The Only Referral System that Always Works

Do you have trouble asking for referrals? Try this method.

Most referral systems work but people won’t work them! The reason is because asking for a referral, in most cases, throws the relationship out of balance.

Let’s say you sit down with a prospect. You ask your questions. You describe what you do and why it works. That is, you offer what’s called a “performance promise.” They ask you, “How much does it cost?” You tell them. They think the price is fair and they accept your promise. Your relationship is in balance.

But, you throw the relationship out of balance when you ask any question like, “John, there’s one more thing, who do you know who you could refer me to?”

Any question like this invokes the “Law of Reciprocity,” which states that if I give something to you I have a right to expect equal or greater value in return…at a time of my choosing. We instinctively understand this, which is why most sales people have a problem asking for referrals. We KNOW we’re asking for help that is all about us. And, it tends to create an uncomfortable sense of obligation.

Here is one solution!

First, let’s change the desired outcome from just getting names to strengthening your community.

By community I mean those people who know you and know of you.

Here’s how to do that. Think of your favorite, ideal client? One who not only buys multiple products and services, but who is also the kind of person you like, admire, and respect? What do you like about this person? What do you respect about them? Are you looking for another client just like this one? Then let’s just tell the truth.

Why not tell your most ideal clients, “I’m looking for another you!” You can continue, “I realize there isn’t anybody who is exactly like you but I also realize there ARE people who are similar. Who do you know…” (describe your client’s strengths, characteristics, and traits.) “who is open minded and progressive? The kind of person who is deeply involved with their family and their community! Someone who has the initiative and drive to get things done but still has time to make the people around them know how important they are. The kind of person who not only has a great sense of humor but also makes you feel like you’re trusted and respected when you’re with them? Who do you know… who’s like you?”

This is a “no lose” situation. They’re going to feel better about you whether they give you names or not. If they do give you names, ask if anyone else comes to mind. Then ask if it’s ok to ask a few questions about each person.

Here are the questions!

  • What caused (the person’s name) to come to mind?
  • What do you like about them?
  • What else do you like about them?
  • What do you most respect about them?

Minimally, I ask my Clients if they will call the prospect and suggest that we at least have a conversation. If they decline to call ahead then I don’t follow-up.

Let’s say that your client is Joseph Smith who has referred you to Felix Jones. Mr. Smith has called and suggested that Mr. Jones talk with you.

Your follow-up call might go like this, “Felix, this is (your name). Joseph Smith suggested I give you a call and I promised I would. I’ve really been looking forward to talking with you because Joseph told me what he thinks of you. He said that you’re an open-minded person who is always interested in finding new ways to become more involved with your family and your community. He said that when he’s with you he always feels respected, trusted, and like you’re a part of his family. Am I talking to the right Felix Jones?”

Normally…they’ll laugh! Then they’ll either “down play” the compliment or they’ll make a small joke about it. It’s normal to have a short conversation about your client.

When it’s appropriate, continue with, “Has Joseph ever talked to you about the very special way we handle his finances?” They’re either going to say yes or no. If they say yes, ask them what they’ve heard then proceed with the rest of the conversation. If they say no then proceed with the rest of the conversation. “Let me make this easy for us. I don’t know enough about your unique situation to know whether the very special way we help them with their finances would work for you or not. But it only takes a few minutes to find out. What do you think?”

Now, you just “walk them through” the process you use to determine if there is a match.

Describing what your client likes, admires, and respects about the prospect enhances all three relationships, strengthens your community, and helps to provide a solid foundation upon which to build your new relationship with the prospect.

Doug Carter, with Jenni Green, is the author of Clients Forever: How Your Clients Can Build Your Business (McGraw-Hill). A sales professional and trainer for more than twenty-five years, he is the founder and CEO of Carter International Training and Development Company. Learn more at or

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