In a perfect world, your clients would take the initiative and give you unsolicited referrals.

Unfortunately, the world is not perfect. You have to do a little gentle prodding.

Dale Carnegie noted that 91 percent of customers said they’d give referrals. Yet, only 11 percent of salespeople ask for them.

Think how much business you’re leaving on the table when you don’t ask for referrals. It should be a no-brainer.

Here’s the catch, though. You never know when your clients will have a referral opportunity for you. And you don’t want to risk your relationship with the client by constantly pestering them for referrals.

Well, I have good news. You can ask for referrals on a regular basis without annoying or alienating your clients.

Your approach makes all the difference.

It’s easy to understand why so many agents fear they’ll bother clients if they ask for referrals. Real estate is a service industry. You’re used to focusing on what you can do for your client, not what they can do for you. Asking for referrals seems selfish. And if that’s the sole purpose of your contact with clients, then it is selfish.

Here’s a better approach.

Provide value before asking for the referral. Framing requests in this way is an age-old strategy so simple and effective that even children use it. They might help with the laundry, for example, or clean their room, and then ask for a new toy.

Many companies have also used the technique well. For instance, charities have discovered that including personalized address labels or other gifts in their fundraising mailings increases the donations they receive.

It works because of what psychologists call the rule of reciprocity. When someone does something for us first, we feel a sense of obligation and are more likely to respond positively to requests that follow.

There are many ways that you can use this technique to get more referrals. Try the suggestions below and follow up with a phone call.

1. Give a gift.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be something people can use and appreciate. Those address labels I mentioned earlier are a good example. The custom magazines my company produces are another. Get creative.

2. Share a recipe.

This tactic is an easy, cost-effective way to offer value. Recipes are among the most shared content online, so they have a broad appeal. Even if you aren’t connected on social media, you can email recipes to clients or even print them and send them through postal mail.

3. Provide a resource.

This idea is similar to giving a gift, but it is designed more to help clients achieve something. It’s also usually related to your area of expertise. For example, you could deliver an e-book on the best ways to increase home value or a collection of how-to home maintenance articles.

4. Offer advice.

You don’t have to offer something physical for this strategy to work. You can provide value through conversation. Call to share a helpful tip or personal recommendation relevant to your client’s life. For example, if you know she is planning a vacation to someplace you’ve visited, you can suggest sites to see, activities to try and places to eat.

If you’re able to break the ice successfully and make your clients the focus of your call, they should be happy to return the favor and provide a referral.

Sean Kirby is copywriter for ReminderMedia, a relationship marketing company that helps businesses solidify their key relationships and generate repeat and referral clients. Follow them on Twitter and connect on Facebook.

Email Sean Kirby.

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