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How to Handle Referral Woes

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From time to time, an insurance advisor will say to me, “You know, I’ve been referring a lot of business to this CPA – but he never refers me back. I’m going to stop referring him business.”

Or, “I’m referring a lot of business to this estate planning attorney. He never reciprocates. You know what? I’m not referring him anymore.”

In fact, I just recently had this conversation with a financial advisor. I asked, “Do you know why he doesn’t refer you business?” He said, no. I said, “That’s your issue: You have to find out what’s going on. Don’t just cut him off. There may be something you don’t know or may not see.”

I continued, “Maybe he just doesn’t realize it. Or, he simply doesn’t know how to refer you. Maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t like you or trust that you’re good at what you do. Or, he may feel that you’re not experienced enough to work with his clients. Maybe there’s some other problem or issue. He may have a friend or family member who does exactly what you do, and there goes your referral. You have to get to the bottom of this. Clearly, you’re not communicating with him.”

If that’s the case, that’s when you say to the CPA, attorney, or whoever, “Do you want to grab a drink? I’d like to speak with you and talk shop.”

Once you get that meeting, whether it’s over coffee, dinner or a beer, say, “I want to have a conversation with you in terms of how we might refer each other more business. I know I have referred you business, and there might be an opportunity for you to refer me business, and I want to be able to discuss that and see if we can do more business together.”

Right there, you’ll discover the essence of the issue. Often, they just don’t realize it, and now you’re solving the problem instead of running away from it.

Make sure it goes both ways – but you don’t need to keep score, as in, “I referred you two, so you owe me two.” In general, it should be give and take both ways.

If it continues to be one-sided, you have to make a decision and realize that maybe the person wasn’t up front with you about something. Or if they are up front with you and say, “Look, I do appreciate you giving me business, but my brother is also a financial advisor, and I have to give him the business,” then you can respond with, “I wish you had told me that. No harm, no foul. I get it. Maybe our business practices are in a different place right now. I see your situation, and I would probably do the same thing. I’ll go fish in a different pond, and we’ll agree to part as friends.”

Then, your assignment becomes finding a new CPA or estate planning attorney with whom you can have a more collaborative relationship. And the networking continues.

Or, you can ask about potential opportunities moving forward: “Is there an opportunity for us to split the business or figure something else out?”

Referrals mean everything, yet so many advisors struggle with this. Practice some of these sure-fire approaches, and you’ll be more referable in no time.

Michael Goldberg is a speaker, author, consultant and the founder of Building Blocks Consulting.For more information or to subscribe to Michael’s free online newsletter and blog The Building Blocks to Success please visit or


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