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When clients who should refer, don’t

Bryce Sanders

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If you’re so good, why won’t they tell anyone?

Successful people know other successful people. You likely have many of these people as clients. They might be professionals, business owners and middle managers. You helped them. They have friends with similar needs. You could help them too, except for two problems: You don’t know who they are, and your current clients won’t tell you.

There are many reasons clients might be reluctant to provide referrals.

Don’t know how

Reason: Your client would like to refer you, but they don't know how to start the conversation. “My advisor said they are looking for new clients. Why don’t you do business with her?” doesn’t sound right, does it?

Response: Tactfully coach your client in having the conversation.

Finder’s fee

Reason: Many businesses compensate current clients who send new clients their way. The friend might ask your client: “What do you get out of it?” or “How much are they paying you to find them new business?”

Response: Simplest is best. “I don’t get anything out of this. He helped me. I thought he might be able to help you.”

Trading favors

Reason: They might view life as a series of transactions. If they ask a friend to meet with you to discuss business, that friend has done them a favor by meeting with you. The friend will feel your client owes them a similar favor down the road. They don’t want to play that game.

Response: Explain it’s a matter of helping someone who has a problem, not asking for a favor.


Reason: Your client feels they buy a product or service and you collect a fee. That’s the transaction. Sending additional business in your direction isn’t part of the deal.

Response: Probe with “what-if” scenarios.

Perceived liability

Reason: When most people get angry, they complain. But when some people get angry, they sue. Suppose something goes wrong? Your client is worried they might be named in the suit because they initiated the introduction.

Response: Your clients and their friends can easily check out your record online and see you have no complaints or disciplinary issues. You run a clean business.


Some clients might be willing to refer, but need a little help.

1. Coaching can help. Clients who don’t know how to refer may worry they will be asked a question they can’t answer. Try explaining the “Problem, Solution, Action” method. In this case, you have helped your client provide for his wife in case he dies first. Here’s an example of a potential conversation your client can have with a friend.

Problem: “You know, I’m a few years older than my wife. I’ve always been worried about who will look after her interests if something happens to me.”

Solution: “Fortunately, I have a good financial advisor, Ruth. She knows this is important to me. My wife likes Ruth. Ruth likes my wife. I feel if anything ever happened to me, she would be in good hands.”

Action: “I know you feel the same way about your wife. My wife and I are having dinner with Ruth next Friday. She said we could bring guests. Why don’t you come along? I think you would enjoy meeting her.”

2. People want to help. Your client might not want to help you sell a product to a third party, but they will want to help a friend in need. You solve a problem for them. It might involve income in retirement. They are happy with the outcome. It’s logical they know other people with the same problem. When you are done you ask: “Do you know anyone else with a similar problem who I might be able to help?”

3. Timely topics. You’ve heard one of the best ways to get people to attend seminars is to address a topic they need to know about. Countries periodically change their tax laws. People want to know what they should do differently going forward. Invite them to a seminar you are holding and suggest they bring along another couple as their guests. You would share the stage with an accounting professional.

4. When education doesn’t work. They think inviting a friend to something that might be seen as a sales presentation is trying to trick them. How about holding a wine tasting event? It costs money, but clients love fun events. Even better, they can bring a friend. You work the crowd and gather contact information before everyone leaves.

5. The transitional event. Wine tastings are expensive. Do you want to try something cheaper? You are involved with your local historical society. They run a lecture series in the spring. The topics are great, and the cost to bring guests is minimal. You have a client who is a history buff. Invite them and suggest they bring along another history buff as a guest. You meet them in neutral surroundings. Everyone enjoys the event and the guest asks your client, “How do you know each other?”

We usually think of referrals as situations where the client does all the work. There are plenty of solutions where you meet them halfway.

wine bottle and glass

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for financial services professionals.

Contact Bryce Sanders at


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