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Financial Planning > UHNW Client Services > Family Office News

Referrals: It's all about who your client knows

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One of the critical parts of generating a large number of quality referrals is, of course, getting quality referrals, as opposed to just getting names and phone numbers. But at times, despite our best efforts to get agreement from our clients that they will provide us with five or more referrals to people or companies that meet our requirements, we find when we sit down at the referral acquisition meeting after the sale that they aren’t prepared with any referrals. 

How can you salvage this meeting and come away with the number and quality of referrals you want and expect? 

In order make sure we get the referrals we want — and to increase the number of referrals the client gives us — we must do our own homework well before we meet the client at the referral acquisition meeting. Homework simply consists of putting together a list of people we have good reason to believe our client knows and to whom we would like our client to refer us.

How do we create this list? Knowing your client is the first step. During the course of the sale you need to be aware of everything you discover about your client:

  • Does the client have signs of membership in organizations in their office or home?

  • Are there bumper stickers on their car or photographs that might indicate involvement in organizations or clubs?

  • Has the client referred to a meeting or some other indicator of involvement?

  • Can you gather information about past employment, other vendors or customers?

All of the above are relatively easy ways you can investigate who you client might know.


If you meet your client in their office or home office you will often have the opportunity to discover their memberships by simply looking around the room. Do they have plaques from the Lions Club or membership directories from an industry association on their bookshelf?  Are there any photos of them with a vendor or customer?

Bumper stickers: 

Some people advertise their political or social associations on their car. Though it is not a guarantee, if you notice a bumper sticker, it is often a sign that they have a commitment to the organization or movement represented by the sticker.

Vendors or customers: 

Simply investigating who the individual deals with can give you great insight into whom the client might be able to refer you to. Does he or she or their company sell to or buy from someone you are interested in getting in front of?


Are you aware of any awards your client has received from any group, association, client, or vendor?


Some clients will put you on their social email list where they send copies of articles that they think are of interest. Often, these lists are sent to a large number of individuals and all of the recipients’ names are in your email header. Most people will simply delete these emails without a thought. Don’t!

Examine the names of the other people the email was sent to — sometimes you’ll find some amazing names. I’ve received emails with the personal email address of nationally known public figures. Most of the time, I have no reason to ask to be referred to these people, but if I ever want to be referred to them, I know who to go to ask for the referral — and I already have their email address in my database.


Are there photos of their kids playing sports? What school or team do they play for? Has your client mentioned anything about their spouse having to do something with an organization or association? Who does their spouse work for?

Past employers:  

Most people have worked for several companies during their lifetime and often they will still have contacts at their past employers. If your client has worked in a capacity where they had the contacts you want, take note. Once you have your list, explore those organizations to determine who, within the organization, you would like to be referred to by your client. 

If they are members of the chamber, make a list of several chamber members you’d want to meet. If they are a member of an industry association, what other companies would you like to sell?

You will need to investigate each of the organizations to discover who you want to meet. You’ll need to come to the referral acquisition meeting with a list of 15 to 25 names to insure that your client will know at least a few of the people and will be comfortable referring you to them.  

During the referral acquisition meeting, go over your client’s referrals first. If after your client has finished with his list, there are individuals on your list that your client has not mentioned, take a few minutes and ask your client about each person on your list. 

Note during the meeting how your client reacts to each of the people you bring up on your list. Also note where the referrals your client had prepared came from. Who your client refers you to will give you a strong indication of both how well he trusts you and where you might be able to make future suggestions about people you would like to be referred to.

A few don’ts:

1. Do not, under any circumstances, contact any of the people on your list by using your client’s name without his or her explicit permission.

Trying to manufacture referrals is a surefire way to lose credibility with both your client and your prospect.

 If you contact someone on your list your client has not referred you to, it is OK to mention you have done work for your client: mentioning a name they know is fine as long as you do not imply in any manner that the client has referred you.

2. If you discover the personal email address of someone you recognize or would like to be referred to from one of the “friends’ lists” emails that you may receive from a client, do not use that address without explicit permission — even if you don’t reveal where you got the email address.

That address is their personal address and you came by it by accident. It isn’t yours to use without permission from your client and, even then, only to the extent your client has given you permission to use it. 

Again, the address isn’t yours to use — its real value is in letting you know that if you ever have cause to want to be referred to that person, you know someone who might be able to refer you to them.

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