June 2, 2001

Set it and Forget it!

Always wished that Ron Popeil offered an Automatic

If you want to build a profitable and streamlined business of top-notch clients, you must be highly referable. Notice I didn't say that you must be good at asking for referrals. There's a big distinction between being good at asking for referrals and being highly referable.

A broker once told me that she had the referral thing down pat. "I beat my clients up until they give me names," she said, and she was only partly kidding. One can only imagine how her clients felt during these uncomfortable encounters.

This is the old way of thinking--tricking, fooling, persuading, or beating clients over the head in order to get referrals from them. But rather than pumping them for information, a much better strategy is to become the type of advisor that clients want to introduce their friends to. They will only recommend you to their friends if they believe you'll take great care of their friends and put their friends' interests before your own. They'll introduce their friends to you if they believe it will help their friends--not because they believe it will help you.

Gandhi said, "You must become the change you want to see." In today's competitive marketplace, simply asking for referrals is not enough. You must become such a valuable resource to your clients that they give you unsolicited referrals.

Let's take a look at what it takes to become highly referable. Here's a four-step process to help you become the type of advisor that your ideal clients feel compelled to recommend to their friends.

Get Centered

I've never spoken to an advisor who didn't think he was client-centered. However, the only way you can tell whether someone really is client-centered is by discovering where they focus most of their mental energy. Do you spend most of your time focusing on picking the best products, strategies, asset allocations, and managers? Do you focus on the product and the process? Or do you focus on the people and the emotional payoffs they want from their wealth?

If you care about the people, you'll focus more of your mental efforts on them and the payoffs they want from your services. If you are client-centered, you will focus on managing your clients' behavior, their expectations, and their experience with your company. If you're product-centered, you'll focus on how much you sold this week.

Product-centered salespeople ask, "How can I sell these products?" Client-centered advisors ask, "How can I help these people?" Client-centered advisors respond to both the financial needs and the emotional needs of their clients. They must exceed expectations in both areas in order to turn their best clients into raving fans.

Pick a Niche

A number of years ago, a financial advisor in Southern California told me a story about a dentist she was working with. The dentist fired her accounting firm and moved her business to an accounting firm that specialized in working with dentists. I was so intrigued by this that I then interviewed the head of marketing for the accounting firm to find out what their secret was.

I found out that in a county of 1,900 dentists, they counted 1,600 of them among their clients. By focusing on a niche, they were able to provide customized, useful services that would help their clients in a meaningful way. They published a newsletter on practice management; they held two conferences a year on improving one's business. They had over 60 different consultants available to help their dentists solve any problem that might come up.

The accounting firm had trained all the dentists' bookkeepers to use the same accounting software. This meant the accounting firm could streamline the most labor-intensive aspect of their business--data gathering and entry. By focusing on a niche, not only were they were able to dramatically increase their value to clients, they streamlined their own work for themselves.

Advisors who specialize in specific niche markets will find tremendous opportunity to build highly profitable and efficient businesses. What's more, they will be highly referable to ideal prospects in that niche.

Offer the Best

I clearly remember the first time I ever had a financial sales professional tell me that he had "burned his book." I had this vivid mental image of a book in his hands bursting into flames, but what he meant, of course, was that he had sold a whole bunch of people a "hot" investment that had crashed and burned.

Many salespeople spend all their time looking fo

r the magic bullet--the hottest product of the hour that's easy to sell. Unfortunately, those aren't always the best investments for the clients.

Client-centered advisors realize that almost any investment with a story too good to be true will eventually turn out to be just that. They don't sell the product with the highest commission. They don't play the market. They design and construct investment portfolios that have the highest probability of achieving their clients' dreams and goals. They focus on lowering the risk through proper diversification. They educate their clients to be successful long-term investors. They manage expectations, and modify investor behavior instead of chasing hot performance.

You must be a knowledgeable, client-centered advisor--not a glib, product-centered salesperson. Since Modern Portfolio Theory strategies actually perform as promised, your clients will trust you. That will make them comfortable introducing you to their friends and associates.

Be Comprehensive

Many financial advisors are focused on specific investments or financial strategies. However, what wealthy clients want is a total solution to their financial service needs. They want your help achieving their goals, not just in accessing investments. Most of your top clients will need estate planning, tax planning, life insurance, investment management, asset protection, trusts, casualty insurance, and a whole host of financial products and services. Learn to solve problems for them beyond your core products and services. Often they will reward you by allowing you to manage all their money and introducing you to their wealthy friends.

This means you must acquire and then market specialized knowledge that the average salesperson doesn't have, and that your ideal clients will value enough to pay for. For instance, if you work with many business owners, learn all about hiring great employees and then hold workshops for your clients and their friends. Or publish a white paper on how to plan for the eventual sale of a business.

You may find that introducing your business owners to excellent consultants will raise your esteem and value in their eyes. Create strategic alliances with other professionals like estate planning attorneys, accountants, casualty agents, and investment bankers in order to provide solutions outside of your area of expertise. Go beyond the core products and services and become a positive agent for helping your clients get what they truly want in their lives. If you help them achieve success as they define it, they will help you achieve success as you define it.

Let Your Clients Do the Talking

Many advisors sponsor fun events for their retired clients, such as golf clinics, Valentine's Day parties, client appreciation dinners, backstage events, and social events centered around celebrities and politicians. All of these events create a new dimension to your relationship with your clients. They will associate you with these positive experiences.

Invite your clients to a fun event, like a golf clinic, and tell them to feel free to bring a friend. You'll have an opportunity to meet their friends in a non-business environment where you're all having fun.

When the friends talk with your other clients, your clients will become your marketing apostles. If you sponsor the event, the major topic of conversation when you're not around will be you. If you have focused on a niche, provided the total solution, and are truly centered on providing quality products and services that help your clients achieve their goals, your clients will be saying wonderful things about you to their friends. And most of your clients' friends will be ideal prospects for your services. They will be hearing strong recommendations from people whose judgment they trust. With these types of special events, you can actually generate multiple endorsements to qualified prospects in a very short period of time.

Marketing researchers tell us it typically takes somewhere between seven and 20 impressions for "typical suspects" to become clients. It's possible to get five to 10 endorsements at one special event for each potential new client. The friends will hear, firsthand, how you help people clarify their visions of success and then help them to get more of what they want out of their life.

Appeal to Their Heads and Their Hearts

You are planting seeds and positioning yourself as someone these highly qualified prospects know, like, respect, and associate with having fun and feeling good. This doesn't happen with great service and performance alone. It happens when you achieve appeal to both the logical and financially-oriented left brain and the emotional, subconscious right brain. This magical combination will turn your favorite clients into your marketing apostles and raving fans.

Ultimately, the total experience your clients have with you and their positive feelings about you will inspire them to recommend you to their friends.

If you are the kind of advisor your top-notch clients want to recommend to their friends, you'll never have to beat anyone over the head for a referral--the referrals will come on their own. With less work on your part, you'll gain more clients of the type you particularly enjoy working with. Hard to argue with that!

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