Most financial advisors know that a referral, especially one that comes with a solid introduction, is the gold standard for acquiring new clients. The best sources for these referrals are centers of influence or professionals with whom you work (such as an accountant or attorney). Unfortunately, very few advisors receive a regular stream of high-quality referrals from such sources.

Meet Larry the plumber. Let’s see how he handles referrals. We may get some valuable clues. 

The call. Larry receives a call from a satisfied customer. Larry’s customer mentions that he has given Larry’s name to a friend along with a strong recommendation. He gives Larry his friend’s name and phone number. Larry thanks his customer and phones the new prospect, who answers and says, “Yes, my friend recommended you. I hope you can help me with my plumbing problem.”

The visit. Larry arrives on time, simply but professionally dressed.

Larry:          What seems to be the problem?  

Customer:    My toilet backs up and flows into the bathtub.  

L:                 Oh, I’m sorry to hear that! How long has this been going on?  

C:                 A few weeks.  

L:                 Have you had any other plumbers look at it?  

C:                 No, I thought it would go away on its own.  

L:                 Were you at all concerned about the cost of hiring a plumber?  

C:                 Yes. You hear these outrageous stories of huge plumbing bills. I’ve heard plumbers make more than most other people.  

L:                 Well, I’ll do my best to keep the bill as reasonable as possible.

The lesson. What can we learn from this brief exchange about Larry’s ability to please his customers?

  • He was on time and appropriately dressed.  
  • He asked the customer to describe the problem.  
  • He was empathetic.  
  • Upon discovering that this was not a new plumbing problem, he dug deeper to explore the customer’s prior reluctance to call a plumber.  
  • He discovered the problem and made reassuring comments to the customer.

What did Larry refrain from doing?

  • He did not tell the customer how long he’d been in business.  
  • He did not say he was plumber of the year.  
  • He did not mention how much money he made or how successful he was.
  • He did not make himself the center of the conversation, instead giving that role to the customer. 

Conclusion. Larry always provides value to his customers, which explains why he gets solid referrals and much repeat business. He operates his business in a customer-centered way—a model we can all emulate.

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Nick Ray is a business coach who specializes in working with financial services professionals. He is the author of There’s More to Selling than Making the Sale as well as a workbook on target marketing. He can be reached at nick@coachnickray.com.