Too Busy For Referrals: Why Your
Best Clients Don't Give You Referrals,
And 10 Things You Can Do About It

by Doug Carter

If you always seem busy, your best clients may be reluctant to send you referrals. Here's what you can do about it.

If your best clients think so highly of you, why aren’t they referring others to you? It could be that your own actions are convincing them they shouldn't! Some of us try to demonstrate our importance by showing and expressing how busy we are, and we communicate our "busyness" in any number of ways. How do you communicate your busyness?

You could be projecting "I'm so busy" through something as simple as your word speed, or in how you enunciate your words. It could be by comments you make about having only a few moments for a conversation or a meeting. It could be by making or taking calls on your cell phone in the middle of meetings, or by leaving your pager on during a meeting.

Your busyness might be communicated by constantly looking at your watch or by the frantic or preoccupied way you drive when taking a client to lunch. It could be by complaining about coming to work early, going home late, taking work home with you, working on the weekends or holidays, not having enough time for yourself, etcetera, etcetera.

The I'm-so-busy signal might also be sent by a sigh in the middle of a conversation, by passing off clients' questions or their routine matters to someone else, by not being able to get the job done for days or weeks, or by leaving a client "on hold" for more than a few seconds.

There is nothing wrong with being busy. Most business people are always looking for new or better business, and to be busy can mean that your business is successful.

But, looking busy has its downfalls.

The more your clients see you looking busy, the more they may want to protect their own relationship with you. They may, either consciously or unconsciously, want to protect both you and themselves by not making you busier with more referrals.

Here's why. Your clients want to protect you so that your life doesn't get any more hectic than it already is. They know that if they give you another referral, you will only have more work to do. And, if they were to give you, say, three to five new referrals, not only would your life be made worse, you may not even be able to get to those new people in a timely manner—which would make you feel bad, the referrals feel bad, and your client feel bad.



Your busyness may even be setting up your best clients to be "sitting ducks" for your competition. The more your clients are concerned about your busyness, the more likely it is they won't want to impose on you, for example, by calling with questions about their account. So-o-o, they may even be relieved to find someone else—anyone else—who is apparently willing to take the time to answer a few questions for them. If that someone else is your competition, he is getting a chance to demonstrate not only competence to your clients but also that he has the time to really work with your clients.

In addition to protecting you, your clients may feel—again, perhaps unconsciously—that they need to protect themselves. If you don't have time for a relationship with them, you may not have the time to do a great job—to fully manage their account. So, they watch your results more carefully. And, they don't commit new money to you.

Your clients also may be thinking, “If you barely have time for me already, I don't want to make it worse by having to share you with anyone else.” So, when you do ask your clients for referrals, they tell you they'll think about it. Or, they give you the names of people who won't take up much of your time—either by becoming clients at all or by being the type of client who hasn't enough assets to require much management.

Either way—whether your good clients mostly are protecting you or themselves—the result of your busyness can be a less-than-optimal relationship with your major clients (if not the loss of them altogether) as well as a lack of referrals to potential good clients.

And yet we know that it makes more sense for us to take care of our existing clients than it does for us to try to find new clients. One of the most effective ways to take care of those clients is by sending the message that they are important to us. We make others feel important—and connected—to us by taking the time to pay attention to them.

Now the question becomes, “With all of the things I already have to do, how do I send the message to my clients that I have time for them?”

The following ten ideas won't solve all of the busyness challenges you may be facing, but they will give you some practical ideas you can use immediately. Many of these ideas are from Dr. Max Dixon, who, over the past 36 years, has established himself in both the public speaking and entertainment industries as one of the world's leading coaches on communicating more clearly and powerfully.

1. Anyone can look good when things are going well. It's when things are falling apart that you get challenged. So, first let me give you something to do when "Murphy's law" is operating in overdrive. Do what great athletes do: Create a ritual. When you watch a tennis match between great tennis players, you may notice how, between points, each player tends to examine or adjust the strings of her tennis racket. Their strings don't need to be adjusted; it's just that the best tennis players in the world have trained themselves to perform a ritual between points so they can maintain their concentration regardless of what is going on in the match.

Pitchers and batters in baseball use the same sorts of rituals. Runners in track and field, free-throw shooters in basketball—all use rituals, as do athletes in nearly every other sport that requires concentration under stress. So, let's create a ritual for you that can help you “model” reflection, patience, and time:

Just be silent for a moment . . .ten seconds. That's the ritual! Before any appointment, simply stop what you are doing, and sit or stand silently for a full ten seconds. At the end of that ten seconds, take one deep breath and then let it out. Then proceed with your appointment.

