Five reasons you are getting bad referrals (and how to fix them)

telling-secretsLet me guess.

  • You do GREAT work. People should refer to you on the basis of your great work alone, shouldn’t they?
  • You HATE asking for referrals.
  • You are not getting enough referrals.

Another common complaint I hear from financial advisors is this: “I get plenty of referrals – the problem is not quantity, but quality!” Have you ever been sent a well-meaning referral from a colleague / friend / family member, only to discover that the prospect is not the right fit? To borrow a phrase from David Newman, did you wish you had a get out of referral jail card?

Well, I have not found that card just yet. But there are a few things you can try to fix your referral process. These steps are borrowed from David Newman’s “Do It! Marketing,” as well as from my experience as a coach. Read on to generate more and better referrals with less pain and suffering.

  1. Ask for what you want. Be specific.

Important note: you cannot do this until you are yourself crystal clear about your ideal clients and prospects. Once you are, don’t be afraid to get very specific!

A common referral request is, “I’ll talk to anyone who needs financial planning.” Do you see a problem with that? Is it any wonder that you get “anyone” walking through the door? How about, “I am a great fit for successful women entrepreneurs who want to stop worrying about investments.”

If someone in your network came across your ideal potential client, how would they know it?

2.       Line up fantastic testimonials (if you are allowed by compliance to do so.)

Let’s be honest: a big reason why people don’t refer is because in making a personal recommendation, they take a risk. What if their friend / colleague / family member has a bad experience with you? It is difficult to completely remove that risk, but you can minimize it with great testimonials.

Pull together a referral testimonial / success story sheet with 2 kinds of quotes. One set is the client success stories – quotes from people who have been referred to you and became happy clients. This next detail is important, and most professionals don’t do it: include referral success stories – quotes from your referral sources about how good they looked for making the referral.

This may not apply to you for compliance reasons; if it doesn’t, let’s consider the next point.

3.       Train your referral sources.

Very few of your referral sources can naturally describe your service offering as well as you can. Don’t believe me? Schwab backs it up!

According to a recent study by Schwab, when clients describe the firm, they are not able to explain the offering or experience in a way that’s compelling enough to inspire the listener to actually set up an appointment.

So, train them (in a nice way). Better yet, give them the tools to make the referral process painless and easy for them (and coincidentally perfectly crafted for you). I am talking about a referral blurb. Don’t have one? Send me an e-mail and I will send you a sample one!

4.       When a bad referral lands on your desk, help your referral source tune the GPS

Bad referrals happen. When they do, kindly and gently turn down the opportunity that is not the right fit for you – and tell your referral source what happened, and what to do differently next time. This is a delicate communication, so you will want to be sensitive and thoughtful in your wording. Be sure to thank them for the referral – regardless of the final outcome, the trust and the risk were very real, and in that sense every referral counts. Describe where the candidate profile was perfect, and where there was a disconnect. Apologize if your decision to not take on the prospect causes a relationship strain. This is a tricky balance to get right, so if you would like a template for this, I am happy to share one.

5.       Give and you shall receive!

Give good referrals to the professionals in your network! To do that, learn to ask great questions of your colleagues, vendors, partners, friends, current clients. Are them about their best clients, how they could tell the prospect would be a great client fit, and specific key words / details / pain points that you should be listening for on their behalf. In doing that, you are modeling what you want them to do.

The last advice is carving out the time, space, and discipline to do these things in a regular structured way – consistently, patiently, and graciously. Sporadic referral cultivation works no better than sporadic gardening.

What will you try?

Caution: Prospect from hell!

CautionHave you ever had a prospect meeting, just to walk out of it feeling like your prospect just wiped his or her feet on you? Have you ever come in to an enrollment meeting, just to discover that the process was not only unpleasant, but a giant waste of your time? I know I have.

What would it be like to have a filter in place that could prevent you from going down that painful rabbit hole again?

David Newman’s “Do it! Marketing” book has given me the inspiration to adopt not just one, but 5 filters. Feel free to borrow, steal, and improve upon these. Oh, and if you have anything at all to do with marketing (doing it, avoiding it, hating it, being frustrated by the black hole that is the marketing budget), get David’s book.

