The Gordian Knot of Getting Referral Business
Sales & Marketing for Professional Services & Sales & Selling & Strategy

The Gordian Knot of Getting Referral Business

June 12, 2020

by Tony Vidler  CFP logo   CLU logo  ChFC logo

Getting referral business is hard…but oddly enough it is also easy. Lots of advisers say they get all their new business from referral, but when you dig into things it seems that actually they don’t get a lot of referrals. The ones they get are great, but they don’t get loads and loads of them.


The problem is this:

Pretty much all the referral generation techniques and methods you’ve ever been taught or heard about and have tried won’t work with the majority of consumers today.


The great Gordian Knot for professional services is unravelling referral reluctance.


One of the most valuable pieces of research for professional advisers in years provided the clues to unravelling it however.  A report published by Vanguard in 2012 after more than 100,000 consumers had been surveyed over a period of some years revealed the correlation between:

1. High levels of engagement with clients

2. Having highly satisfied clients

3. Getting Referrals from clients


The two standout conclusions are:

1.  A massive proportion of clients are happy enough with their adviser, and are satisfied with what the adviser does.

2.  Being content as a client does not translate into providing referrals to the adviser.


So all of the fabulously clever referral-generating techniques, the gazillions of sales training dollars invested over the years in countless numbers of advisers, and good service levels provided to the overwhelming majority of clients by the overwhelming majority of advisers (as judged by the clients), still result in very few clients providing a referral.


One can conclude that getting referrals is hard then.


It is if you are still buying into the concept that one just has to ask a cleverly constructed question at precisely the right moment in order to slash this particular Gordian Knot.  A clever technique at just the right moment may occasionally surprise people into blurting out a name or three, but it is no way to build a system of continuous referrals or recommendations.  One-off pressure techniques that put people on the spot ARE going to be hard work, and generate mixed results in terms of lead quality.


Consumers are more reluctant than they have ever been to give up friends, business colleagues and family to someone who has not earned their trust.  Privacy and data ownership are big things now, right?  Social media platforms constantly data mining and intruding with sales pitches are pissing people off, right? Contact details such as email addresses and private phone numbers are increasingly being safe-guarded….consumers are generally more reluctant than ever to divulge personal details of their friends and colleagues, and they’re even more reluctant to put those relationships on the line to help you earn a living.


Yet at the same time they are more enthusiastic than ever before to become brand advocates and provide recommendations to those businesses who they feel have out-performed.


Having a system that generates continual awareness of the desire for preferred introductions, or recommendations, or referrals (and these are all different things, but are all part of generating referral business) is perhaps hard to build, but then it is easy to reap the continual results.  So hard can lead to easy.


Building the awareness is about constantly positioning for the desire to be recommended or referred.  Including reference to it in regular communications, reviews, meeting agendas is part of creating “the system”.  While  positioning the desire and setting the expectation of being referred when deserved or warranted is part of the process, it is usually not enough to get clients providing referrals consistently.


The words one uses when talking to clients about being referred or recommended certainly matter.  So too does the timing and positioning of any referral discussion.  But what will make THE difference is that process of continual engagement at an individual level which results in clients feeling as if you are absolutely there for them.


The relentless commitment to remaining highly engaged with clients individually, and continually staying in front of their ever-increasing service and support expectations is what generates consistent new business opportunities. We have to continually earn the right to be recommended and referred.


In essence the key to generating a constant stream of favourable introductions is to ensure the expectation and desire for them is positioned, but then building a service system which deserves to be talked about.  When clients  are engaged to the point where loyalty is a two-way thing and they think your advice and service levels are exdeptional, THEN you can expect the referrals, introductions and recommendations to flow.


Unravelling this particular Gordian Knot really is best done as a “strand by strand” operation if you want to build a consistent new business generation system – there is not a magic set of words that will cut the knot for you and have referrals flowing in immediately usually.


You may also find this post useful:
This is why most Centre-Of-Influence Referral efforts will fail for most advisers


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