2. The next step is to perform some kind of slow behavior. It may be as simple as standing up and walking over to the person, taking a moment to shake his hand while gaining eye contact. The key is to do it slowly and deliberately. Spending even two extra seconds here will send the message that you consider this person important.

3. Most people who are in a hurry tend, when speaking, to emphasize the consonants of the words. This makes their language sound unemotional, clipped. So, as you talk with your client, you'll want to enunciate your vowels. By making sure that you sound out the vowels when you speak, you will help to create two results. The first is that you'll express yourself with more passion and compassion: Your comments will take on more "life." Both you and your client will be more emotionally involved in the conversation, and you'll tend to feel more connected with each other.

The second result is that your word speed will tend to slow down, which will give the conversation more impact and make it feel more complete. This compounds the involvement both of you will feel.

4. Carry out your conversations at a different location from your desk. I realize that not all your conversations are full-blown appointments—many of them occur simply while walking past someone. The suggestion here, however, is that you have your important conversations at a location other than from behind your regular desk. If someone steps into your office and asks a question, stand up or move around and sit on the front edge of your desk. For formal appointments, it will be worth your effort to move away from your desk and sit with your client at a different location.

5. As long ago as 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People that one of the ways to build good relationships is to "Be a good listener, encourage other people to talk about themselves." This is only as effective, however, as your ability to listen to their answers.

I am often asked for coaching and advice on various subjects. For years, I would respond first by asking enough questions to get a rough idea of what the person wanted, and then I would launch into a summary of the different solutions that might solve the problem. Usually, after I had talked myself out, people would respond by saying, “Well, I was thinking about doing such-and-such. What do you think?" They already had the answer! They didn't want any new information; they just wanted their answer confirmed by my experience.

Now when people ask me what I think they should do about a problem or challenge, I like to ask them, "What do you think you'd do?" Then, all I normally have to do is listen to the answer they have already thought out.

6. Even though you may ask your clients a lot of questions and listen to the answers, your conversation may still take on the air of "let's get this over with." Do you responding to the other person before he or she has completed saying what he wanted to say. To make sure that you maintain an air of reflection with your clients, do as Max Dixon suggests: Stay with them “a beat beyond.”

This means that before you respond, you wait for at least two full seconds after the other person stops speaking. This ensures he has finished; it also helps you "model reflection," and it gives you time to consider your response. One of my good friends, Bill Bachrach, tends to put his telephone on "mute" during conference calls so he can concentrate more fully on what the other people are saying. If a question is directed at him, he needs to release the "mute" button before he can speak. He says this has helped him tremendously because he has that brief moment to collect his thoughts before he speaks.

7. When your clients leave your office, walk with them to the door or lobby. This simple gesture of respect will help you in several ways. First, it demonstrates you have the time to be respectful—that your client is important enough to you to be worthy of being "walked out." Second, it gives you another opportunity to shake her hand and maintain the connection you've created with her. And third, it gives you time to think about your next task or appointment as you walk back to your desk: You'll think more clearly than if you’d remained sitting in your office; and the time spent organizing your thoughts should be about the same regardless of whether you are sitting at your desk or walking back to your office.

Those first seven suggestions are “tactically” oriented; they are ideas you can use immediately. The following three suggestions are more strategic in nature: Some initiative and planning will be required if you are to get the best results.

8. Take a life-management program. When you clearly understand what you value most, you'll tend to express those values and characteristics in your dealings with others.

9. Write out a description of your ideal client, and then jettison those clients who are farthest away from your ideal. Most business professionals are afraid to give up any clients at all, yet there is an important reason to do so. The reason is "Parkinson's Constant." Parkinson's Constant holds that the job expands to fill the time allowed. That is, we will take whatever time we have at our disposal to complete the work we have to do. So, if you have 500 clients, you'll fill your days taking care of those 500 clients; if you had only 300 clients, you would fill your days taking care of those 300 clients. It doesn't matter how many clients you have—you'll always seem to be about as busy as you are now. So you might as well be busy taking care of, or looking for, those clients who fit your ideal.

10. Create a system that lets your clients know, when they least expect it, that they are important to you. Have you ever received a letter of appreciation or a gift that you kept for a long time? How did you feel when you received it? How long did you keep it? We are talking about about personalized letters, cards, and gifts sent at times your clients or prospects don't expect them, which forces them to pay attention to the fact they are important to you.

By simply writing and sending one card of appreciation a day to one of your clients you’re sending a message that you’re willing to take the time for them.

Using these ten suggestions can help you send the strong message to your clients that they belong to a very special group—a group of people whom you always have time for, because they are important to you and because they are worthy of being treated with the dignity the human spirit deserves.


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 www.dougcarter.com or dcarter@clientsforevercoaching.com

 
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