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Marketing for referrals with mailers, calendars, recipe cards, and other outreach and appreciation efforts is nowhere near as effective as prospecting for referrals by making personal calls and requests.

The hard truth is that most consumers stand a far better chance of finding a poor agent than a great one. Once you can personally convince them that you’re among the best in the field, referrals will follow.

When cultivating referral sources, realize that most people who send referrals your way do so for a variety of reasons, but above all, they recommend you for the following two reasons:

Friendships and trust. People like to help people they like and believe in. Take time to get to know those in the platinum and gold levels of your database and to let them get to know you. Share the vision you hold for your business. Let them catch your enthusiasm and buy into your dream. The result will be a vested interest in your success and the desire to help you achieve your goal.

People want to be champions. Each time you deliver superb service and an excellent outcome you create clients who are willing to champion your business. What’s more, based on your exemplary performance, you create clients who know firsthand that by recommending you to others they’ll become champions in the minds of their friends and family members.

It’s never too early to begin building referral relationships. You can start during the first meeting or phone call with any prospect, using a script such as this:

“Fred, I build my business primarily based on referrals from clients. The benefit to you is: my focus will always be to give you the best service possible. The reason is: I want to earn the honor to talk with you in the future about who you know that would benefit from my service. The only way I deserve to have that conversation is based on the job I do for you. I know that if you are delighted with my service, you will want to help me and your friends out.”

When approaching referral sources, keep a couple of important rules in mind:

Rule #1: Respect the referral process. When you’re asking for referrals, you’re entering the hallowed territory of another person’s treasured relationships. In ancient times, people would go through extensive purification ceremonies before stepping onto holy ground. Asking for referrals is almost that special.

Don’t ask for referrals by simply adding a throwaway line onto the end of another conversation by saying, basically, “Oh, by the way” before you ask for a business referral. That tactic minimizes the importance of the referral, rather than raising it to the high level of honor and respect it deserves.

A quality referral request should take at least five minutes; ten may be even better.

My friend Bill Cates, the “Referral Coach” and author of the book Ultimate Referrals, advises that you advance your referral request with the statement, “I have an important question to ask you.” This will force a pause, build anticipation, and set the tone for a meaningful conversation.

Rule #2: Ask for help. If you’re soliciting referrals you are, in fact, asking for help. So say so. The trouble is that egos get in the way and won’t let the words out of most agents’ mouths. “I need your help” or “I value your help” are powerful keys for opening the referral floodgate.

Rule #3: Ask permission. In particular, ask permission to explore your client’s contact database ­– not by rifling through computer files but by learning of and gaining access to associates you might be able to serve. When asking for permission, use a script like this one:

“I’m delighted that I’ve been able to serve you. I was wondering about others you might know in your life that would also benefit from my service. Could we explore for a few moments who else we might be able to serve?”

The final question in the script is an important one. Too many agents ask for referrals and then leave all the burden of thinking up names on the shoulders of their clients. The truth is your referral sources don’t want to work that hard. They’ll work that hard with you, but not alone.

Rule #4: Get specific. Don’t just make a general request for referrals and leave it at that. Saying, “Do you have anyone you might like to refer to my business” is sort of like a department store clerk who asks, “May I help you?” The automatic response, 90% of the time or more, is “No, just looking.”

Sharpen the focus of your request by leading clients into areas or niches in their lives where they have day-to-day relationships. Ask them about potential referrals among the families in their church, people they know through their children’s soccer team, prospects they’ve met through school affiliations. If you they are members of association or groups, pull out the member roster and spend a few minutes talking about the names on the list.

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