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6 Not-So-Quick or Easy Steps To Earn Real Estate Referrals

There are thousands of articles on the web offering scripts for asking for referrals, ideas for “referral rewards programs,” and marketing ideas that involve including “I <3 referrals” in your email signature.

These are all full of great tactical advice. I'm even going to link to some of these articles in a few minutes, so you'll be able to check them out—but don't jump ahead just yet.

“There is no magic shortcut. Contrary to what the gurus tell you, referrals need to be earned; they are not given simply for the asking.”
- Kendyl Young, DIGGS

That's the most important thing to understand about referrals. You have to earn them. You have to build trust. Without laying a foundation of trust, even the cleverest referral script or rewards program in the world will have you coming up empty.

In addition to building trust, you need to examine your process and make sure you're providing a memorable, remarkable experience—something people will be moved to talk about. What do you do that is unexpected? How do you delight your clients?

"Ask yourself, am I providing a referable experience?"
- Dave Silva, Dave Silva Realty Team (Re/Max)

So, that's what it comes down to: trusting relationships and a remarkable client experience. I'd love to tell you that I've found 6 quick, easy tips for accomplishing these two objectives and earning tons of referrals. But it's just not that simple.

Instead, I have 6 not-so-quick or easy steps to earning referrals.

Step 1: Listen.

The only way to really, truly know someone is to listen to them. Genuinely listen. Be interested in your clients' opinions, interests, histories, fears, and dreams. Show them the respect of listening to what they have to say, and they'll be feeling all warm and fuzzy towards you in no time.

Step 2: Practice empathy.

Another benefit of listening is that you can get a deeper understanding of your clients' pain points—the things that scare them or stress them out about the home buying/selling process. Practice empathy by acknowledging and sympathizing with their feelings—then do everything in your power to ease their worries and provide solutions.

If you're there for them in their time of need, they'll never forget it.

Step 3: Provide value.

Instead of focusing on ASKING for referrals, make GIVING your top priority. Be a person who provides value. This can happen constantly (before they become clients, throughout the transaction, and long after close) and can come in many forms of content marketing: a free downloadable guide for first-time homebuyers, a head's up to all of your golf-fan clients about a deal going on at the local golf course, or even an hour of your time having coffee with someone who has a lot of questions about the listing process.

Here's a cool idea from Kendyl Young:

"Become the 'Propportunity Specialist' (properties that are opportunities = propportunities). Find a great property that excites you, and turn it into an opportunity to provide value. It can be any property that is any sort of opportunity—listed by you, them, or even a person willing to sell off-market. It doesn’t have to be the deal of the century, just something you think is really cool. Start telling people about these propportunities, and you’ll start to be known as someone who makes stuff happen.

By GIVING info about propportunities, you stop being in a place that feels like ASKING people to give you referrals."

Another great idea comes from our own Dave Crumby:

"Build community. Start a club or informal group based on one of your skills or interests—maybe a gardening club or a book club, or a weekly group that meets at Starbucks and talks investments. The idea here is that you're providing value by creating a community where these people can connect with others and learn new things—but it benefits you, too. You're building relationships and, as the leader of the community, earning their trust and respect."

Step 4: Demonstrate success.

Part of building trust is letting people know (through marketing) how you've helped your clients. You can share success stories in many different ways: by publishing written testimonials on your website, posting video testimonials on your Facebook page, asking your clients to leave you reviews on Yelp or Google, etc. 

When you're promoting yourself, just be sure to balance it with plenty of that GIVING stuff we just talked about. For example, when posting to your Facebook page, you should include testimonials and plenty of useful, informative articles that provide value.

Step 5: Ask!

Once you’ve earned the right to ask someone for a referral (by following the steps above), muster up the courage and JUST ASK!

And you don't necessarily have to wait until a client signs a listing contract or closes on a home. Maybe you did something really heroic, like drive them to a showing in the middle of a raging blizzard (although probably something less extreme that didn't put your life in peril), and they said you were the greatest real estate agent of all time. That would also be a great time to say, "Hey, know anyone looking to buy/sell a home?"

An article for Inman News also suggests mentioning referrals during your listing presentation or after a client's loan is approved. Scripts are also included in this article. For more scripts, check out these posts by REALTOR Magazine and Tom Ferry.

Step 6: Build a process.

The listening, the empathy, the giving, the demonstrating success, the asking...create a process for making it all happen. Process is so important. When you have everything documented and automated, you'll be able to execute the same steps every time you connect with someone new.

Learn more about automating your process through workflows.

It's not gonna be easy. It's not gonna be quick.

To earn referrals, you must first prove yourself worthy of them. You have to build trusting relationships, so listen up when people talk to you, and respond with empathy (What is worrying them? How can you alleviate their anxiety?). 

You have to position yourself as a dependable, valuable resource for your sphere of influence—your mantra should be Give, give, give. Educate them, advise them, and hold their hand throughout the entire process.

But it's also okay—nay, necessary—to promote yourself and your success stories. Those referred clients are gonna want to see evidence.

Then you have to summon the courage to ask. (Isn't it funny how referrals are reported to be the #1 source for new real estate clients, yet so many agents still feel uncomfortable making the big ask?)

Finally, once you've figured out the formula for making referrals happen, you must put everything into a process so it can be repeated over and over again.

And that, my friends, is the arduous journey that lies ahead of you. Are you up for the challenge?

Sammy Harper

Sammy Harper is a regular contributor to the Realvolve blog. In addition to a decade of digital marketing experience, she's spent the last six years immersed in the world of real estate and CRM. Fascinated by the real estate industry and inspired by agents’ stories, she is dedicated to providing valuable content to help real estate agents thrive.


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