their firm. Their lawyer asks: “How did you find this advisor?” Friend A is mentioned. Now Friend A is named in the lawsuit because they introduced the two parties. This potential liability can scare clients away from referring.
Time for a new strategy. Ditch the “Who do you know with fresh money?” approach. Get clients looking for people with a problem. There are plenty of them! What do people with a problem do? They moan and complain to their friends. They say: “My advisor never calls” or “I’m losing so much money in the stock market.”
When someone is in pain, it’s human nature to want to step in and try to help relieve it. It’s easy for them to say: “Your advisor never calls? You should talk with my financial advisor. I bet she would return your call.” Similar to recommending the $10 bottle of wine, they feel they are doing the other person a favor by bringing up your name.
Here’s the best part: If the friend continues to complain, they can say: “Didn’t you call my advisor? I thought you were going to do that!”
Strategy 2: Increase their understanding
If your colleague asked, “Do your friends know what you do?” your answer would be immediate. “Of course they do. I’ve told them.” Here’s the problem: We put people into compartments or buckets. Lawyers are ambulance chasers. Accountants are bean counters. You sell insurance. But the reality is you do much more.
Try this strategy: When you see a friend in a casual setting, ask to join them. Start the conversation by asking about their job. Here’s how it might sound: “We’ve known each other for five years. I know you work at (firm). You are a chemist in the research department. I’ve always been curious. What is it you actually do?” Maybe you ask: “What’s your day like?”
People love talking about themselves. They will share details. They might say, “Chemistry is what I used to do. Now I head up the entire research department.” You are learning a lot of new information.
They might ask what you do. They might not. If you say, “Now it’s my turn,” they might feel like you are trying to sell them something. You need a subtler approach.
I learned this one from a financial planner decades ago: “We’ve known each other for five years. You know I work at (firm). When you tell your friends about me, what do you say that I do?” Then stop talking.
In reality, they’ve probably never talked about you. But they can’t say that because it would seem rude. They will probably say, “You sell insurance.”
This is your opportunity. “Selling insurance is part of my job, but I do other things too.” Another approach is, “That’s what I used to do before I joined (firm). Now I do …” You tell your story, focusing on benefits to people like them. They might think the sales pitch comes next, but instead you are reducing the tension. “Now that you know what it is that I do, if you come across anyone with (problem A) or (problem B) you will know how I might be able to help them.” They might even have the problems you described themselves.
Strategy 3: Answering “How’s business?”
People ask, “How’s business?” all the time. Pretend you’ve heard a different question: “How have you helped someone today?” You share a brief, anonymous story of how a person had a problem and you helped solve it. Here’s an example: “An older client with lots of retirement assets despises her job. I showed her she could quit her job tomorrow and live comfortably on her retirement income. She gave notice.”
When people hear a great story like that, they wonder if you could do the same thing for them or someone they know.
Unfortunately, you don’t have life-changing meetings like that every day. Translate, “How’s business?” in another way: “How have you helped prevent someone from making a mistake?” You tell the story about the near miss. The person listening thinks about people they know who are about to make the same mistake. They may feel that introducing you to them is doing their friend a favor.
These three simple strategies should encourage friends to identify prospects and send them in your direction.