The best referral strategy

Aug 01, 2022

Carl Richards on laying a foundation for referral growth by becoming referable. He explains how just being a professional will earn you referrals without asking clients.

We’ve been told over and over that the best way to build a business is through referrals, and of course, that’s true. But where things get slippery real quick is when someone tries to teach us how ask for them.

My favorite technique was forced on me early in my career. It goes like this.

At the end of the meeting where a prospect becomes a client you tell the client that you (the advisor) get paid two ways. One way is the fee he or she pays, and the other way is by giving you referrals.

I tried it—once.

I mustered up the courage, said the line, and the new client told me I was out of my mind. He made it clear that he paid one way, and he’d be happy to pay that to someone else if I asked him again.

I know. I know. I’m sure I didn’t do it right, or I should have fired him as a client. But for just a second, put down your sales-training books, and ask yourself a simple question: Is that how you would expect a professional to behave?

Can you imagine your doctor doing that? Right after he takes off the rubber glove and you pull up your trousers, he or she says to you, “Now, you can pay me two ways.…”


I’ve tried every referral technique taught in this industry, and I’ve found the only thing that works is to give people a remarkable experience. Give people an experience worth remarking about, and you won’t need to ever talk about the two ways you get paid again.

One of the most successful advisors I ever met—let’s call him Kevin—figured this out early in his career. An accountant by training, Kevin fit the stereotype perfectly. He drove a boring car, had five versions of the same maroon tie that went with his white shirts. No one ever confused Kevin with Zig Ziglar.

Kevin didn’t send out birthday cards or Christmas cards, and Kevin didn’t ask for referrals. Instead, he did something remarkable. He focused relentlessly on acting like a professional. He was on time to meetings. He returned calls and replied to emails promptly. He did what he said he would do.

Boring, basic, simple, and so very remarkable. As a result, Kevin experienced success any of us would envy.

So, consider my humble invitation to focus on the basics and realize that basic service can be remarkable. And when you’re remarkable, you can count on your clients referring their friends without you ever asking.

This article originally appeared in the Morningstar magazine.

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