At my friend’s daughter’s high school, invitations to the prom are sometimes elaborately orchestrated. One boy filled a girl’s car with balloons, for example; she popped them one at a time to reveal a teddy bear holding a card that popped the question.
Unfortunately, however, the desire to stand out at that school has become so extreme that some students are just too intimidated to ask anybody out.
I sometimes think advisors are subject to the same fears when it comes to asking for referrals. Yet in my experience, referrals don’t come as a result of an elaborate production, but rather from a simple personal invitation.
I work with 70 to 80 clients. Each year for the past 10 years or so, I’ve added four or five new clients — all referrals. My approach is free of high school drama and the systematic planning that many advisor marketing programs advocate. For my clients, a mass mailing or string of email requests would feel impersonal.
Instead, I ask for referrals in person, from the heart and with some humor.
NEED FOR NEW CLIENTS
For instance, when wrapping up a quarterly meeting in my office, a client with
I’d then add, “Ideally, I don’t want to spend a lot of time prospecting, as that takes time away from the work I do for my current clients. So, I’m asking clients I enjoy working with the most — clients like you — for referrals.”
Clients appreciate my candor and understand that they are a great source for new business. But even so, they need more information in order to produce viable referrals.
The most important thing you can do to help clients refer more business is to be extremely specific about who you’d like to work with.
Recognize that without your guidance, your client could interpret a “client like you” to mean “my sister the school teacher who has a retirement account of
Besides describing your ideal client, detail the help you’ll provide. A bare bones question like, “Jennifer, could you refer me to someone who would benefit from my services?” is likely to get a response like, “I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head.”
Instead, if you are interested in working with entrepreneurs and family businesses, try something like this: “Jennifer, I know you are a member of the
Or maybe you mention to a recently divorced client who has successfully begun saving for her own retirement, “It’s good to see your retirement account moving in the right direction — that’s a challenge for many single women. If you have any single friends who need to commit to a more rigorous retirement savings plan, I can help them take the first step by developing a budget so they can begin to save more of what they earn.”
Referrals should not be a homework assignment for clients — as in, “Please email me some names by Friday.” Instead, specifically identify the clients you are looking for so that referring becomes a relatively easy response for your clients.
PROPS & PUSHBACK
Here are a few other things I do that make it easy for clients to send more business my way.
While my approach for referrals is effective, it’s not systematic or aggressive. Rather than put clients on the spot, I choose to gently, but routinely, remind them that I’m interested in new clients.
If you need a push to ask for referrals, keep in mind that there’s something in the referral process for clients, too: They get to look like heroes for introducing their family members or friends to the top-notch service you deliver. Meanwhile, the referring clients become more invested in their relationship with you because you share another personal connection. How’s that for a win?
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