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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Are you a referral wimp?

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Are you a referral wimp? When you get to the end of an appointment with a client and you realize you don’t have time to ask for referrals, does a little voice inside of you go “Whoopee! I’ll try to ask next time?” Do you feel guilty about not getting as many referrals as you know you should (and probably could)? You’re a referral wimp if you are letting your rationalizations, mistaken assumptions, and bold-face fear of asking for referrals run your career. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be this way.

Some marketing “gurus” are spreading false rumors that you can’t ask for referrals anymore. Why would they make such false statements? Probably because they’re referral wimps, too. Or maybe they just don’t know what I know. You can ask for referrals from clients these days — as long as you do it in the right way.

Every reason I’ve ever heard from agents and advisors as to why they don’t ask for referrals is fear based. They might not always use the word fear, but the basis of their reason is that four-letter word. This article will deal with the three most prevalent fears I encounter as I deliver referral training and coaching exclusively in the financial services industry.

Before I give you these four fears, let’s keep in mind an important concept. It is impossible to think our way through a fear. You can think your way up to facing a fear, and you can rationalize why you don’t have to face that fear, but the only way to really eliminate a fear is to do that thing you fear. To take action, move through it and watch the fear dissolve.

Fear of appearing pushy

Most advisors don’t want to appear pushy, and neither do they want to hurt their relationships by asking for referrals. (There are some old-school agents who haven’t learned better yet.) I certainly understand this concern. But here’s the good news. To move through this fear, all you have to do is find a way to engage your clients in a referral conversation that doesn’t come across as pushy — that will not hurt a relationship.

So, how do you ask clients for referrals without appearing pushy? Don’t assume they are willing to talk referrals; get their buy-in to the conversation. There are times to be assumptive in selling situations. This is not one of those times. You cannot plow ahead and ask clients for referrals. That’s pushy. Why? Because we know that not all clients like to talk about referrals — especially when it comes to personal financial matters. We have to be a little softer these days.

Get permission (not begging, but in a confident way) to talk about introductions. Give them the opportunity to say no. Don’t push them into a corner. Let them feel in control of the conversation at all times.

Fear of begging

I hear this a lot from veteran advisors. They don’t want to look unsuccessful or needy with their clients. And I can certainly understand this concern. More good news! All you have to do is find a way to engage your clients in a referral conversation that doesn’t come from a needy place — that comes instead from a place of confidence, success and value.

So how do you do this? Simple. Skip the old style of asking for referrals, where you make it all about yourself: “I get paid in referrals.” “I’m trying to build my business and I really need your help. Please! Please!” Make your referral conversation about the value they have recognized in their work with you. Get in the habit of always checking in with your clients to make sure they see the value in your processes and in your relationship. (This is usually best done in person, but it can be done over the phone if part of a scheduled phone appointment.) Focus on the importance of the work that you do and bringing that important work to others.

Also, how you present this conversation will go a long way in determining how they respond to you. If you come across as weak or apologetic, don’t expect a good response from your client. Plus, you’ll feel wimpy. You’ll come across as needy.

You know that the work you do is important. When you check in with your clients and get them to affirm they recognize the value, you bring this conversation to a higher level — a level of importance; a level of coming from a place of success!

Fear of hearing “no”

It amazes me how successful, confident, and even cocky advisors turn into a bowl of shivering Jell-O when they face the prospect of a client turning them down in their request for introductions to others. I know many reps who can dial for dollars until the cows come home but are afraid a client may not want to give them referrals.

How do you deal with this fear? Just get over it! First, you are only going to ask clients who have seen value in your work and like you. Second, assuming the previous point is true, if a client doesn’t want to give you referrals, it has nothing to do with you. It’s their fear. It’s their baggage from past experience. Just practice the Zen of Referrals. Ask for referrals without being attached to whether your clients say yes. Focus on your actions, not the results of your actions. Control what you can control. You can’t control if a client wants to play the referral game with you, but you can control moving through your fear and asking.

If you’re afraid of hearing no, you should consider getting out of this business or getting cognitive therapy. I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but not totally. I know several advisors who have gotten cognitive therapy to help with their fear of rejection and other mental blocks that hold them back from their desired success.

Here’s the bottom line: I sincerely believe you can ask most of your clients for referrals. Some will give you referrals right on the spot — on your terms. Some will give you referrals later — on their own terms. And some will never give you referrals. But if you approach it from the right place, you’ll never hurt your relationships or look like you’re begging.

Why do I believe this? Because for the last 12 years, I’ve been teaching financial professionals how to ask for referrals and they’ve been experiencing tremendous success. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t ask for referrals. It’s all about facing your fears and finding the right — genuine — style.

For more tips on asking for referrals, see:

7 proven ways to get referrals without asking

The single most important step in asking for referrals

Let prospects know referrals are expected

For more from Bill Cates, click here.


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