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Beyond Traditional Referrals

Doctors, attorneys, CPAs—yes, they’re good centers of influence, but every advisor is calling them. You don’t have to be one of them.

By Jennifer L. Alford

How many times have you heard this advice: If you want to increase referrals, call up well-connected people like doctors, attorneys and accountants? It’s great advice, in theory. The only problem is you’re not the only advisor who’ll be giving these people a call. For example, where I work, in the Toledo-Ohio area, there are roughly 3,700 financial advisors vs. just 1,500 doctors, attorneys and accountants—a ratio of two to one!

In this fast-paced world of competition, you can’t think traditionally anymore. You’ll have to find referral partners, and off the beaten path.

Growing together
A referral partner is someone who cares so much about your business and you care so much about hers that you are willing to help grow each other’s business. The key to making this happen is having a shared target market.

For example, my target market is women-owned businesses, and one of my referral partners runs a marketing firm that specializes in putting together direct-mail campaigns for businesses like these. Recently, my referral partner recommended me to one of her clients, and by the time the prospect and I met, my referral partner had already filled her in on who I was and what I do. The prospect, in turn, was ready to get down to business—in that very first meeting—and handed me information on life insurance and retirement accounts for herself and her husband.

Finding referral partners
Here are some steps you can take to find referral partners:

Step No. 1: Ask your current list of clients where they spend their money. Then, based on that feedback, ask yourself: “What needs do those spending patterns point to? And whom do I know who could fill those needs?” My own clients’ needs included the following: They couldn’t afford a marketing specialist or graphic designer on staff, so they outsourced these functions. Some hired business coaches. They shopped at nice stores and went to massage therapists and high-end hair salons.

Step No. 2: Think of businesspeople you know—people who think you’re credible. You don’t have to be their client and they don’t have to be yours to be credible. If anything, these are people who know you, like you and are able to help you. Write down their names. Then ask: Is there any cross-over between what they do and where your clients are spending their money? Based on my own clients’ needs, my referral partners now include a day spa owner, a marketing firm owner, a business coach and a hair salon owner.

Step No. 3: You and your referral partner should know a lot about each other’s business. Talk with your referral partner as you would with your client, going through your company brochure and factfinder. Also, train your referral partner to pick up on trigger words from their clients like “left a job … getting married … getting divorced … having a baby.”

Step No. 4: As referral partners, don’t just give each other a prospect’s name and phone number. (Like most advisors, I don’t want to waste time calling a prospect and leaving a message, often repeatedly!) Instead, for example, one of my referral partners, the owner of a hair salon with female-business executives as clients, will pick up on those trigger words, and ask a prospect, “Would you be interested in sitting down with somebody? This is what I know about Jennifer …” She hands the prospect one of my brochures, on-hand at her salon, and will arrange a meeting with the prospect on my behalf.

Step No. 5: Once you find a referral partner, don’t let her go! Make sure you are doing enough to further the relationship and that you are helping her as much as she is helping you. In my case, I recently held a client-appreciation event at the spa of one of my referral partners. The rest of the time, I meet with my referral partners about every other week—over coffee, a shopping trip or a movie. We’re able to talk business without the pressure of a time-crunch.

This “off-the-beaten-path” approach is a lot more pleasant and more time-efficient than the traditional one—cold-calling an accountant, attorney or doctor who’s already received (yet another) call from a financial advisor.

If you would like to hear a sales tip from Jennifer—and four other young advisors—tune in to this month's podcast, "The Best Sales Ideas—From the Under-40 Crowd."

Jennifer L. Alford, a founder of Creative Financial Partners in Perrysburg, Ohio, is treasurer of NAIFA-Toledo, and chair of that association’s Young Advisors Team. You may reach her at



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