(Dow Jones) Steve Saenz, founder of Advisor Solutions Network, an Atlanta-based consortium of practice-management consultants to financial advisors, says advisors who want to increase referrals by making clients their advocates in the marketplace should build teams of experts that can meet every client need. Here are excerpts from a discussion with Saenz on this topic.
Q: Everyone knows that client referrals are vital generators of new business, yet many advisers have trouble getting them. What are they doing wrong?
A: They're using failed approaches such as timing strategies. "Ask clients for names right when they become clients because that's when they're happiest," is the conventional wisdom. But clients and advisors find this approach really awkward. The successful route is for advisors to build genuine loyalty among their clients by deepening their relationships with them, and by creating an experience that is so exceptional that clients become true advocates who want to refer people.
Q: How do advisors create such relationships?
A: The endgame is to create a network of top professionals that advisors can refer clients to. Advisors should start with their top 25 clients by net worth, and single out the ones they like and know best. Talk with them about non-financial concerns and issues coming down the road, the problems and challenges they face that go beyond their portfolios. Advisors should say that they want to be better advocates for clients in the coming year and help them solve more of their problems and concerns, and that they'll do this by creating a network of top industry professionals.
From there, they should ask their best clients to share with them the exceptional people they know in various industries. Give them a list of maybe 20 different professions and ask them for the names of anyone who they think is truly exceptional at what they do. This usually results in three to five names from a client. Get the names and ask the client for an introduction.
Q: What type of professionals are you trying to find and work with?
A: The obvious ones are accountants, various types of attorneys and real estate professionals. But advisors' networks should also consist of the full range of people clients need to tap. It could be architects, personal trainers and so on. Advisors need to tailor the list around the needs of their specific client base. If they live in Newport Beach, having a yacht broker makes sense. In Florida, having a golf pro makes more sense than if they work in Minneapolis.
Q: And then the advisor should meet with these professionals and ask them to become part of their network?
A: Yes. Build a network of professionals so that if and when another client mentions a specific need, they can give them two or three names-people who they know and who give them confidence that the client will be taken care of. When advisers help people plan their futures, they add value, but being in a position to solve specific problems as they arise. They need to identify the transitional challenges and opportunities that clients could face. They build a deeper connection when they talk to clients about their lives and their non-investment issues, and that in turn leads to loyalty. And loyal clients become true advocates, one who will tell friends about the adviser without the adviser ever having to ask for a referral.
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