Do You Ask For Referrals? Would You Hire A Plumber That Randomly Showed Up At Your Door?

I am opposed to asking for referrals. For all kinds of reasons.

I do not believe in asking primarily because it attempts to hijack the natural way referrals happen. But also because we are an event driven business. And when we ask for referrals, we won’t meet the prospects when they need us.

Clients typically seek out and advisor because something happened or something changed. Very few people wake up in the morning thinking “I think I will find a new financial advisor today.” It happens, and sometimes a change of attitude can be the trigger. But most often it is because a situation arises that requires a client find advice.

I was reminded of this the other day as I was working with the client on his value proposition. Like so many advisors, he told me he works with clients who are in “transition.” We may be an event driven business partly because we have designed it that way. Money in motion, changing life circumstances, retirement distributions, sudden money. So many of the things we tell people we specialize in involve an event.

Regardless of where it comes from, it is clear that good referrals are defined partly by being introduced at the right time for the prospect. And the probability that when you ask your client for a referral will turn out to be just the right time for the prospect is miniscule. Odds are that if you ask for referrals you will be calling those prospects at time when they are just not receptive to your message. I think of it this way: from the prospect’s perspective you are like a great plumber that shows up unannounced and unexpected on someone’s doorstep. If a plumber came to visit you out of the blue, would you hire him? Right then?

I recently hired a plumbing company to come pump out my septic tank. Not something I do very often. In fact, I have been in this house for almost 20 years and have not had it pumped once. (I know, bad idea.  Like many people, I
procrastinate on the preventative maintenance stuff.) But, I had a remodeling project going on and needed an inspection. The inspection required that the tank be pumped. I mentioned it to people. I asked around. A friend suggested a company, and they turned out to be great.

And that’s how referrals happen. If that company had called me a year ago and told me they were experts at pumping septic tanks, I would have replied “not now, thanks.” (Even though I should have thought about it.  But I was, I don’t know, packing for vacation or cutting the lawn or something.) But, now I needed one.  And because my friend knew this company was good at cleaning septic systems he mentioned them to me when I described my predicament.

What we must focus on is making sure our clients understand what particular solutions we can deliver or what experiences we can provide. If we can make that easy to recall, they will remember us when they hear someone describe a need for what we do. In the end, we don’t really want our clients to share with us the names of their friends. We want our clients to share our names with their friends at the right time.



  1. Bruce PetersDecember 10, 2011

    Great reminder for Advisors. That said what is the Advisor or better yet client to do?
    Since the client or prospective client will likely be in transition could you asked to be placed on the list? Much like making a list of recommended plumbers? Ask for permission to follow up at certain times ( likely transition event times)?
    What do the most successful Advisors do?

  2. John F. HinmanJanuary 4, 2012

    When an FA or for that matter any sales professional begins to seriously focus on growing their business a reality check must happen first. How did you get and keep the clients who represent your business? One either engages very strategically and skillfully anyone and everyone who will listen to them OR is introduced to others by trusted members of their own personal and professional network. Asking for referrals is an exercise that does help a professional grow through the experience. That growth will lead to the discovery that it is far more efficient and productive to ask for introductions and create the event or opportunity through which the introduction can be most effective. I ask for the introductions like this as just one example: "Jim, I'd like to invite you and 2 of your associates from the young millionaires golf club to join me as a team in this charity event I'm helping organize. Who would you think would be the best ones to ask? Oh! And I'm sponsoring the team."

    Building a book of business begins with building relationships. People want to work with people they like. How do you get people to like you? They have to get to know you. Asking for introductions and then using events such as charity golf tournaments, dinners, or even sporting clays as a focus of the proposed get together is a non-threatening method where people get to really know each other. Mingle and mix your way to success and a satisfying career.

  3. plumbingJanuary 14, 2012

    Ask what kind of deposit or up front charge the plumber demands. Keep in mind when asking for quotes over the phone that these quotes may vary when the plumber gets to your house and provides you with an estimate.

  4. plumbing fittingsAugust 20, 2012

    When we are in need of virtually anything, from professional services to a great vacation spot, chances are we first seek a referral from someone we trust. When people look for a real estate agent, they are likely to ask someone they trust for a referral. Handing out business cards is great but it is not enough. In order to get referrals, it is important that your friends and family get permission for you to contact the people they are referring; they need to get their contact information and pass it to you. When someone receives a business card there is a small chance that he or she will call you. When they give out their name and number for you to contact them, you know that you have a real lead.

  5. Stephen WershingAugust 22, 2012


    Exactly! When we give out cards, we are handing out information. When our friends and clients hand out our card, it is an endorsement, and therefore much more powerful.

    The key is having our clients remember us at the right time – when their friend or associate needs what we do. If we get the opportunity to contact them at that moment, we have an endorsement and a timely need. Together, very likely the makings of a new client!


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