If You Want More Sex, It Is Not About How Much You Ask For It. Same With Referrals.


Attracting referrals is like attracting sex.  Stick with me and I’ll explain.

I saw a newsletter yesterday that stated as fact “The single biggest reason you aren’t getting more referrals is because you’re not asking enough.” Garbage. 

The biggest reason advisors don’t get more referrals is they don’t understand how they happen. And the first step in mastering referrals is to understand why people refer.

People are social animals. As human beings we have a natural need to refer.  We do it all the time.  They are social currency.  They are a way of expanding influence.  They are a way of networking.  It is perfectly natural to want to do things for the people who are important to us, and providing referrals is one way we can. Being the source of good information and to be a person other people look to for advice also makes us feel important.

As John Jantsch says in his book The Referral Engine,  “Being recognized as a source of good information, including referrals, is a great way to connect with others. Think about how eagerly you responded the last time someone asked you for directions, offering up your favorite shortcut and tips for avoiding traffic. We all do it. Making referrals is a deeply satisfying way to connect with others—asking for referrals is just the other side of the same phenomenon. I think the growth of many popular social networks can be traced to the fact that people love to connect and form communities around shared ideas.”

In his book The New Art and Science of Referral Marketing, Scott Degraffenreid utilized social network analysis to examine why people make referrals.  His study demonstrated something that makes intuitive sense – people refer to elevate their standing with their peers.  

Asking a client to provide you a referral is an attempt to hijack the process. To bypass the reasons someone would want to give you one and just get the payoff. It’s a little like Russell Crowe playing the role of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.  In the movie, his friends bring him to a bar and find a single girl at the bar.  They finally persuade him to go up to the girl and ask her out.  He doesn’t know how to ask a girl for a date. So, he just goes for the gold.  Here is what he says:

“I don’t exactly know what I am required to say in order for you to have intercourse with me, so could we just assume I said all that? I mean, essentially what we are talking about here is fluid exchange. We could just skip straight to the sex.”

How do you suppose that scene turned out?  Not well for Nash. She won’t want to go to bed with him just because it is good for him. Besides not having any interest in him, there are real risks involved for her. He doesn’t appreciate that for her to want to go to bed, she needs to have certain feelings about him first.

When a client makes a referral to us, it is because they feel certain things about us.  They must feel strongly enough about what they will get out of it that it is worth the risk they expose themselves to by sharing a friend with us. Making a referral must be an experience they benefit from. And if you attempt to disrespect your client and go directly for the result without having respect for the process that goes with it, you’ll get metaphorically slapped just like Nash did. 

Understand why people would want to make referrals to you, and provide it to them. Regarding referrals, that’s the first step in “being attractive.”


  1. Clayton BoltonMarch 16, 2012

    I respect what this article tries to explain. It does have an excellent title and the analogy with Nash is very good. However, it could be much better written. I never ask for referalls. I say to clients… "who do you know that might also benefit from the INFORMATION". My practice is VERY information driven. I have found the more people I educate, the wealthier I become! This article is true in that asking for referalls is for amateurs, and it IS like asking for sex before taking any of the necessary steps to get there! I suggest to anyone interested the AWESOME book "Endless Referalls" by Bog Berg. It is 200 pages of pure genius and real world situations.

  2. Stephen WershingMarch 16, 2012

    Thanks for your comments, Clayton! Sometimes the time pressure of generating blog posts keeps them from being my best work. There is a lot more to attracting referrals then what this post discusses. This one is more strictly about why asking is inferior, it doesn't go into superior strategies. But there's plenty of that in other posts – I hope you'll keep reading and let me know what you think of those!

  3. SoubhagyaMarch 19, 2012

    Nice article.. pertinent title and pertinent example.


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