The best time to get a referral is before the prospect is ready for a change. It is when their thinking shifts to accommodate the possibility.
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We are in an event driven business. Clients don't change advisors out of the blue – they look for a new advisor when something happens. We are used to thinking about the obvious changes: selling a business, taking a retirement offer, having a baby. But there can be more subtle ones that present as big an opportunity – like a new mindset that leads to those changes. For example, a shift from accumulating assets to a desire to conserve them, a client realizing he has more than he needs and starts thinking about the good he can do, or the recognition that a client has run her business for a long time and begins to consider what might be next.
The opportunity arises when prospects start talking to their friends about what they have been thinking. If one of those friends is a client of yours, the right preparation can produce a referral to you. Your challenge is to understand the mindset shift that leads to the need for your unique services. Design a communication strategy that sensitizes your clients to the things their friends might say that can trigger a referral.
At the end of a client meeting, for example, you might say "in working on refining and improving our service, we realize that we have a special skill in helping clients discover what kind of good they can do in philanthropy, like we have with you. And we also realized that we can do the most good when we meet someone who has just started considering charitable giving. Someone who is only starting to think ‘I have enough to take care of my needs and to leave the kids is much as I want. And I just started wondering if there is some other kind of good I can do.’ You have been in that position before we helped get you started in philanthropy. If you were in my shoes, how would you find people who were just at that point?”
You may get some ideas and guidance from your clients, but you are also preparing them for the opportunity to refer. Reinforce the client scenario you are particularly good at addressing, and when a client hears a friend described it they will think of you.
Thinking changes before a prospect starts planning action. This could be the best time to catch them. Once plans are concrete, that prospect will probably already have an advisor. Catching them early and helping them work through the process positions you to have a loyal client when they are ready to consummate the life change they are considering.