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Getting Referrals When Asking Isn’t Allowed

My business is Medicare. That’s all. In many ways, it is similar to securities and financial services in its rules. There are restrictions on advertising and limitations on what we are allowed to say and how we say it. There are also record-retention requirements and even a cooling off period for selling other products.

Many of our marketing activities are regulated by the federal government. And the federal government has strict guidelines for the sale of Medicare-related insurance. One of those guidelines deals with first contacts and referrals.

I’m still an insurance professional, like you. To avoid having to prospect like a newbie every week of my career, I need to build on referrals. But I cannot ask for names and phone numbers of people I can call. I can get an address and send a note, but even that has restrictions on what can be sent. I might be able to host a dinner or lunch, but that skirts right along the lines of rules that state that the moment I talk shop, I might be in violation, depending on what is said and how it is interpreted.

Getting Referrals

As a result, the traditional ways of asking for and contacting referrals do not work for my business. I have had debates with colleagues about the interpretations of these laws. The bottom line is that my actions are held accountable, and the key to not running afoul of rules is to give them a wide interpretation rather than skirt as close to legality as I can. So, here is how our method for getting referrals works.

For starters, when I meet a new prospect and explain what I do, the subject of how I get compensated often comes up. And if they don’t ask, I tell them: “We’ll get paid a commission or a fee by the carrier (depending on the product), but you won’t pay anything to us. If you are happy with what we’ve done, please let everybody know about it.” Every now and then, we’ll get someone who will ask if I can call their family member, neighbor or someone like that. I can’t initiate that kind of contact. So, I make sure to give them an extra business card to pass along.

Business Card Tips You Can Use

And speaking of business cards, how many do you give out? One? One per person? Why be stingy? Every person I sit down with gets two business cards at a minimum. Most people ask why. I always respond: “Everyone tells me they lose one. So, here’s a second one to lose.”

No one ever gives it back. I’ve gone back to see clients a year later and have seen two business cards on refrigerators, by their phones and in other places around the house. And you’d be surprised at how many of those spare cards show up in other people’s hands eventually — sometimes years later. The most effective way for me to get a referral is to make sure my clients are prepared to give the referral when the time is right for them. Make sure they have a spare card to give at all times.

Here’s another business card tip: If you are able, change your business card every couple of years even if nothing at your business changes. This is an excuse to give out another couple of cards. Change the coloring slightly, if that’s all you need to do, add a period or change an abbreviation. Now you can give two cards out again to all your clients and they’ll have both the new and the old ones. I was surprised recently when I saw a referral from a client who had a card that I last used in 2008!

Finally, the best way to be referable when you can’t ask is to simply be available. My clients can call me. They can call the office and get our office manager, but they can also call me.

Do you know how many clients call me because they’re sick of having to call and be put on hold for a generic customer service rep? People are getting tired, really tired of being put on hold, even though they are told that their call is very important. Leaving me a voice mail message but knowing I’ll call them back personally is a good way of capturing new clients. Reliably returning a call in this day and age is a means of advertising that money cannot buy.

Elie Harriett is a NAIFA member and co-owns Classic Insurance & Financial Services Co., specializing in Medicare-related insurance. Elie may be reached at [email protected] .

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