Say you're wealthy, and someone you don't know calls and wants to invest your money. Would you trust them? The quick answer is a resounding no, since high-net-worth clients do business primarily through introductions.

When asking financial advisors about their most successful marketing techniques, the overwhelming answer I hear is word-of-mouth and referrals. That's not surprising. What is interesting, however, is that only about 20% of advisors actively seek referrals.

When I present to a group of advisors, I like to ask: "How many people here get business by referrals?" Nearly every hand goes up. Then I follow up with: "How many here have a referral system they use every day in their practice?" If there are 100 people in the room, I might see 10 hands. Then the killer: "How many people here use more than one system?" I almost never see a hand raised at this point.

Think about your own practice. How many of your best clients did you meet through a referral?

In your quest to reach new clients, there are a few things to consider. First, ask for referrals at the beginning of a meeting, not the end, so you're chasing your client into the parking lot.

Also, never judge a marketing system until you test it. Did you ever try something you thought would work but it didn't? You can be sure that there were just as many ideas that you thought would not work, but would have worked just fine had you just tested them. Always test, never guess.

Finally, you need at least three different referral systems that have been tested and proven effective.

Active or Passive Approaches

Here are three easy systems that are effective and low-cost, and even the busiest advisor can implement.

The first system is what I call the Tiffany Wine Glass System. This is basically a reward program. If your clients already have Tiffany wine glasses, you can substitute this with something else. But remember, the Tiffany package probably means more than what's inside. People really go crazy for the blue box.

This system begins by you asking the client what he like best about working with you. This is important because it re-establishes the value you bring. And it should be done before asking for referrals. Next, share how fortunate you feel to have been recommended by so many clients to other people.

Let the client know that now you would like to share a small token of appreciation-a Tiffany wine glass for each referral. If the client collects a set of four, throw in a bottle of wine too. Again, if he or she doesn't drink wine you can always provide a substitute.

I recently spoke with an advisor who has been in practice over 20 years and brought in six new clients in the first two months of 2011. She said: "Two clients said they had never received a gift from Tiffany and loved the blue box. Both clients said they felt so special and that no one had ever done that before."

To use this system, put a display of two wine glasses, the blue box, and a sign in your waiting area that says: Please ask us about the Tiffany Wine glass program. Some people will mention the program before you do. As with any program, make sure to follow your company's rules pertaining to gifting.

Sometimes clients need help thinking of the best person to refer. You can help them with our next marketing system-LinkedIn. Every firm has its own guidelines around using social media. While Facebook is often restricted, LinkedIn is often okay. Just learn your firm's guidelines and follow them.

Be sure to connect to your clients on LinkedIn. Then, before you meet with a client, pull up his or her profile and see if you have any shared connections. Identify people who you would like to meet and print out the list of connections. When the client arrives for the meeting remind him or her you are connected on LinkedIn and how much you enjoy networking. Mention that you were reviewing his or her profile and ask if you can review some of the connections with them. Show the client your list and ask if you missed anyone. Finally, ask for the best way to be introduced. If possible, a conference call works well. Or you can just get the person's phone number to follow up.

Another advisor tried this system with positive results: "I had lunch with a client and printed out his LinkedIn connections before the meeting. After lunch I shared the list with my client and he was fine with me introducing myself to his connections I felt were good prospects. I walked away with six referrals."

Both the Tiffany Wine Glass and the LinkedIn systems require that you meet with someone and ask for a referral. But is there a way to get referrals even if you are not meeting with someone? Of course.

The next system is 100% passive. The 100% Passive Referral system is a type of drip-marketing system. Consider the phrase: The highest compliment you can give us is referrals to your friends and associates. Start placing that phrase (or some variation of it) as a footer on your stationary and your e-mail-once it's approved by your compliance department. Next, place a sign in your office, or waiting area saying the same thing. Finally, leave that saying at the end of your outgoing voice mail message. Once you have set it up, you will remind clients at each touch about the importance of referrals. Once you set it up, it runs itself.

Before the referrals start rolling in, however, you must first determine how you can you become more attractive. What do you do that is distinctly unique, and/or better, than your competitors? And what specifically do you mean? You need a distinct competitive advantage that is measurable and easily communicated. And it has to be more than an elevator pitch. It should be something that really makes a difference to clients.

Take a moment to define what your advantage is. If you're not sure, note what your clients say when you ask what they like best about working with you. Make sure you communicate that advantage to the new referrals with whom you will be meeting.

Try to become one of the 20% of advisors who actively use referral systems. Take one of these systems and test it for 30 days. Then layer in another system, and then another. After 90 days you will know which of these systems are working for you. High-net-worth clients are less likely to respond to direct mail seminars and advertising. Introductions are the preferred way for them to meet a new advisor.


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

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