A few years ago, I presented a Web seminar on referrals for advisors throughout the U.S. During the live Q and A, Paul, an advisor in the Midwest, expressed frustration with his efforts to grow his practice by asking for introductions.
“I ask my clients about people they know who could use my help,” he told us “but it feels awkward, and then my clients get all awkward and put me off.”
“Who gets awkward first?” I asked him.
“Well, I guess I do,” was his response, “but it’s because I know that they’re going to be uncomfortable.”
“Did it occur to you that maybe they get uncomfortable because you’re awkward, and your discomfort actually triggers theirs?” I asked.
“I never considered that,” he admitted.
We then went through the following three steps Paul could use to take the discomfort out of the act of asking for referrals.
1. Start your client meetings by giving your clients (verbally or in writing) an agenda that includes as the final item a discussion about friends, associates and family members you might be able to help.
Don't surprise a client with a sudden request at the end of an appointment to talk about this important subject. If a client is going to be uncomfortable with this agenda item, let him or her tell you right at the beginning. Spend a few minutes either then or at the end discussing why this item makes him/her uncomfortable. For example: "The last thing I’d like to talk about this morning is some of the people in your life who you would want to have my help. I’d much rather be working with someone you want me to work with than someone whose name I took off a list somewhere. We’ll talk about some of the people you have in mind, and, if we decide it makes sense, we’ll figure out the most comfortable way for us to get in contact."
2. Always ask about the value you’ve given them — either on that particular appointment or in your professional relationship over time.
Ask him what he got out of your meeting, what he learned and what he will get or has gotten out of his relationship with you. Ask him to tell you something specific that he found particularly helpful. Then ask the magic question: “What else?” Keep getting feedback until he can’t think of anything else, and then direct him to the ideas that you wanted him to find helpful, and ask if he did. For example: "Did you find our discussion this morning helpful? Was there one specific idea that you found particularly useful? What else? How about when I explained [insert idea here]?"
3. Now you can ask them about people they know who could be helped in the same way.
Remind her that this was one of your agenda items and ask who came to mind. For example: "Mary, I’m glad you found the work we did here today so helpful. The last thing I promised you we’d do this morning is discuss some of the people you care about who might want the same kind of help so we can decide whether it would make sense to arrange an introduction — and how we would go about that. Who is the first person who came to mind?"
Speak with confidence. If you don’t feel confident, act as if you do. Paul admitted that part of his problem was that he had not practiced being firm, clear and self-assured when he brought up the subject of referrals — and practice is essential. If you want to attract more clients, put talking about the people in your clients’ lives on your appointment agenda and get it out into the open, right up front.