As a young advisor in Australia, Russell Harrison thrived early on, quickly building an A list of clients in need of life insurance and general planning.
His lone weak spot while leading and growing Harrisons Financial Services surfaced when it came time to ask for referrals. Harrison just could not remember to make the ask.
"My staff would say to me, 'Russell, you must love cold calling,'" Harrison recalled during an MDRT Annual Meeting event this week. "I said 'No, I hate cold calling.' They said, 'But you don't ask for referrals.' I said, 'You're right and I'm going to find a way to work through this.'"
Fast forward to 1993 and Harrison's firm, in Toorak, Victoria, was doing very well. He shut the office down for a week to evaluate and develop a referral ask plan, and that is when Harrison hit on the reminder method that would change his life.
It was actually Harrison's wife, who ran the back office of the business, who came up with the idea to place elephant stickers everywhere. The stickers were affixed to correspondence, to Harrison's phone, to his calculator -- and became a mascot of sorts for the firm.
"At some stage during one of their appointments, the client would say to me, 'Russell, what are those elephants for?'" Harrison recounted. "I'd say 'You know, we want to build our business on insurance and I kept forgetting to ask my clients for referrals. Since elephants never forget, while we're on the subject, is there any one of your friends, colleagues or family that you might be able to refer me to?'"
The elephant sticker ask yielded about a 50% response, Harrison said.
'Five Magic Words'
The elephant stickers were combined with a note the firm included on client documentation, which Harrison summed up: "Referrals are the lifeblood of our business. If you're happy with what you've seen today dealing with us, would you be kind enough to refer us to friends, colleagues or family in the future?"
It is important to include the "five magic words," as Harrison calls them. "Is that okay with you?" he would ask every client.
"Once I had the clients permission once, I figured until they told me to stop asking them, I'd keep asking for referrals in the future," he explained.
Harrisons made one important adjustment to ensure the firm would get quality referrals. Clients were labeled internally as A, B or C customers. Obviously, the A clients were the best, often representing the high-net-worth group.
A and B clients were serviced annually, and sent birthday cards and gifts. Likewise, referral requests were limited to this group, Harrison said.
"Now why As and Bs and not Cs and Bs is the interesting point," Harrison said. "As and Bs refer you to As and Bs."
Through the years, Harrison taught his referral method to advisors across Australia and the United States. In 2019, he shuttered Harrisons Financial Services after 30 years and started Harrisons Coaching & Mentoring.
His firm did not make a single cold call from 1993 to 2019, Harrison said.
After he sold the business, Harrison met a 25-year client for coffee. Harrisons had steered the woman financially through many life changes and difficult periods.
"About halfway through that coffee, Cathy turned around to me and said, 'Russell, do you still use those elephant stickers?'" Harrison recalled. "We're talking 23 years was the last time she'd seen an elephant sticker.
"So pick something that's going to make a difference, that people are going to see, that they're going to recognize and that it's going to stand out and get them to ask you: What's that for?"
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.
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