You Can Get Referrals. Just Don’t Ask for Them.

Duct-tape-over-mouthIn my previous blog post (Referrals? Don’t Bother Asking.), I suggested that most clients don’t feel the need to provide you with referrals because referrals are social currency, and your client has already compensated you (with fees, commissions, or both) for the work you did for him.  Unless he feels the need to increase his social status in your eyes, he has little incentive to provide you with referrals.  And, it’s likely that any referral you would get (as a result of asking) may not be ready to work with you right now.  Have you ever called a referral only to find that he isn’t actually ready to solve a problem that he may have (or may not even have a pressing problem at all)?  Who needs referrals who aren’t ready to do business?

In that post, I recommended that you must do two things to get referrals.  First, make certain that your client can easily talk about what you do and how you’ve helped him, so that when a situation does present itself, you’ll come to the top of the list as a solution. And, also give him something so remarkable to talk about that he will spontaneously combust if he doesn’t tell everyone what you did for him (so that he creates the situation himself, rather than waiting for it to happen).

      Before we continue, I’m also going to tell you that asking for referrals creates a negative experience for the client. No matter how much goodwill you created with the work you’ve done to help him, you just lost some of that goodwill by putting pressure on the client to provide you with a name of a friend, relative, or associate (out of the blue) before the end of your meeting. What you’ve done is made a withdrawal from your client’s emotional bank account. Do that every time you meet with him and you may end up with a negative balance in the account.

      So, how can you show your client how you are helping him?  There are many ways to do this, but here are two suggestions:

  • Open every review meeting with a list of specific issues that the client has asked you to help him solve.  And close every review meeting by summarizing those issues, explain exactly how you’re helping him to solve each one, and provide him with the current status.  These issues (i.e., goals) should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. (Read more about SMART goals here.)  The less ‘SMART’ they are, the less likely that he will be able to talk about them when provided the opportunity. If you’re only helping him with ‘financial planning’, he won’t know how to explain what you’ve done for him to someone that he meets.  But, if he knows how much he’s going to need to send his kid to college and that he’s 50% there (and his son is currently in 3rd grade) — that’s something he can explain (by the way, that’s also pretty remarkable as well).
  • Keep your client focused on the results you are obtaining for him, not on the strategies or products that you are using.  He shouldn’t be telling anyone that he just bought a mutual fund or an annuity from you (especially if he doesn’t know why he did that).  He shouldn’t be talking about the features and benefits of the fund or annuity. Instead, he must be able to say ‘My adviser is doing a great job helping me to build a fund for my kid to go college.’  And, he must be able to offer specifics on just how you did this.  (“He found college cost projections for three schools we would like our son to attend, then showed us the amount we will need to save, helped us find money in our budget, and also opened an account for us to begin saving.”)

Your client will be overjoyed to talk about you without even being asked if he has something interesting, surprising, or unusual to say about you or something you did for him – something ‘remarkable’.  You had your assistant send him a birthday card – no, not remarkable in the least. Every adviser does this (we learn it on the first day of adviser camp). Called him on his birthday.  Better, but no.  Took him to lunch. Getting warmer. Sent him a sleeve of his favorite golf balls.  Better still (at least you knew which ones to send). Sent him an autographed note from his favorite golfer. Now we’re talking. But what if you were able to conference in his favorite pro golfer on the phone with you and him? No way! “I’ve gotta tell you what my financial adviser did on my birthday three years ago. You won’t believe what a great guy he is.” Remarkable? Yes, jackpot (He’s actually still talking about it three years later)!  Was it easy to do? Probably not.That’s likely what made it remarkable. By the way, you don’t need a special occasion for this (like his birthday).  Something can be even more remarkable when it’s done for seemingly no reason.

So ‘remark-able’ is surprising, unusual, out-of-the-ordinary, unexpected. It should be positive.  It should be personal – the more personal, the better. It will likely take some effort. Or at least it must look that way. When ‘remarkable’ occurs, we want to tell others about it as John Jantsch does with this story excerpted from his book ‘The Referral Engine’:

“One day my wife and I hit a sale at the outdoor gear retailer REI. During the trip she found a coat that she loved and bought it. A few weeks later, we went to an outdoor event and she took the opportunity to wear her new coat. As we went out the door she reached into the pocket and found a little slip of paper.

She pulled the slip out fully expecting something along the lines of “Inspected by #48.” Instead, the note read “You are a goddess!” That simple, unexpected message made her day. Of course, we both wondered, who made this coat? I checked the manufacturer’s Web site and discovered a very cool little garment company called Isis (www.isisfor, located in Burlington, Vermont.

This creative act, unrelated to the quality, cut, or color of the coat in question, compelled us both to think fondly of this company and voluntarily refer them to anyone who would listen. Something I’m doing right now.”

So, how do you help your client understand how you’re helping him, so that he can easily explain why someone should talk to you about a similar problem? What have you done that was so remarkable that your client wants to tell anyone who would listen? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.


1 thought on “You Can Get Referrals. Just Don’t Ask for Them.

  1. Pingback: What Gets Referrals? It’s Not Always Obvious. | The Business of Financial Advice

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