How often can you ask for referrals?
By Bill Cates
Whether you’re a new advisor or a veteran, it’s a good idea to have a sense of how often you can ask your clients for referrals. And let me begin by saying, it’s not every time you meet.
One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How often can I ask a client for referrals?”
New advisors are often told to ask their prospects and clients for referrals early and often. If you’re a newer advisor, you clearly have to generate as much activity as you can. But whether you’re a new advisor or a veteran, it’s a good idea to have a sense of how often you can ask your clients for referrals. And let me begin by saying, it’s not every time you meet.
The referral process is part art and part science. Knowing when to ask a client for referrals a second, third, or even fourth time clearly falls more into the realm of art over science.
One thing to consider when determining how often you ask a client for referrals is their personality. Is the client’s nature more open or more guarded? Clearly, you can ask an open person for referrals sooner and more often than a guarded individual. I would never ask a guarded client for referrals in the first one or two appointments. If I had an open client who was very happy about the work I’d done, I’d be crazy not to ask.
Their initial response
If your first request for referrals is well received by your client, then you can usually ask for referrals again within three to six months. While you don’t want to ask for referrals every single time you meet with a client, an open person will often play the referral game more frequently than you might think.
If your client’s response to your initial request is not positive, when to ask them for referrals again depends upon their response. For example, if your client says, “I’d probably be open to this, but not right now. Let me think a little bit about this,” then you can probably ask this client again the next time you meet.
If your client says, “I just don’t give referrals. I’m very uncomfortable with this,” then you clearly want to wait six months to a year — maybe even more — before you ask them again. And, of course, if your client says, “Don’t ever ask me this again,” then don’t every ask them that again. Period. The most important thing to remember
Regardless of the timing of when you choose to ask a client for referrals a second or third time, the key thing is to refer back to your previous conversation about referrals. Each time you ask a client for referrals, put a few cryptic notes in their file to remind you of their response. Then, when you ask them for referrals again, you can refer back to your last conversation. You don’t want to look like a robot and just ask the same way, with the exact same words each time. Here are a couple of examples of what your wording might be:
Example 1: Client gave you referrals the last time
“George, I’m glad you’re still very happy with the work we’ve been doing together. The last time we were together, you we’re kind enough to introduce me to your sister and your former business partner. And, as you know, you’re sister has become a client of mine.
I’m wondering if you’d be open to brainstorming a little bit more about this. I wanted to run a couple of ideas past you.”
Example 2: Client didn’t give you referrals the last time
“George, I’m glad you’re still very happy with the work we’ve been doing together. The last time we were together, I broached the idea of exploring who you think should know about the important work I do. At that time, you weren’t ready to have that conversation.
I’m wondering if now that we’ve had a chance to work together for six or seven months, you might be open to introducing me to a couple of folks. In fact, I have a couple of people in mind who you know and for whom I think I might be a great resource. Can we explore this for a few minutes?”
A classic referral story
I was delivering a referral training program several weeks ago in California. A distinguished veteran of the financial services business told me a story that punctuates this article.
Early in his career, he asked a client for referrals and received a response he didn’t count on. The client said to him, “Leonard, if you ever ask me for referrals again, I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
Needless to say, Leonard became a little gun shy about referrals for a while. However, Leonard told me that this same client has become his best referral source over the years, introducing him to many high-level clients.
If you don’t act like a robot and you pay attention to your clients, you can often ask them for referrals more than once. And Leonard’s story reminds us of what we already know — that the worst thing that can happen when we ask for referrals is that we plant a very nice seed for referrals in the future.