Why how you answer “How’s it going?” affects referrals


You are talking about your referability even when you’re not talking about referrals. Even small, offhand comments communicate a message and that message affects how clients think about recommending you, often when you don’t realize or expect it.

Take, for example, how you answer the question “how are things?” Seems pretty innocuous, right? I mean how could that possibly have an effect on referrals?

I will assume that you are a successful advisor with a growing business. You are probably a pretty busy person. You have a lot going on. So, how do you answer that question? If you’re like a lot of people, you might, reasonably enough, reply “busy.” It might even be more graphic. And if you do, what are you actually communicating? One possible interpretation, how many of your clients might hear it, is that you are at capacity. You are having difficulty keeping up with the work you have. And so, a natural conclusion might be that you can’t handle any more at the moment.

This idea was brought home to me many years ago when I was doing financial planning full-time. At the end of a review meeting, a client said “look, I know you’re very busy, but do you think you could spare a little time to talk to one of my friends? She really need some advice and I know you could help her.” After the appointment I began to wonder how many people decided not to recommend me because of how busy I was?

We hear it a lot from our friends, don’t we? In our society it’s almost a badge of honor. But beneath it all it says something about how we handle things. Derek Sivers, founder of on-line seller of independent music CD Baby and author of dozens of books, says “To me, ‘busy’ implies that the person is out of control of their life.” I work with at least two advisors who, almost every time I call them and ask how it’s going, reply “Crazy.” And they have given me that answer so frequently for so long I have started to secretly think to myself “are you EVER going to get your stuff together?” (Except that I don’t actually think “stuff.”)

One of the more subtle aspects of referral marketing is always projecting the image that you are looking to meet another person who fits your ideal client description. You are ever ready to offer your unique client experience to the people who can benefit most from it. And that starts with how you answer the question “how’s it going?”

If you always project the image that you are running like mad, you cannot overcome that by taking a few moments at the end of a meeting to let clients know how much you appreciate them keeping you in mind when talking to friends. They will believe what they see over what you say. What you say when you’re NOT selling tells them more than what you say when you are.

Here are couple strategies or answering that question that will encourage people to think of how they can recommend you:

  • Project how smoothly things are running – describe how much fun it is to go to work in a place where the team is so good and the processes the group has put together work so well that providing the level of service you do is all in a days work. And that it can be accomplished without anyone feeling overworked or excessive pressure.
  • Talk about how the business is on track – tell people how pleased you are that you are getting to meet about as many people as you had hoped to bring on so far this year. And how optimistic you are that you will continue to be introduced to as many people as your business plan calls for.
  • Express gratitude – relay how grateful you are that the special client experience you and your team have designed has found an audience of people who were looking for that kind of experience.
  • Describe a recent “win” – communicate excitement that your team had the opportunity to apply its skills to produce a particularly good outcome for a recent client.

And it wouldn’t hurt to throw in every once in a while “I love my job.”

Picture what these kinds of responses would sound like. Who wouldn’t want to send their friends to someone like that?

Referral marketing is all about communicating the right message consistently. And the right messaging starts with knowing how to respond to even the simple and routine questions like “how’s it going?”


  1. Paul KingsmanOctober 27, 2017

    Hi Stephen…great post. Reposted to LI group as helpful and valuabe to advisors.
    We spoke a while back when I was getting ready to publish my book and appreciated your help.
    Hope you're doing well and enjoy the weekend.

  2. Rich A.October 28, 2017

    Good point that saying you are "busy" appears to the advisor like a badge of honor, when it looks to a client like the advisor is over committed. We are guilty of that default response … wanting to look like he-men. We will change that.

    I especially like the idea of using that question to describing a recent win. This is like a variation of describing your best client.

    To extend that idea, maybe for a client who is much less a fit, you describe a recent client you recently fired, and use as a reason the characteristics that resemble the less fit client! What do you have to lose, right?


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