Here are 5 signs that you might consider wrapping up that prospect or client meeting early and running, not walking, to the nearest exit.

  1. Bargaining on the fee / price without expecting a corresponding reduction in terms, value, or services offered. Expecting a discount “just because” is an indication of more things to come. How hard do you want to work to get this one?
  2. Undervaluing, putting down, or minimizing the value that you deliver. This is a cult classic: “Oh, this stuff is easy! I could do it myself with my eyes closed, I just can’t be bothered.”
  3. Telling you up-front: “We are notoriously difficult to work with / picky / challenging,” or “We have worked with several other advisors on this and have not been happy.” A lot of clients have a bad experience (or two) in their history; however, if you are faced with someone who has worked with a dozen of advisors and has nothing good to say about any of them, run!
  4. Using false terms of endearment. This one is my personal pet peeve. “Honey”, “my dear”, “big guy”, or “sweetheart” make me cringe.
  5. Agreeing to sign on, just to back out at the last minute (or the next day), citing a sudden burning desire to inspect your college diploma, birth certificate, vaccination records, blood type, and astrological sign. An early warning sign of this is excessive use of fear-based questions that fixate on guarantees, warranties, all things that would possibly go wrong, insignificant details, and metrics that don’t really matter. A healthy risk-based approach is one thing, but an open distrust and fear of shadows is a bag of worms that is bound to explode in your face – and that’s never pretty.

If the “client courting” process is so painful it makes you grind your teeth, consider this:

If the dating doesn’t go well, it won’t get better once you get married.


J-curve: The human dimension of change [VIDEO]

Have you ever tried something new – a software program, a diet, or perhaps a resolution to go to the gym – just to give it up a week or two later?

Have you ever felt that a change, however beneficial from the outside, was actually causing you do WORSE?

If so, I would like to introduce you to the J-curve. This is a fantastic tool for managing your mental game when things are a-changing. Enjoy!

On raising young men

It’s Father’s Day. A little over two and a half years into this journey, my most important observation on raising a son is that the key ingredients to raising this future young man are love and affection. Other elements have to be in the mix, too, like solid routines to create habits, standards, boundaries, accountability for the simple basics he has shown me he can handle already, a good dose of humor, and he needs to see me consistently demonstrating love and respect for his mother. He needs all of these for reasons that are irrelevant to him right now, but will make all the difference for him… someday.

As a Marine Corps veteran and kung fu teacher, I’m often asked if he’s training yet. Everyone thinks my training – his training – is all about fighting techniques. That’s actually not my primary concern. Teaching a male to develop his sense of aggression is about as difficult as asking a regular sulfur match to ignite. Strike it once or twice and it’ll burn, no problem. So, no, the development of fighting skill or physical aggression are low on my priorities list.

The first order of business is teaching him by my own modeling how to be affectionate, respectful, and gentle. How can he truly understand aggression and violence if he doesn’t first understand love and kindness? To answer the question I’m often asked, “Is he training yet?” Yes, he’s training. Of course, he’s training. I know that a day of training we miss is a day we never get back. We play hard and he moves a lot. His motor skills and sense of balance are taking off and his muscles are developing, but at this stage and in our home none of it is about fighting technique. He tumbles and he gets up and dusts himself off. I’m there to pick him up if he needs it and to make sure he doesn’t do entirely too much damage in the interest of discovery.

But most importantly, the man-child experiences being loved 24/7. It’s about piggy back rides and lap time in papa’s chair to read our favorite books; those groggy first minutes of the day and those sleepy last ones before the covers go on; respectful communication with everyone we come into contact with; the gentle and respectful treatment of our animals. He knows I believe he is capable of anything and that I’m proud of him every step of the way.

If the need or desire ever arises for him to choose the warrior’s path, he’ll have all the resources he needs. The foundation will be in place. Once he understands love, he’ll have no problem understanding having something – or someone – worth protecting.

