Want to grow your business? Then never ask a client for a referral.

Referral marketing is one of the most effective marketing strategies.

Confused? Let me explain.

It’s standard to ask a satisfied client for some referrals — literally: “Can you refer me to some folks you know who need the great services I provide you?”

You’re asking for a list of names that you’ll contact and use your client’s name to get in the door.

That approach has three problems. First, you put the client on the spot with an open-ended request for names. Without your guidance, the client often is at a loss to think of anyone to whom he can send you. It can be awkward.

Second, you, not your client, should be choosing the companies with which you might be doing business. Your client doesn’t know what your ideal clients look like. A referral to a company that’s a bad fit for your firm is no help at all.

Third, the very concept of “referral” is problematic, since it can feel to your client like he is imposing on his friends and business contacts by sending you to them. Your client can feel a real disconnect and lack of control because he just gives you names and you then contact them. The result is weakened because your client is not directly involved in your meeting the referred parties.

Instead of asking for “referrals,” ask for “introductions.” This is the key shift in tactic. While asking for referrals often can be awkward, asking for an introduction is both natural and appeals to the ego of your client, because it puts him in the middle of the process. Introductions never feel disjointed, there’s no disconnect, because your client is directly involved. Whether it’s by phone call, email, or letter, your client is central to the introduction, not off to the side slipping you a list of targets for you to attack solo. There is never any awkwardness in asking for an introduction.

Next, to whom are you requesting introductions? Do not simply replace the word “refer” with “introduce” and put the burden on your client to provide the names. You should know exactly what your “ideal client” looks like; use that to identify your Dream 100 List, the top 100 firms you would like as clients. We teach all our clients this powerful tool and I may write about it in another article. But suffice it for now to say that you should have a list of your top prospects.

Come prepared

Finally, guide your client to the exact prospects to whom you want an introduction. Come prepared with your own list of 15 or so. Tell your client, “These are some key individuals I want to meet.”

Hand him your list. Then ask, “Whom do you know and would you be willing to introduce me?” How does this not put your client on the spot? What if he doesn’t know anyone on the list? You ensure that he does, by doing your research and including on your list five to 10 of his LinkedIn contacts that are also your top prospects.

Referral marketing is highly effective — if you ask for introductions instead of referrals and you ensure that you’re introduced to your ideal prospects. You’ll grow your business.

Griswold is an agency growth consultant and author of DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success. His Agency Growth Mastermind Network helps agency leaders reform-proof their firm. Reach him at (615) 656-5974, nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com, or through 21stCenturyAgency.com.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access