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How to Get Client Referrals Without Asking

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Author’s Note: Over a period of several years, I have written several articles on “referrals without asking.” I also posted a link to a webinar “How to Get Referrals without Asking.” A deep understanding of the “real referral” process is necessary for you to have a growing referral-based practice. Start with this article. But then pop over to my “real referrals” page. Go through my webinar. 


Every sales manager since the dawn of time has told you, “Your problem is you don’t ask for referrals. Our studies have shown that 85% of our clients would give a referral if asked. Only about 3% of your clients provide a referral, so you are not asking enough. When you speak with clients, ask each of them for the names of people you could contact today.”

So you set out to do it — or not, because it just does not feel professional.

Advice is abundant. Just Google the phrase, “how to ask for referrals.” Enjoy these gems.

“Act like you are already in their circle.”

“Don’t feel sheepish about asking for referrals.”

“Always ask for referrals in person.”

“You mentioned your sister and brother-in-law last week. Let’s start with them. Do you think they should at least know about what I do? Can we craft a way for you to introduce me to them that will feel comfortable for all concerned?”

Just reading this makes you want to clean your eyeglasses or get the smudges off your monitor.

You know down deep that this stuff does not work. People whose names are solicited rarely become clients. Why? Because they are not referrals. They are just names, and perhaps only slightly better than cold-call names.

Plus, consider this “benefit:” You hate the process so much that you rarely if ever discuss referrals. Your clients may not be aware you accept additional business. Sad.

What Is a Referral?

Merriam-Webster: A referral sends someone somewhere, often for help or advice.

Your dictionary: Telling someone about the positive features of a person or a business or the person who is being referred.

Wikipedia: Referral marketing is a process to encourage and significantly increase referrals from word of mouth, perhaps the oldest and most trusted marketing strategy. This can be accomplished by encouraging and rewarding customers, and a wide variety of other contacts, to recommend products and services from consumer and B2B brands, both online and offline.

Bill Good: A referral is a name of a person who needs financial help volunteered by a client.

A “real referral” occurs when your client Bob calls and says, “I want you to call my sister-in-law. I spoke with her yesterday. She said she is inheriting some money from her Aunt Martha. She has no idea what to do with it. I told her she needs a good financial advisor and said I would have you call her.”

(Related: 33 Cold Call Truths You Need to Know)

Isn’t that what gets your blood racing?

Since the beginning of time, sales managers, coaches, gurus and others have assumed the way to get more of these names is to ask. But if my definition is correct—that a referral is a name volunteered—asking does not generate referrals, it only generates names.

So quit asking for referrals: Get more clients to volunteer them.

Referrals Without Asking: Part I

I can summarize my strategy to get your clients to volunteer more referrals in seven words: Advice, TOMA, Engagement, Promote and Thank You.

Sadly, these words don’t make a good acronym, though maybe ATE PTY may help burn them into your mind. Let’s start with the first two parts.


Your first strategy is: Provide good investment advice. This is just common sense. Clients with even a trace of unhappiness will not refer their friends or family to you. If your new car spends more time in the shop than on the road, would you refer your best friend to the dealer?

Consider this: Clients happy with your investment advice do not necessarily refer. You know this to be true just from experience.

Bob and Betty Barking have been happy clients for years, but there’s never been a whisper of a referral to Bob’s four brothers, Betty’s colleagues at her law firm, their adult children or their wealthy parents.

Yes, some referrals will trickle in, though rarely enough to grow a business. Conclusion: Good investment advice is necessary but not sufficient to have a vibrant referral-based practice.


This stands for top-of-mind awareness. TOMA is a subconscious thought, always there, that produces the first mental recall in a category. What does this have to do with referrals? It’s very simple. Your wealthier clients have more than one advisor.

“Fifty-five percent of consumers with more than $500,000 in investable assets work with at least three firms, up from 49% the year before,” according to a study by Hearts and Wallets (as reported by

When a friend or an associate of one of your clients (who also is the client of two other advisors) approaches you about help with a financial matter, whose name should come to mind first? The other full-service advisor? That nice young lady at the bank? If your name pops to mind first, you have an excellent chance of receiving the referral.

To make sure you understand this concept, when you read each of the next three words, pause for a second and notice what thought comes to your mind first. Ready?

Smart phones. Hotels. Rental cars.

How do you think Apple, Marriott or Hertz stay “top of mind?” They are applying the three basic principles of mass marketing: repetition, repetition and repetition.

Assuming you are providing good investment advice, creating and maintaining TOMA will increase referrals. There is a back story to how I know TOMA creates referrals.

A previous era in this industry could be called “transaction heaven.” In the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, it was not uncommon for a financial advisor to open 150-plus new client relationships in a year. You could sell 1,000 shares of a $10 stock. All of the firms were fine with that.

The Challenge

How do you keep the clients that you are adding while continuing to bring on new ones? I was wrestling with this issue in 1989. My own clients were asking, “How do I keep my clients from wandering over to the neighbor’s pasture?” I had some pieces of an answer but not all of them.

One day I was flipping through The Wall Street Journal and came across an article with a headline like, “Why Investors Leave Their Broker.” The survey gave three reasons: “poor investment advice,” “poor service” and “don’t even hear from my broker.”

Guess what? The reasons are substantially the same today, just the terminology has changed from “broker” to “advisor.”

As I read that article, I thought, “If these really are the reasons people leave their advisor, and if I can handle them, then that’s the formula I’m looking for.”

The work that I did back then has evolved into the “client relationship retention formula”—a key strategy for advisors to keep their clients. I have reproduced the entire formula for you on my “referral challenge” web page.

Initially, the formula required 18-22 touches a year. Every client received a letter each month, every client received a phone call at least four times a year from someone in the advisor’s office, and every client and spouse received a birthday note. (We recommended writing the letters with all the proper etiquette.)

New Formula

Because of the torrent of information your clients receive, I now believe that 8-22 touches are no longer as competitive as they once were. I still believe “every client must receive a letter each month,” but I also believe you better send an e-mail once a week too. That boosts the number of annual touches to around 72.

What does all this have to do with referrals? Top-of-mind awareness!

A year or two after we started using the client relationship retention formula, my clients said this: “Since I started using this client retention formula, we’re getting more referrals. And we are not even asking for referrals. Why is this happening?”

For a long time, I had no answer. And then I stumbled upon the definition of “top-of-mind awareness.” Bingo!

Advisors who are executing the client relationship retention formula create top-of-mind awareness. When your clients are in a social situation in which a referral to a financial advisor is appropriate, they think of you first. You get the referral, not the other two advisors!

As long as you are providing good investment advice, if you get to work creating top-of-mind awareness, your real referrals will increase. You will begin to enjoy more “referrals without asking.”

(And stay tuned for more insights on this topic in the January issue of Research on Wealth magazine.)

(Related on ThinkAdvisor: 33 Cold Call Truths You Need to Know)


Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing. His Gorilla CRM System helps advisors double their production or work half as much. His seminar program, “Now More Pies,” helps advisors manage ETF portfolios using technical analysis. And his blogs on ThinkAdvisor have lots of useful information for advisors who need to beef up their marketing. To preview Bill as a speaker see his YouTube channel.




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