Increasing client referrals in 2021

This article first appeared in Professional Adviser.

How to improve?

Receiving referrals from clients or, rather, introductions is an important way to grow your business.  I take a look at how to improve your ‘introduction rate’.

Back in the nineties, when advisers were subjected to an observed interview from a supervisor, one of the key competencies was asking for a client referral.

But the adviser didn’t just have to ask for a referral. They also had to hand the client a business card and ask them to pass it onto any colleagues, friends or family who might benefit from advice. So they did.

In the real world, however, IFAs would never have done this. The rest of the time they felt too uncomfortable, nervous, or just plain daft trying to generate a lead from the client in front of them.

In many ways, little has changed when it comes to asking for referrals. Many advisers still find it confronting or presumptuous to ask for business, even from clients they know very well.

In actual fact, ‘referrals’ is the wrong word to use here. A referral is where a client gives your name to someone else, which may well result in a new enquiry, but will never beat an ‘introduction’.

An introduction is a physical or email interaction and is much more likely to result in a prospect – not least because you have the chance to follow up.

So, for the purposes of this piece, let’s talk ‘introductions’.

There are many reasons why an introduction is the best type of prospect. To name just a handful: the person has an immediate need; they are pre-sold on the benefits of working with you; they are the ‘lowest cost’ among all other sources of new business; and, ultimately, they have the highest conversion rate of any type of new enquiry.

Importantly, introductions are the only type of new enquiry over which you have complete control. Your own actions will dictate whether clients become advocates and refer you to others. Every other type of marketing is affected by outside influences.

Which begs the question. How can you improve your rate of introductions?

Building introductions into your process

The first way to improve your introduction rate is to have better, dedicated and more intentional conversations with new and existing clients.

Perhaps clients don’t know who best to introduce you to. Perhaps they don’t know the value you could bring to people in different circumstances. Or maybe they simply don’t know whether you would like them to make those introductions.

You can make those conversations easier to have if you think of the process, not as ‘referring’, but as ‘a grown-up discussion about your business’. Follow these five steps:

  1. Add a ‘business update’ to your client meeting agenda and ask their permission to spend a few minutes sharing your latest news;
  2. Deliver the update – e.g. on new team members, exam success, charity fundraising, etc.;
  3. Explain your plans for growth, reassuring clients that you’ll maintain service standards;
  4. Check that they are happy to introduce you to others;
  5. Explain who you’d like the client to introduce you to.

Build these steps into your process and they will soon become second nature within your firm. Clients will start to understand exactly who you want them to introduce, why, and what you can do for them.

If you’re nervous, start with your best clients. Familiarity should make it easier to broach the topic and they’re also more likely to introduce you to the type of prospect you are looking for.

Other ways to improve your introduction rate

It’s always worth considering why clients might not be recommending you already.

Yes, it might just be an issue of communication, but there could be other underlying reasons. You may need to take a harder look at your business.

Perhaps, in truth, your clients aren’t satisfied with the service provided. If your standards have slipped, they might feel uncomfortable introducing you to others. A poor experience would not reflect well on the person who made the recommendation.

Equally, your online presence might be putting people off. If a client introduces you, the first thing their contact will probably do is try to find you online. If they can’t find you or your presence is poor, they might have second thoughts about getting in touch. For example, is your website and Google My Business listing portraying your business in the right light?

Or maybe it’s something so much simpler: maybe you forgot to thank your client when they last introduced you. I’m not suggesting that you send them champagne after every recommendation. But a simple ‘thank you’ card or email can go a long way in showing your appreciation for the trust that they have placed in you.

Respect the power of ‘no’

Ultimately, however, some clients simply won’t want to make introductions. Often because they’ve had a bad experience in the past or because they’re unsure how their contacts will react to their name being shared.

However well you follow the steps above, ‘no’ will sometimes be a reasonable answer, and it’s never worth jeopardising an existing relationship by pressuring your client into something they’re not comfortable with.