I am opposed to asking for referrals. For all kinds of reasons.
I do not believe in asking primarily because it attempts to hijack the natural way referrals happen. But also because we are an event driven business. And when we ask for referrals, we won’t meet the prospects when they need us.
Clients typically seek out and advisor because something happened or something changed. Very few people wake up in the morning thinking "I think I will find a new financial advisor today." It happens, and sometimes a change of attitude can be the trigger. But most often it is because a situation arises that requires a client find advice.
I was reminded of this the other day as I was working with the client on his value proposition. Like so many advisors, he told me he works with clients who are in "transition." We may be an event driven business partly because we have designed it that way. Money in motion, changing life circumstances, retirement distributions, sudden money. So many of the things we tell people we specialize in involve an event.
Regardless of where it comes from, it is clear that good referrals are defined partly by being introduced at the right time for the prospect. And the probability that when you ask your client for a referral will turn out to be just the right time for the prospect is miniscule. Odds are that if you ask for referrals you will be calling those prospects at time when they are just not receptive to your message. I think of it this way: from the prospect’s perspective you are like a great plumber that shows up unannounced and unexpected on someone's doorstep. If a plumber came to visit you out of the blue, would you hire him? Right then?
I recently hired a plumbing company to come pump out my septic tank. Not something I do very often. In fact, I have been in this house for almost 20 years and have not had it pumped once. (I know, bad idea. Like many people, I procrastinate on the preventative maintenance stuff.) But, I had a remodeling project going on and needed an inspection. The inspection required that the tank be pumped. I mentioned it to people. I asked around. A friend suggested a company, and they turned out to be great.
And that's how referrals happen. If that company had called me a year ago and told me they were experts at pumping septic tanks, I would have replied "not now, thanks." (Even though I should have thought about it. But I was, I don’t know, packing for vacation or cutting the lawn or something.) But, now I needed one. And because my friend knew this company was good at cleaning septic systems he mentioned them to me when I described my predicament.
What we must focus on is making sure our clients understand what particular solutions we can deliver or what experiences we can provide. If we can make that easy to recall, they will remember us when they hear someone describe a need for what we do. In the end, we don't really want our clients to share with us the names of their friends. We want our clients to share our names with their friends at the right time.
This post was written by Stephen Wershing, President at The Client Dirven Practice, where it initially appeared. Wershing coaches financial advisers.