This article is the first in a six-part series on best practices for wealth advisors. You can read the next column, “Expanding Your Business: Delegate, and Grow Your Practice” here

Referral prospecting is the most effective growth tool to ever see mass adoption. Period.

But it doesn’t get you unlimited clients. Referral mining does. Perfect exactly-what-you-want clients. And some others. But mostly perfect. And mostly unlimited. If that’s what you want — unlimited clients of the type you most prefer — than this is what to do. You need to move from referral prospecting to referral mining.

Referral prospecting is so effective for a couple of reasons. And we don’t want to change this.

Referral prospecting is free. Or nearly so, if you provide some de minimis tchotchke as a standard of your appreciation.

What Is Referral Prospecting?

Clients refer people like themselves. College students refer college students. CEOs refer other C-suite executives. Obviously there are exceptions.

But the distribution of referrals tends to be centered around the one referring. Great clients refer great prospects who become great clients. Who then refer great prospects who become great clients. And so on. A marketing virtuous circle. 

When we prospect we look everywhere. Anyone worth maintaining as a client is worth asking for referrals.

That’s the premise of referral prospecting. You learned this your first week in the business: Never stop asking. And you shouldn’t. Not if you want growth. Prospecting is seeking, and you never stop seeking; you never stop prospecting.

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But you don’t run a referral-based practice off of asking. Clients tend to look for an easy way out. They’ll gladly take some of your cards to hand out. They’ll tell you how they talk you up at the club.

But that doesn’t make the phone ring. And appointments happen only after the phone rings. Or after the computer beeps or some such thing, depending on your level of tech.

Clients need to be trained. They need to be trained to put you in control. They need to obtain an ok for you to call their associate, then they need to promptly pass that contact information to you.

You, we know, will make that call. You use the 500-pound phone for cold-calling; the referral phone is light, the calls are easy. You’re meeting a new friend, there’s a level of trust. They’re expecting you.

If your clients aren’t doing this, it’s not because of them. Nor is it because of you. You’re likely great at what you do, you have passion, you produce amazing results.

When there’s a breakdown in the referral chain, it’s always in the same place. That place is called perception of value.

Mending Your Referral Chain

The good news: It’s an easy fix. If you’re great at what you do and have passion and are producing amazing results, the problem isn’t value, it’s perception.

When you do exactly what your clients expect you to do, the value perception is that you’re someone who does their job. So does the kid who bags groceries, and they don’t get referred. The simple fix involves two steps.

The first is to incorporate added value into every meeting. Preferably every interaction. You’re already incorporating value. Value added is different.

Value added is doing the thing they don’t expect — value added is doing more than what they perceive is your job. There are a million things you can do as a value-added piece.

You can review the client’s homeowner’s policy and make recommendations. The same with their auto and other insurances you don’t sell. You do a value-added service anytime you do something that adds value and is over and above what the client expects you to do. And don’t think they don’t have expectations. They do. 

If they’re a couple or similar unit, they’ve discussed what they expect. Perhaps last night, perhaps in the car on the way over. Perhaps shortly before the call if it’s a virtual meeting. They’ve talked, they have expectations. You have a real good idea of what those expectations are. You should, you set them.

Now you just need to blow them away. And it’s easy. You simply need to provide them with some knowledge or wisdom that is actionable and improves their financial situation and that they didn’t know or think was coming. You need to overdeliver.

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That’s what makes you referable. That’s what makes it so they can’t stop talking about you. Because they’re blown away. Because that’s what makes it easy for them to get an okay for you to call their associate and pass the number to you and their associate expects your call and is willing to speak with you.

It takes you a couple minutes to do. And it pays in massive growth. Now you’re officially a referral prospecting machine. Now’s the time to start mining.

Switching from Referral Prospecting to Referral Mining

Prospectors look anywhere that might be promising. Don’t stop doing that. Just like you were taught week one: Never stop asking.

Some great clients will never be great at providing referrals. They’ll be okay at best. With these folks you want to keep doing what you’re doing.

But others can go to the next level. You have an idea who they are. They’re generally among your best clients and they’ll do whatever you recommend.

Perhaps they’ll ask some questions, seek some clarification, but everyone knows they’re going forward with your recommendation. You’d love more of these. This is where you want to do some mining.

It starts with a conversation. You’re going to let your client know that you’re looking for their help. You explain why you want more clients, people pass on, move to France, or some such thing, but it creates openings in your practice. 

But before you do that, you’re going to blow them away with a value-added meeting and then ask them how they feel about what you’re doing together. And you should work this a little, get some positive emotion coming out. Gratitude in the air, that sort of thing. Then you let them know you’d like their help.

Then you explain about openings for X new clients. And how you’d like these new clients to be people like them. And you train them on how to obtain the new prospect’s number and the okay for you to call.

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This is the thing about mining. You don’t know how deep the vein will be. You may get a little fool’s gold and need to dig elsewhere.

But you will never hit the mother lode without digging. Don’t prejudge. If you have a client that you want to clone, you need to tee them up. Do the work and then keep adding value and keep asking.

Some will try and fail. That’s ok; don’t damage the relationship. But there’s no reason you can’t find a couple dozen clients who can each produce a half dozen or more awesome new clients every year. Year after year. 

And you’ll get better as you do it. Lots of other things are going to happen. You’re adding more value. Fewer clients leave. Weak clients become good clients. Good clients become great clients. Great clients become even greater clients.

The Bottom Line

Don’t stop referral prospecting. You’ll continue to land at least as much if not more than you did before. But mine those who can continue to produce a steady stream of referrals.

You’ll likely be surprised by which clients become your referral gold mines. You’ll have much deeper and better client relationships and your wallet will thank you too.

This article is the first in a six-part series on best practices for wealth advisors. You can read the next column, “Expanding Your Business: Delegate, and Grow Your Practice” here

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