Three ways to reframe referrals (that work)

“Who do you know that could use my services?”

Let’s be honest, that old way of asking for a referral doesn’t work for a lot of us. It’s a simple question, but there are a lot of ways for it to go sideways and sour an otherwise productive client meeting. As a result, many advisors avoid the referral conversation entirely or take a strictly passive route with a strategically placed message such as, “The best compliment I can receive is a referral.” Still, I have yet to meet an advisor who would not welcome more referrals from their clients.

I’ve heard a lot of referral pitches over the years—the good and the bad. Three referral statements have stuck out in my mind, each effective for different reasons, which I am sharing in this post.

Ultimately, an effective referral request requires two things. First, it must be framed appropriately. Without proper framing, a referral request can come across as an order, a to do, a task that you are assigning to clients. Why should they do your job for you? Second, you have to feel 100% comfortable with the words coming out of your mouth. Any awkwardness will show on your face and in your tone of voice. This will likely be visible to you client.

Referrals framed as an expectation

Let’s start with an example that’s direct. I’ve heard this approach from a few different advisors in top offices where goals are always at the forefront of conversations.

“We just finished our business planning for the coming year. One of the things I noticed is that I’m able to take on a few more clients. I really enjoy working with technology entrepreneurs like yourself. I’ll probably be looking to you for some help and advice gaining introductions in that field.”

Why it works: If the relationship is strong and the client is happy, framing a referral as part of the reciprocal client-advisor relationship can feel natural. In this case, the advisor lets the clients know she is a goal-setter—a trait that many entrepreneurs can identify with and appreciate. Second, instead of asking for a referral in the moment, she plants the seed for a conversation in the future. Clients don’t feel pressured to throw out names immediately but, surprisingly, they often do.

Referrals framed as a service

My personal preference for referral requests is one that flips the traditional script. Instead of something a client needs to do for you, the referral is framed as a benefit for them to enjoy and share with others.

“One of the privileges I’ve enjoyed over the years, is when one of my clients’ friends calls me seeking a second opinion. I want you to know, if one of your friends called me seeking a second opinion, I would immediately pause what I was doing and see how I could help. Most likely, all I’d do is confirm that the path they’re on is likely to get them to their destination. But, I’ve always been amazed how some minor corrections can lead to major improvements down the road.”

Why it works: A statement like this shifts the focus from how you’d benefit, to emphasizing the benefit for the client. You’re offering to take time out of your day to see how you can help their friend, with zero expectation they become a client. And, if they did become a client, you wouldn’t sell everything they own and start over, you would most likely make subtle adjustments and improvements that could have a significant impact in the future.

Referrals framed as advice

Finally, you can always frame a referral as asking for their advice.

“I love working with people like you, particularly people that are trying to save for college tuition and retirement simultaneously. If you were in my position, what would you do to find more clients like you?”

Why it works: People naturally like to give advice and feel like experts. This statement invites the client to brainstorm with you. You might reminisce about how you first met your client and be sure to listen closely to their ideas. You may find that what comes out of this conversation is an offer to make an introduction or connect you with someone. Just remember, if you ask for their advice, you need to act on their advice. This will encourage them to offer more ideas and advice in the future.

The real key to referral confidence

The success or failure of these statements, or any referral request, hinges on your delivery. You need to be so comfortable with your referral statement that it comes across as matter of fact—a formidable challenge for anyone who’s long avoided the topic. Thus, it’s critical that you craft a script that works for you and dedicate ample time to practice and memorize it. Sometimes, the idea of a “script” gets a bad rap, but it’s the most effective way to remove any trace of awkwardness and increase confidence.

Begin by writing down what you want to say, deliberately choosing each word. Next, rehearse it and record yourself—you can even use your phone. First, record it with audio only and then record it with video. Finally, repeat it and practice it over and over until you’ve got it down pat. Rehearse with your spouse, a colleague or a trusted friend and ask for their feedback. Everything from your eye contact, body language, tone and words should work in concert to convey confidence and feel natural.

Confidently broaching the topic of referrals will always come down to finding a way that works for you. It’s time to stop making excuses to avoid the conversation or giving it a half-hearted effort—use that time to find a way that works for you. Your happy clients will want to help you and certainly know people who could use your help—it’s up to you to start the conversation.

What other ways have you found success when actively asking clients for referrals?

The views expressed in this article should not be considered investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or adopt any investment strategy.

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