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Competing for Referrals
By Dan Richards*
January 12, 2010

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There are two reasons for spending the $5 on this courier. First, it sends the right signal about the importance of the meeting and the advisor’s professionalism.

And second, this advisor has found that, since doing this, no shows and cancellations have dropped to almost zero; it seems that receiving confirmation by courier increases the prospect’s commitment to the meeting.

The day before the meeting, the advisor’s assistant calls the prospect: “Mr. Smith, I’m calling on behalf of Dan Richards to confirm tomorrow’s meeting at 3 o’clock. Dan also wanted me to let you know that at that time of day our parking lot can sometimes be congested so when you come in, look for the spot with your name on it.”  

Sure enough, when they pull into the lot, five spots from the door there’s a spot with a sign “Reserved for Bill and Mary Smith.”

Prospects take the elevator to the ninth floor – when they walk into the reception area and ask for the advisor, the receptionist says “Oh, are you Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Dan told me he was expecting you and to let him know as soon as you’re here.”

Now you may view this as completely and totally over-the-top – that was certainly the view of some of this advisor’s colleagues when he began doing this.

Think however about the message that this advisor is sending prospects – about his attention to detail, organization and client focus, all without ever having met face-to-face.

This strategy achieves one more thing – it sets him apart.

In our research with clients who moved to a new advisor, a common comment is “I spoke to three advisors and my problem was that they all seemed smart, professional and interested. My problem was making a decision between them.”

The advisor explained why he does this: “When I came into the business in the late seventies, I was trained to monitor the outcome of every meeting with prospects and to track my success rate.

 Thirty years later I still do that. In 1990, my conversion rate on referrals was almost 95%. By 2000, it had dropped to barely above 60% – even though I was more experienced and had much better support staff. My conclusion was that I needed to raise my game – I know I’ll never hit 95% again, but since starting to do this my success rate is well above 80%.”

As clients get more knowledgeable and competition intensifies, advisors will need strategies to obtain referrals and methods to win the ensuing competition for clients. What I’ve described works for this advisor – and likely won’t work for you.

The specifics of this advisor’s approach aren’t important. What is important, however, is that you have a plan in place in place to send the right messages, differentiate yourself and set you apart when a referral comes in the door. 


* Dan Richards conducts programs to help advisors gain and retain clients and is an award winning faculty member in the MBA program at the University of Toronto. To see more of his written and video commentaries and to reach him, go to www.strategicimperatives.ca.

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