I logged into Amazon.com recently to see how many books have been written about referrals and found that nearly 4,000 books are available on getting referrals. Why then do 80% of all financial advisors not actively ask for them, according to a recent study I read?

Referrals are the best marketing system selected by advisors when surveyed (particularly for the high-net-worth client). They are virtually free to implement. And, I believe an astute financial professional will have at least three referral systems that they have tested successfully and use every day.

The first three systems I will share are active, meaning you will need to ask. The second is passive, meaning you can put it on autopilot. The next is geared toward receiving referrals from other professionals or centers of influence.

Let's begin by discussing active referral systems. The first and simplest system is using LinkedIn, if your firm allows it. (If they don't allow it yet, you will need to wait until it is approved.) LinkedIn.com is a professional networking site. The first step is to join (it's free) and fill out your profile as complete as possible being careful to follow your firm's guidelines. The most important feature of your profile is your picture! Post the absolute best professional picture possible. Try to get your profile as close to 100% complete as possible, and then in the customize area change the URL to a personalized one to include your name. If someone Googles you, your profile should then pop straight near the top.

Next, begin connecting with clients and people in your professional network. Adjust your profile's privacy settings according to your firm's policy. Each time you meet with a client, bring a printed copy of their connections to the meeting if possible. Identify the people you would like to meet, and simply let the client know that you might be able to help some people who they are helping to network on LinkedIn. Ask the client their opinion on whether you may be able to help the people you have identified. If so, invite the person to connect and eventually try to meet with them.

The second system is what I call the "Recommendation Script." Use it at the start of a client meeting. Here is how it works:

What have you enjoyed most about working with me? (Listen.)

I have been thinking about an idea, and I was wondering if I could get your opinion on it? (If yes, proceed; if no, ask why not.)

I am considering building my business by working with more people like you, people who are (insert niche), what's your opinion of that idea? (If positive proceed, if not ask why not.) The niche could be anything that would connect them with other people.

Finally, let me share the Family Referral system, which can be used to refer to parents, siblings, children, etc. Break out a blank sheet of paper and ask them if it is okay for you to find out a little more about family. Begin by asking the names of the parents, then siblings, then children. Each time they come in bring out this list and ask: What is the best thing going on with your family? Has anyone recently bought or sold a business? Changed jobs or retired? Been married or divorced? Had a baby or college planning to do? Needed assisted living or passed away? If you get a yes to any of the above, offer a free consultation or have them come in for a family meeting.

Now, let me share the passive referral system you can set on autopilot. Begin by placing a compliance-approved statement such as: "The highest compliment you can give us is referrals to your friends and associates" in a visible place in your office. Next, take that statement and place it as footer on your stationary and email signature. Finally, on your voice mail leave this announcement after your message: "If this is a referral, please leave the name of the person who referred you so we can thank them."

Next, let's discuss how to get referrals from other professionals like accountants or attorneys. You need to interview your candidates and be selective. Try not to have more than four. First, you both need to agree to send a letter to clients with you recommending them and them recommending you. Once you have had some success, discuss hosting a dinner or small event together where you both invite clients. Avoid simply sending someone referrals in the hope of one day getting one back. After you have built trust, then the process of just sending people can begin, but not without sending the letters first.

Finally, the last action you must take for any of these systems to work is make sure you are referable. Conduct the "Net Promoter Score" survey first (see On Wall Street November 2011) to see if you need to raise the bar. I have seen advisors receive more referrals just from sending the survey. So test one system at a time, and eventually you will find what works best for you.


Todd Colbeck is principal and founder of the
Colbeck Coaching Group, a subsidiary of
General Business Center, Inc. You can reach him at
this address.

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