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Are You a Referral Wimp?

You’ve avoided asking for referrals, for fear that you’ll come across as pushy or desperate—now’s the time to take action.

By Bill Cates

There are many rationalizations that keep advisors from asking for referrals. The two most common are: “I don’t want my clients to think I’m unsuccessful—I don’t want to beg for referrals” and “I don’t want my clients to feel pushed into doing something they don’t want to do—I don’t want to hurt my relationships.” Can you see that both these statements are fear-based?

Here’s a simple, four-step process that will help you approach your referral conversation from a place of strength—and will never hurt your relationship. The sample conversation below illustrates this method of asking for referrals. The context of this conversation is the delivery of an insurance policy. You can modify this process to fit just about any context.

Step No. 1: Discuss the value your client has recognized in your relationship. This is a critical starting point. Don’t assume that he recognizes your value—ask him.

You: “George, we’ve met a few times and I’ve asked you a lot of questions. And here are the fruits of our labor. Can you tell me a little about the value you feel this process has brought to you?”

Client: “I guess the most important thing is that I now have a clearer picture of what it will take for me to retire and educate my children.”

Step No. 2: Treat your request for referrals with importance and confidence. Don’t be wishy-washy or apologetic when discussing referrals. Know the value you bring to the table and your ability to help others.

You: “That’s really nice to hear, George. I’m glad you’ve received so much value from the process. You know, many people—even successful people like yourself— never sit down with a financial professional like me to do this kind of work. And because of that, they may be setting themselves and their families up for problems down the road. So, I have an important question to ask you.

Client: “OK, shoot.”

Step No. 3: Gain your client’s permission to brainstorm for introductions. Don’t assume he’s willing. Getting buy-in for this conversation is what takes the “push” away.

You: “I’d like to take a few minutes to brainstorm with you—maybe we can identify a few people you care about whom you think should know about the important work I do. Is that OK?”

Client: “Sure. I’m not sure I know of anyone, but we can give it a try.”

Step No. 4: Suggest names and categories. If you throw open the entire universe to consider, your client will likely draw a blank. So, start off with specific people or categories. Think, for example, of what you know about your client: his friends, family, occupation, what he does for recreation.

You: “Great. We’re just brainstorming here, no pressure whatsoever. I was thinking about your parents. I know they are just about to retire. We do work for people in that stage of their life. Would you feel comfortable introducing me to them?”

Client: “I think I would. I definitely want to talk to them first. Can you give me some ideas as to what I should say to them?”

You: “Absolutely. We should definitely talk about what the introduction would look like, so everyone feels most comfortable. But first, can I run another idea by you?

Client: “OK.”

You: “We also do a lot of work for people who are just starting a family. Do you know of anyone who might be in that stage of their life?”

Client: “Well, there’s my sister. She’s just had her second child.”

You: “Key question—would you feel comfortable introducing me to her?”

Client: “You bet.”

Here’s the bottom line: Some of your clients will give you referrals on the spot, on your terms. Some will give you referrals later, on their own terms. And some will never give you referrals. But if you approach your request from the right place, you’ll never hurt your relationships or look like you’re begging.

Bill Cates is the author of Don’t Keep Me a Secret, released by McGraw-Hill this month. He may be reached at 800-488-5464 or at



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