Happy Father’s Day. If you’re raising young men, don’t overthink it and for God’s sake, don’t think you need to induce suffering to “toughen them up.” Life will do plenty of that. Just love ‘em and then don’t hold them back when they get into the rough stuff. They’ll figure out everything else as they go.

The awake state

I am often working with students in the kung fu school on the state of being Awake. This is an internal skill that develops over time while the student is working on developing the external physical skills of whatever style they may be practicing.

The Awake state is probably somewhere between serenity, rage, and terror. If you were to draw it as a Venn Diagram with three overlapping circles representing those emotional states, you would want to be in the center. (A young Charles Xavier describes this very well to an also young Eric Magnus Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto, in X-Men: First Class and here’s a clip from YouTube… )   Other emotions could be added to the diagram like Acceptance (of what is,) Curiosity, Willingness, Compassion, etc., but I think the essential point is that too calm is too calm.

Too angry is too angry. Too fearful is too fearful. Even too compassionate is too compassionate. We do need some edge, especially in the fighting disciplines. But I think this concept applies to any task requiring effort, particularly during critical moments. Clutch situations require us to access everything we know, everything we feel, and sometimes even things that we don’t know intellectually or feel emotionally or physically. In these cases, access to our intuition may make the difference between success or failure, life or death.  The clutch moment requires us to be fully awake; fully human.

On human potential

Today is Memorial Day. We remember those who have paid the ultimate price to secure our freedoms. One of the things I love about our system and the structure of rights and responsibilities it creates is the opportunity we are provided to grow into the best possible versions of ourselves. Not that it’s easy. Not that we are absolved of the need to work. In fact, quite the contrary. Today and every day, go out and live your life. Pursue your interests and your passions – not just to make money or to simply have fun, but because the drive to grow, achieve, and enjoy will provide you with the greatest crucible you could ever design. A few who have gone on before spent all of their potential to buy time for the many who remained and for all of us who came after them. If you’ve ever wanted to thank someone who has passed from this earth in your service, LIVE WELL. It is the greatest form of gratitude. If you’ve lost someone who was close to you, it is the best revenge. Live. Enjoy. Become. And today, remember.

Post-busy season check-up

Congratulations! You have made it through another beast of a busy season. You have cajoled clients and staff, put in long hours, and are beginning to forget what your family and friends look like. You are probably feeling that you deserve a nice long vacation on a sunny beach, preferably sipping (or gulping) something bracingly alcoholic, not a 1099 or a tax code reference in sight for miles.

Before you book that trip to Aruba, there is one thing I want you to do, and that is to take brief stock of what just happened. Why now, you might ask? Because Aruba may well dull the pain that you have felt for the past 6-8 weeks, fooling you into thinking that this was not so bad, after all, and that kind of thinking is a ticket to another beast of a busy season next year. Continue reading

Radical self care for the busy season

There is a certain hour during the day when you just want to be done. Sometimes it hits predictably in the mid-afternoon, other times it sneaks up on you as personalities clash in the office, a client makes yet another last-minute request, or the gas tank light goes on while you are stuck in the evening traffic.

That feeling is not about the busy season, or a tough Monday. It is about reserves. All too often, we find ourselves running on just barely enough – gas, time, space, money, energy, opportunity. Our reserve tanks are empty, so when unexpected demands arise, we are hard pressed to deal with them gracefully because we are running on fumes. The tough reality is that the patience to deal with an irritated client, the mind-space to thoughtfully review a tax return, and the creativity needed to think your way out of a difficult problem don’t just appear out of the blue. They must be provided for preemptively. That is why reserves are so important. Continue reading

The wisdom of telling time

What time is it now? Seems like a simple question, you might say as you glance at your watch, cell phone, or the clock on the wall. We all learned to tell time in kindergarten. How hard can it be?

The answer might surprise you. Telling time can be the hardest thing you do all day. When you watch your to-do list spin out of control, surf the Internet during the afternoon post-lunch coma, yawn through a long meeting, or look in despair at that pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, or at the pile of snow outside your front door, what you are really struggling with is telling what time it is.

Allow me to explain. Continue reading