The most important step to gaining customer referrals

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The key to unlocking great referrals is building an incredible business that turns your clients into raving fans. (Photo: iStock) The key to unlocking great referrals is building an incredible business that turns your clients into raving fans. (Photo: iStock)

Sometimes in life you don’t get what you want, you get what you deserve. When it comes to referrals for your business, I sincerely believe this is true. If you are getting a lot of referrals, you probably deserve them. If you are not, you probably don’t.     

So many advisors talk about the best way to generate referrals. How do they ask existing clients for them? What’s the best approach to getting them?

Related: 5 tips for a successful referral request

Unfortunately, some advisors, no matter how bad they want a referral or what they say to get them, aren’t going to get them. While others, seem to make it look easy. They don’t even ask and they get them consistently.  So the question is, why? What’s the difference?

The key to getting a referral isn’t a set of magical words you use in order to unlock the secret. No, it’s not about what you say or when you say it. The first and most important step to gaining customer referrals is to build an incredible business that turns your clients into raving fans. You’ve got to build a business that is great at what it does and has a service model that gives your clients a great experience with every interraction. Bottom line- you’ve got to build a referable business. That’s the first step. Remember, when someone makes a referral they’re putting their name and their reputation on the line, they’ve got to be confident you will do an incredible job for their friends, family, or, acquaintances.

Once you have built a business that is “referable”, it’s now time to systematize your referral process so that you can enjoy a steady stream of referrals.  Here are a couple of ways to do that.

Personalize your customer experience

If you want to build a referable business it’s important to enhance your customer service and set yourself apart with a differentiating value-add in the mind of your clients and prospects.

One way to do this is through “client-cloning.” I tell financial advisors to have their staff identify the birthdays of your top ten clients. Reach out to the client with the closest birthday and invite him or her out to a special birthday dinner where they can celebrate together.   But have them invite two of their closest friends/peers to celebrate with as well.  They pick the place to go, the advisors picks up the bill. 

On the night of the event, don’t talk about business, just enjoy your time together. Work on cultivating a relationship with their friends as well.  Then, a few days after the fact, call your client and thank him or her for letting you celebrate the birthday with them. Then ask them for “advice” on whether or not they think it would be a good idea for your to reach out to their friends and thank them for joining as well.   They will always say yes, and more often than not, they will let you know they already told their friends how great of a job you do and that they should definitely meet with you.  If you are able to do this strategy 10 times over the course of the year, you would have met with 20 of your top 10 clients closest friends.  And worst case, let’s say you didn’t get any additional clients out of this process. You still gave your top 10 clients a great experience by doing this for them.

Trust me, the more you love and care for your current clients, the more referrals you are going to get.

Hosting events for clients and prospects is a way to naturally increase your level of customer experience and also clone your existing clients. (Photo: iStock)Hosting events for clients and prospects is a way to naturally increase your level of customer experience and also clone your existing clients. (Photo: iStock)

Host recurring events for clients and prospects

The second way you can increase the amount of referrals you get is to coordinate events that your current clients want to attend

You could host educational luncheons each month, or do a monthly wine tasting. Some do golf outings in the summer, or a big bbq with their clients. Regardless of the event, the idea is to create events that are over the top where clients will leave bragging to their friends.   If you can get them bragging, you are building a culture where your clients don’t want to ever miss out on what you are doing and these are the types of events that their friends would want to attend at the same time. Then let your clients know that these events would be a great place for them to bring their friends and they’ll be happy to bring them.

Related: A lesson in client appreciation

One of my female financial advisors, for example, noticed that single women, in particular, weren’t getting the attention they deserved by a male-dominated financial services industry. She also knew that many of her single women weren’t too into Valentine’s day each year, so she decided to host an annual Valentine’s day luncheon for them. 

She made this event so special and showed them all an incredible time, that was really her only priority.  By doing this, she has created something that her clients look forward to every single year.  But it gets better, over the years she has encouraged her clients to invite their friends to attend with them and each year she get’s more and more referrals. She even had one client ask to bring a group of friends and reserved a whole table, just for them.  This is a great example of a recurring event that enhances your relationship with your current clients, but creates an opportunity to meet their friends at the same time.

Additional tips on referrals

One of the big “no-nos” I see is when financial advisors host an event like this, is they rely on mail, or email, to communicate this event to their clients.  Remember, mail and email, is not designed to do your job for you. It’s also not a personal touch.  When it comes to asking for referrals, by putting “bring a referral” on your invite, it won’t work nearly as well as you or a good team member communicating with each client what’s planned for the event, why you are putting it on, and how it would be a great place for them to bring a friend. Trust me. I’ve had an advisor do this both ways, for the same event, and the difference between them getting tons of referrals vs none came down to how it was positioned and communicated with the valued clients. 

Another quick thing I see is that financial advisors often ask their existing clients for referrals. Instead, ask your clients for advice on how to find and connect with more people just like them. Everyone loves giving their advice, and this often leads to them getting creative on how you can meet some of their closest friends.

Again, a great customer experience is the first key to getting referrals. If you aren’t getting referrals, first enhance your client experience and then you can find easy ways like we’ve described here to make it easy for your clients to refer their friends to you.

Shawn Sparks is the author of the book, "The Advisor Breakthrough." If you’d like to learn more from Shawn, you can instantly download the first section of his book for free by clicking here.

Federal law, state law and/or insurance carrier requirements may prohibit or place limitations on marketing activities. All producers and investment advisors should be aware of any gifting limitations imposed by federal regulation, state regulation, insurance carriers, broker-dealers and Registered Investment Advisors, as applicable.

See also:

5 things never to do at a networking event

Exhibiting at a show or event: 7 rules to remember

Bad business networking

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