The number one way to boost referrals



Tell your clients who you want them to refer.


Want to know one of the biggest reasons your clients don’t refer more? Because they don’t know who you’re looking for.

The point was demonstrated to me dramatically in one client advisory board meeting. I had just asked  some of the standard questions we ask a new board – Of all the things this advisor does for you, what do you value most? What was it about this advisor that caused you to choose them over your other options? – And then went on to ask a few questions about who they might refer if they were inclined to do so. We were not getting very far after a few minutes, so I asked this question: In the next room (the main dining room of the restaurant we were in) are probably 100 people. Let’s say I send you in there with the assignment of picking just two to recommend to your advisor. How would you choose them?

Silence. After 10 or 15 uncomfortable seconds, one person volunteered “someone who’s unhappy with their portfolio?”

If I would have asked that question cold, it might have been a little different. But this is a group of people who just spent the prior 20 minutes telling me, in detail, why they love their advisor and the particular solutions that help to build their loyalty. I have had similar experiences since.

The fact is, as Dan Allison has found through his work with focus groups, your clients don’t know who you’re looking for. (There was an article about this on the FPA Practice Management site, but they have since put it behind their gateway. If anyone has a link to it, please add it to the comments.) If you can help clarify it for them, you can get more referrals.

At another advisory board meeting earlier this year (with a different client) we were talking about how we could inspire clients to bring guests to an appreciation event. One of the questions raised by the board was who they should invite. One of the principals of the firm replied “anyone you think would benefit by being introduced to us.”

Clients wanted to invite people that would meet the firm’s acceptance criteria (minimum investable assets, etc.) when they, like most people, don’t really know how much their friends have in the bank. The advisor intended to overcome this and say not to worry about it – that they would prefer to get referrals who did not qualify and weed them out rather than to not get referrals. But the advisor’s answer was not particularly helpful. Tell them who you can help rather than telling them not to worry about account minima.

A big part of referral marketing is training your clients to be better referrers, to give them better tools. And the most basic of those tools is a description of your ideal client. It is something many (if not most) of the boards I work with have asked their advisor for.

Here are a few tips on putting together an ideal client profile to help your clients refer:


  • Talk about your niche. The particular solution that sets you apart or the particular kind of experience you provide, especially if that’s what attracted the client you are talking to, is the best thing you can teach them. Give them a reason to think of you at the right time. Julie Littlechild tells a story in one of her presentations about having lunch with a few of her friends. They are updating each other on their lives and one mentions that she was really struggling with the loss of her father and settling his estate. Usually in those situations, all the friends empathize with the one who is struggling and in the conversation moves on.  As it happens, Julie had been talking to an advisor just a few days before who was describing his special process to help survivors through the financial issues of losing a parent. That advisor immediately came to mind and Julie mentioned him to her friend. Evelyn Zohlen also discussed how she describes her niche to boost referrals from centers of influence in my interview with her.
  • Talk about your differentiator. Rather than address the generalities that all advisors provide, spend your time emphasizing what sets you apart from other advisors. If someone asks four friends for a recommendation and three talk about financial planning or investment management but one talks about the unique experience they had when they started working with their advisor, who do you think is going to get the phone call?
  • Talk about the needs your ideal clients have. Rather than talking about your process or the quality of your relationships, talk about the challenges you help your target clients overcome. The moment of truth in a potential referral is when your client’s friend describes a need your client recognizes is something you can solve, bringing you to mind. Imprinting that in your clients memory will do a lot more to help your clients remember to mention you at the right time than knowing what you generally do or how you do it.
  • Remind your client of a particular challenge you helped them overcome. Again, as Littlechild has found in her surveys of clients, the most frequent circumstance clients mention around the last referral they gave was hearing a friend describe a financial challenge. Remind your client how you helped them. Help them experience the feelings they had when they got a resolution. Keep it fresh in their memory so that if they hear it again they will think of you.
  • Offer to spend 15 minutes on the phone with the client’s friend to help them tackle a challenge. Okay so this is not technically teaching your clients who you’re looking for but it can be a great technique. Whenever you have solved the particular problem for a client let them know that you would be happy to talk with anyone they know who faces a similar challenge. This won’t work for the basic services you provide like retirement planning. But when you have the opportunity to solve a problem that requires some specific expertise it can be a nice way to provide an incentive to mention you. You might say something like “I’m glad we could take care of this problem for you. And if anyone you know finds themselves with this problem I would be happy to spend 15 minutes on the phone with them, no obligation, to see if I can give them a couple ideas on how they can resolve it.”


Your clients are surrounded by people you would like to be introduced to all the time. Help them recognize the opportunities to introduce you when the timing is right.

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