Let's talk about initial conversations with referred prospects.
I hope you'll agree that where referrals are concerned, protecting your relationship with your referral source is of paramount importance. It trumps establishing a new relationship with the referral. That is, in the best of all possible worlds, you'll do both, but if it comes down to one or the other, you care more about keeping your existing client than about getting a new one.
That prioritization should inform the way you approach your conversation with a referral. You want to make a good impression and get them interested in working with you, but not at the risk of pushing too hard.
One way to accomplish this is to use the concept of a "back door" when you first start talking with the referral. You explain that you think you might be able to help them, but emphasize that you are simply feeling out the situation and have no expectations one way or another.
Here's an example of how this type of follow-up conversation might go (with a tip of the hat to Bob Burg). Key phrases that emphasize your relationship with the referring client and reduce pressure on the prospect are highlighted in red:
You: Mr. Saunders, this is Pat Caruso. Your name came up in a business conversation yesterday with Skip Peterson. I believe you know Skip from the hospital board?
Referred Prospect: Yes, I've known Skip for a couple of years. What can I do for you?
You: Skip didn’t assume you’d be interested, but he was very enthusiastic about a succession plan I helped him set up recently—I specialize in succession planning for privately-held businesses—and he thought you might be interested in doing something similar for your own business, so I told him I would contact you. Maybe we can meet for a quick cup of coffee and I'll run it past you.
There are two reasons for this approach. One, it keeps the pressure on the prospect super-low. As Bob points out in his article Referrals: How to Set More Appointments (free registration required), most of us automatically get defensive and resistant if we feel someone is trying to "sell" us—and when we're feeling defensive and resistant, we're not open or listening.
Two, providing a "back door" makes you more attractive to prospects, because your credibility and desirability increase when you sound like you don't need the business. You're animated and friendly, of course, but without pressure or urgency. Burg calls this lack of attachment to the results "posture."
Obviously, you should find words that fit your personality and style. Just remember that the goal is to generate interest without applying pressure. Assure prospects they're not cornered, and they'll be much more likely to listen to what you have to say.
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