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Identifying Referral Partners

Your email inbox is full and so is your voicemail—who in the bunch could be your next top referral partner?

By Matt Anderson

Do you feel permanently busy these days—even more so than a year ago? One advisor recently told me she dreams of showing up more than a minute before an appointment. Another confessed he does all his “proactive” business planning and emailing Sunday evenings. Once Monday morning arrives, “I just try to keep my hands on the steering wheel until Saturday rolls around,” he says. The result? These advisors struggle to meet with, or even find, referral partners.

Don’t fall into the same trap. A third-party endorsement is the easiest and best kind of referral business you can get. Someone else is promoting you, and people are generally more comfortable advocating for others than they are for themselves. So, who among the myriad people you email and call throughout the day would make a promising referral partner? And how do you make time to find out? Start by asking yourself the following questions:

• Does this person understand my target market? If so, does he know others who would make great clients for me? That’s what Cindy Bong, LUTCF, CLTC, asked herself as she began to grow the long-term care insurance side of her business. Bong, a past president of NAIFA-Wisconsin, started attending a local senior consortium event, which attracted various specialists who serve adults 55 years of age or older. At the event, she met an elder-law attorney and a real-estate agent who focus on the senior market. She discovered they knew the issues, and soon developed a friendship with them. They now refer clients to one another.

So, as Bong did, develop a truly specific market niche. Then build an informal referral network of three to five synergistic professionals, and meet monthly with them.

• What will it take for me to become this person’s go-to advisor—someone he would recommend to his clients? What will it take for him to know, like and trust me? Brian Boesiger, CSA, LUTCF, an employee-benefits specialist in Lincoln, Neb., didn’t have a hard time answering that question—not when it came to the property and casualty agent he was considering doing business with. In fact, they’d actually known each other before Boesiger ever got into the business. “We used to work out at the same health club, and kept in touch,” says Boesiger, a member of NAIFA-Lincoln. “We have very similar personalities,” he says, “and he has a good book of business, including several business owners, which is key for getting employee-benefits referrals.”

To position yourself as a go-to advisor, think two words: Add value. Introduce prospective referral partners to your prospects, send articles and books that help them grow their business (not yours!), and invite them to a meeting of other professionals they may benefit from knowing.

• Does this person connect with his clients by showing a genuine interest in their lives and hobbies? Or, is his approach “business as usual?” Before Tim Topoll, CLU, CASL, was an agency consultant with State Farm, he was a Top 100 agent who wanted to spend less money on telemarketers and purchased leads. He knew the solution was referrals and some good referral partnerships. “I was in a leads group and getting mixed results,” says Topoll. “But there was a mortgage broker there … week in and week out, she had referrals for others. She clearly got it—that the more you give, the more you get.”

The only way to determine how another professional does business is through personal experience or reliable testimonials. In Topoll’s case, the mortgage broker soon became his referral partner. “She saw the type of service my team provided—the personal touch, which, I quickly realized, was her strength as well.”

• Would you recommend this person to your own clients? Alan New, LUTCF, of Fort Wayne, Ind., was impressed with the estate-planning attorney who helped his family. “I got to see how he works,” says New. “That made him easy to recommend to the many clients we have aged between 50 and 85 [who] want to take care of their legacies,” he says.

If you have personally done business with a referral partner, and you were impressed, it should be easy to recommend him. Sometimes the person needs to coach you on how to introduce him in conversation with your clients. You want your referral partner to do the same thing with his client base, too.

Provided you continue to add value to your referral partner’s life and you are sure he knows how to present your business to his clients, two to four months is plenty of time to gauge if the referral partnership will work.

Matt Anderson, president of the Referral Authority, leads seminars and coaches insurance and financial-service professionals to build referral-based businesses. He can be reached at or 608-843-3827.



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