Playing Your Ace

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The most common and best source of new business has been and will remain personal “referrals”. The fact that you come referred speaks volumes without volumes being spoken. A well-placed referral is like an Ace in a game of black jack. At the end of the day, however, it’s only a trump card that increases your odds. It still has to be played right to win.

So if you’ve been dealt a hand with a referral, how are you going to play it? If you’re like most people, you won’t give it much thought. Referrals are mostly taken for granted because of a widely held myth that referrals guarantee an appointment. The reality is that referrals come with no guarantee. I have never met a person who could book 100% of their referrals. And 99% is not good enough, because every single call you make is important. You don’t know where your biggest opportunity will come from. Since referrals cannot be taken for granted, let’s talk about how to maximize each one.

It all comes down to how well prepared you are for your call. Preparation puts you in control, and control is the number one key to a successful call. Your first step is to find out when the person you are calling is expected to be in so that you avoid leaving voice messages. Don’t frustrate a prospect with telephone tag. It’s your job to reach them. Besides, you want to strike while the referral is hot. You can find this information either from the person who gave you the referral, or from the prospect’s assistant.

Your second piece of homework is to work out in thirty words or less why it’s important for the person to see you. Avoid talking about your products or services so that you don’t come across as someone trying to sell something. People are much too busy to sit through a sales call, either on the phone or in person. If you sound like a salesperson that impression will stay with your prospect not only in your first meeting (making it harder to close effectively) but will be a permanent image for many years to come. To make the impression and get someone’s undivided attention, take the time to define what you are offering not in terms of what it is but why someone would need it.

No matter whom you are talking to, and no matter how well referred you come, people will ask you questions. Your ability to effectively answer questions without hesitation also goes a long way toward building trust, and trust is the foundation of any relationship. Remember, the first call you make to someone is, in fact, the beginning of the customer relationship.

The solution is to prepare a portfolio of effective answers to the questions you get asked most often. Over time test the effectiveness of your answers so that you have ones that you are confident will work. Do the same exercise with responses to common objections.

Finally, before you place the call, take a moment and focus on who you are calling and why. If you lose your focus you can lose the call.

Now that you’re ready to make the call, here’s a great way to introduce the person who referred you. Rather than say something like “Mr. Smith asked me to call you” say “Mr. Smith urged me to call you because…” Every word you speak on the phone paints an image in the mind of the person you’re calling. When someone pictures someone “asking” you to call them, there is no passion. But when they picture someone urging you to call, there is a sense of urgency and importance. To make sure that what you say registers, speak slowly. The person you are speaking with might be in the middle of ten other things when you call and won’t hear half of what you say if you rush. Speaking slowly also leaves the impression that what you have to say is important.

One last note: When someone gives you a name to call, all you have is a lead. But when someone gives you permission to use his or her name, you have a referral. That means that someone’s reputation is at stake and you have an unspoken obligation to uphold that reputation. A positive first impression will keep those referrals coming.

Mark Borkowski is President of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corporation. He can be contacted at

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