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The Gordian Knot of Getting Referrals

I am going to put it right out there and probably make a few new enemies:

Pretty much all the referral generation techniques and methods you’ve ever been taught 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 recent 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 happy 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.

I am not surprised in the slightest by that.

What I am surprised at is the proportion of industry participants and sales-training providers still thumping 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. While I absolutely agree that one has to build in the systems and processes of positioning the professional and setting the expectation of being referred, and furthermore that one needs to be thinking about the psychology of the consumer and carefully selecting the words we use when doing so, those things are simply not enough to get clients providing referrals consistently.

Perhaps many professionals have been too busy to notice, but the world has changed from 25 years ago. Consumers expectations have changed. How they find information and choose to use advice mixed in with self-management and DIY options have changed. Their choices have broadened enormously. Consumers expectations regarding service and cost have changed considerably. Why would we think that techniques taught in the 1950’s through to the 1970’s would still be the most effective way of generating new business today?

What will produce consistent streams of referrals from clients in todays world is a relentless commitment to remaining highly engaged with clients individually, and continually staying in front of their ever-increasing service and support expectations. We live and operate in a world of personalisation and individual agenda’s, and are expected to deliver accordingly.

The words one uses when talking to clients about being referred 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.

When they are engaged to the point where loyalty is a two-way thing and they think your advice and service levels are awesome, THEN you can expect the referrals to flow. Unravelling this particular knot really is a “strand by strand” operation – there is not a magic set of words that will cut the knot for you and have referrals flowing in immediately.