The 4 Hows of Effective Referrals


Throughout my years as a Carson coach, I’ve helped countless advisors tackle their unique business challenges. As diverse as my members may be in AUM, ideal clientele, and management styles, I’m often reminded they share a set of common hurdles which are inescapable in this profession.

One such universal obstacle I regularly encounter is the struggle to secure quality referrals. From the outside looking in, the fix seems simple: ask more often. What I find, however, is the number of times you ask is far less important than the way in which you approach “the ask.” I hope providing you my insight into “The 4 Hows of Effective Referrals” increases your success in this particularly problematic area.

How #1: Discover Your Style

Style is something that is shaped by life experiences and individual preference. Its fluidity from person to person illustrates there is no single, correct way to seek referrals. I’ve found the sweet spot comes from embracing your natural style or that which best aligns with your comfort level.

Let me be clear on this: your results will suffer if you are too far removed from your natural style. Imitating another advisor or defaulting to a path of least resistance can greatly hinder growth. Instead, play to where your strengths and confidence lie.

Generally, you’ll fall under one of these three umbrellas:

  • Passive – This is the “show them” approach. Show your clients a great experience and they will feel compelled to tell others.
  • Neutral – This is the “tell them” approach. Tell clients you’re always looking for new families or individuals to add to your ranks without the pressure of putting them on the spot.
  • Politely Aggressive – This is the “ask them” approach. Directly ask clients to reduce the likelihood of deflection.

You can perfect your natural style by practicing it frequently. Once you feel as though you’ve mastered your chosen style, stretch to the next style up through training and role playing.

How #2: Check Your Mindset

The biggest mistake an advisor can make is to focus solely on the outcome of a referral – a certain number of new households, a certain caliber of client, or a certain amount of revenue. These outcomes are bound to occur regardless of the emphasis you place on them.

I always encourage the advisors I work with to adjust their mindset by adopting a Mission-Based Approach. At a core level, any interaction you have, whether it be with a client or a prospect, should speak to your mission. If you genuinely believe what you do empowers people to take control of their financial future, then you will never hesitate to talk about your passion for helping others. Communicating your purpose transforms the act of asking for a referral from a task (wrong mindset) to an opportunity to fulfill your mission (right mindset).

How #3: Position Your Why

When you are looking to engage in a discussion about referrals, do you merely ask for them or do you position them? The difference is in addressing the “why.” I coach my members to utilize a 4-point method, much like this:

  • First, position the direction of the dialogue: Paul, I wanted to get together and share how I’d like to grow the family of clients we work with and, more importantly, get your feedback. We are adding new clients to our firm this year. 
  • Second, position the type of clients you are looking for: But, for the benefit of existing clients, we are only accepting a limited number of new clients. The reason for that is we’re committed to a very personal client experience, and we never want to bring on more clients than we can effectively serve at that high level.
  • Third, position their role in the process. Notice, I use “introduction” instead of “referral.” I believe it’s more relational: The primary way we like to meet potential clients is through personal introductions. It’s the best way for us to connect and see if we’re a good fit for their needs.
  • Fourth, position their value: And, the best introductions we can receive are from our top clients, like you. You’re highly involved in what we do for you, and everybody at our firm enjoys working with you. You’re exactly the kind of client we’d like to have more of. 

You’ll notice this 4-point method works with any of the natural styles. Ideally, clients will be eager to continue the conversation. You can ease this along by asking follow-up questions such as:

  • Do you feel you have a fairly good idea of what kind of person we work best with? (If they do not, educate them.)
  • Do I have your permission to ask for introductions from time to time? (This puts the ball in their court, which usually nets a favorable response.)
  • Thank you, I appreciate that. What’s the most comfortable way for you to introduce me to those people – maybe an event, over coffee, or some other way? (Create partnership that puts them first.)

How #4: Consider Your Strategy

All the preparation in the world won’t work if you fail to be intentional about when and where you network with your referral source. Is it at their next review meeting, over coffee or lunch, or during a phone call? Don’t count on just getting around to it. Be a man or woman with a plan!

My goal is that the “Hows” outlined above renew your enthusiasm for referrals. The excitement you have for onboarding new clients will make it easy for current clients to become true advocates for you.


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