Most financial advisors find it difficult to ask for referrals. That we know because less than 11 percent even bother to ask. Maybe that small cadre of advisors knows something the other 89 percent don’t—that nearly three-quarters of high-net-worth clients say they would refer friends or colleagues if their advisors asked. That’s quite a disconnect, so I’m wondering if there is something else going on that’s preventing advisors from tapping this precious and obvious source of new clients.
Why Advisors don’t ask for referrals
Successful advisors will tell you their best clients come from referrals. Shouldn’t that make you wonder why more advisors don’t ask for referrals? Over the years, I’ve heard many reasons why they don’t, including:
- It makes my clients feel uncomfortable.
- It makes it look like I’m begging for business.
- It makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I don’t know how to ask for referrals.
Are any of these legitimate reasons? Maybe the last one. But not knowing how seems more like an excuse that can be fixed if one wants to try. The others are false perceptions conjured up in the advisor’s mind. I think what they are really saying is they don’t think they are referrable. Naturally, if you don’t feel you are referable, you would feel awkward or uncomfortable asking for referrals, and you would wonder why any client would refer someone to you. But even that is not a valid reason for not asking. It’s an excuse that can be remedied.
Making yourself more referable
If you are serious about making referrals a key component of your marketing strategy, you might start with a plan to make yourself more referable. When you become referrable, the asking part is easy. You can’t become referrable unless you find a way to differentiate yourself—to really stand out in a crowded field. You need to give your clients something to talk about with their friends and colleagues. Would you be enthusiastic about referring someone to you if you’re no different than the average advisor? Probably not.
Here’s a four-pronged strategy for making yourself more referable and your clients more enthusiastic about introducing you to their friends and colleagues.
1. Make yourself more interesting
When clients are asked to approach their friends and colleagues, they want to be able to impress them. They want to be able to share a unique experience that makes them more interesting to the people they approach. Referable advisors are always focused on making themselves unique in the eyes of their clients.
For example, they are high-profile volunteers in their communities. They do things to increase their visibility through media appearances. They promote their thought leadership through a blog or other publications. They never stop pursuing advanced education in their field. If you’re more interesting to your clients, they’re more interested in talking you up with others.
2. Make yourself irreplaceable
When you become irreplaceable to your clients, they start raving about your services. How do you become irreplaceable? According to Financial Planning Association survey, 63 percent of high-net-worth clients say they value personalized advice and communications above all else. Referable advisors customize each client’s experience according to their needs and preferences. The more you engage your clients on a personal level, the more valuable the relationship is to them. Clients who have an exceptional experience with their advisors are happy to share their experiences with others.
3. Make yourself a noted expert
You become referable when you are recognized as an expert within a niche market. Specializing in a niche requires a level of expertise not found with other advisors. The deeper the niche, the more expertise is needed to be of value. It also provides an opportunity to raise your visibility within that niche. For example, if you’re able to offer a distinct value to veterinarians, they will know how to talk to other veterinarians about how you can be of value to them.
4. Don’t ask for referrals, ask for introductions
When you become referable by elevating your clients’ experience and strengthening your personal relationships, they become your advocates. You shouldn’t have to resort to asking them for referrals. Instead, ask them for introductions. There’s a difference.
A survey conducted by Oechsli Institute revealed that a majority of high-net-worth clients don’t feel comfortable when asked to provide referrals. Interestingly, they said they would be happy to provide an introduction if asked. The difference is in the way your clients perceive it.
Asking for an introduction relieves your client of the burden of handing over names and phone numbers. Instead, you feed the names of individuals gathered through research into your client’s sphere of influence. You can find these candidates on your client’s social media sites, media stories, observing your client at social events, or through conversations, you’ve had with your client.
Asking to be introduced to someone has a very different feel than asking for a referral. The introduction conversation goes something like this:
Hey Charlie, I noticed you and Howard Jones are connected on LinkedIn (or I saw you talking with Howard Jones the other day). How do you know him? He looks like someone I’d like to meet. What would be a good way to meet him?
Regardless of whether your client offers to introduce you, you follow up with:
I’d like to take the three of us to lunch. How does that sound?
Once you become referable, you can have the introduction conversation with your ideal clients. Having one or two conversations per week should yield 50-plus introductions a year, and you could even count on multiple introductions from your best clients. Suddenly your referral marketing becomes self-sustainable.