Cherry Reynard looks at how advisers can achieve a balance between generating client referrals to build their business while avoiding looking pushy or threatening existing relationships
Generating referrals to build your business is a seductive idea in theory. You can simply use your existing client base with no marketing or advertising costs and you can also attract more of the type of clients you want. The trouble is, of course, that the thought of asking for referrals is an uncomfortable one. It feels pushy or even needy and many advisers worry about threatening existing relationships. Is there a solution?
Most advisers know what it would take for them to generate more referrals – they simply have to ask. But, like any other skill, it takes some strategic thinking and plenty of practice before it becomes second nature.
A few things need to be in place before starting a referral process:
- You need to be comfortable with what you are offering.
- You need to be clear on the advantages you can provide to your clients’ friends, relatives or business contacts.
- You need to be sure your clients like and trust you.
As such, it can be worth asking clients where they have derived most value from the client/adviser relationship to provide a starting point.
There may be clients who already refer without prompting and these splendid individuals can provide a solid base from which to build a referrals programme. It is worth asking them why they refer, to whom they refer and how the subject comes up. After all, many people do not naturally talk about their finances with their friends so this can provide ideas.
Most experts suggest starting small as you need to become comfortable with asking for referrals before you tackle more difficult clients. It is therefore best to start with those clients with whom you have the closest relationship. Those advisers who have built the most successful referral programmes have tended to target specific types of clients as well – lawyers, for example – with the aim of embedding themselves in their network.
Planning your words carefully, at least at first, is likely to bring more results than casual, ad-hoc queries. As well as making it clear the services you can provide, it is important to let clients know how they can refer you. For example, you may ask them simply to mention you to their friends so you can follow up with a call. Or you may ask if you can all meet for a drink.
Some advisers have also had success with organising client seminars where clients can bring friends as this provides a more natural setting with which to generate referrals. The aim is to be assertive without being pushy and to focus on why they need you, rather than why you need them.