Pro Tips

Acquiring Referrals During and Post-Crisis

by Tiffany Markarian

There are many effective strategies for acquiring referrals and introductions from your existing clients and relationships. This holds true even in down markets or a crisis. The key is to not come off as optimistic or tone deaf, especially when your client is expecting you to focus on their needs during a crisis. What you can do is socialize the conversation and express your willingness to help people like them during this time.

We are in an acquisition opportunity for new clients given this turbulent COVID climate and economic downturn. Simply put, too many advisors are not communicating with their clients properly and are missing the client experience. It is an opportunity to establish new referrals and relationships.

When conversing with current clients about referrals, engage in a dialogue that is commitment-focused and expresses your willingness to serve the community. It needs to be a personal conversation, not just an email. Share how delighted you are to have the ability to serve clients during this downturn.

Second, express your role in helping people like them get their financial life in balance and navigate complex financial decisions. Someone they can call, not just when the market is in chaos, but someone who will always listen and provide direction.

The Real Truth

Referrals happen most often when you are deeply working in a structured niche market; however, you want your clients to speak highly of you, in general, to others. For you to earn the right to ask for referrals during a down market or crisis, you need to ensure you are caring for and about your current clients’ needs first.

You always need to be laser-focused on your clients’ comfort.

You cannot encourage clients to share the work you are doing if they feel let down by your lack of personal contact – and no, we are not talking about emails. We are talking about one-on-one conversations where you bring meaningful reassurance and direction to clients.

Communicate what you are always doing on their behalf.

Why Referrals May Be Slow

Over the past few years, some advisors, even the very good advisors, have watched the flow of referrals turn off or the quality of their referrals diminish. They attempt to discuss referrals with clients in a graceful manner, but they don’t know how – especially during a crisis. They are hoping their clients are promoting them, but not sure. The reasons the flow may be slower could be:

  1. The client is not positioning you correctly. They may need to be coached on explaining the value of what you do. If the client is simply saying, ‘John is a great guy, you should give him a call.’ That is often not compelling enough for a prospect to call you.
  2. Your client may not know you want referrals. They may think you are doing great already.
  3. Your client might think they don’t know the right type of candidates for you. They may think they don’t know enough “wealthy” people.
  4. The client may refrain for referring advisors, in general. They do not want to intrude in other’s financial affairs.
  5. The client may be dissatisfied with something about you or your team and they have not expressed it yet. This causes them to be hesitant about recommending you or your company.

You must be focused on supporting your clients and giving them an elevated experience. Second, in a COVID environment, you must make calming phone calls to clients or employ virtual meetings to stay in meaningful personal dialogue with them.

Clients are not looking for another ambiguous email. Most clients can take bad news, but what they really want is to hear from you. Not through a newsletter and not just by email.

Assuming you have an elevated client experience, opening a dialogue with clients about referrals requires you to get them in the right mindset.

Setting the Table for Referral Discussions

When socially engaging the conversation about referrals, you want to communicate your willingness to work with like-minded people just like them. You want members of their personal and professional networks to get the same sound financial advice and guidance your client has acknowledged they appreciate from you. Express your desire to provide the same service to others that your clients have been provided.

You want to reaffirm to your clients:

  • You’re not an account to me.
  • You’re a person, an individual, and we care about your well-being.

Acknowledge that others in the community may be concerned or anxious that they are not hearing enough from their advisor. Even worse, some people only heard from their advisors during this crisis with canned, generalized emails.

The Market Crisis is an Opportunity to Serve

As you move through Corona and the economic crisis, and things eventually start settling down, dissatisfied clients may be looking for a new advisor. More often than you think. Assuming you gave comfort and reassurance to clients during this time and helped them stay focused on their long-term objectives, chances are they are sharing notes with their peers. You want them to tell other people about the great work you do, and always do, on their behalf.

The best place to start is with clients who are well connected in their industry, their community or in special interest groups or clubs. Formal networks allow for structured meetings, regular connectivity and a group of like-minded members. The likelihood of a client giving you referrals to people in their network can be strong.

Ask your client if they’ve stayed in contact with their personal or professional networks virtually during this time. Ask them how their relationships are doing.

In many cases, it is easier for clients to refer you into their network vs. giving you a specific name out of the blue. Referrals within their network is sometimes safer for them because it is then up to you to integrate yourself in the network and build relationships. Note: your client will often provide assistance and influence to help integrate you into their networks.

  • Make it clear to your client that they represent the types of individuals you want to work with.
  • Ask them about the people they interact with most frequently through work or their industry.
  • Ask them if there are professional associations or networks you should be involved in for their industry.
  • Ask them if they believe these networks have a need for the work you do.
  • Offer to do virtual educational briefings for their networks.
  • Offer to share financial articles in the networks’ publications.
  • Ask them to be your advisor for a moment and the best ways you can get involved to serve people like them and be a resource to them.

Proper Messaging During and Post-Crisis

We all know many advisors do not handle crisis communication as well as others. You can say to clients:

I’ve heard from several new clients that they did not hear from their prior advisor enough during the crisis. Unfortunately, they did not have the relationship you and I have. They did not get the opportunity to have the ongoing conversations we do.

Again, ask them, how have others in your peer group or community handled the crisis personally? Has anyone mentioned they are concerned about their own situation? I am curious because people seem to be talking about this right now.

Assuming the client truly appreciates and respects the work you do for them, this dialogue alone may encourage the client to suggest potential individuals for you to speak with. It socializes the conversation and articulates your value and commitment to people like them.

At this point it is full stop. Let the client respond. They may say the subject of referrals has come up in their conversations. If the client says financial anxiety comes up with their peers, ask them:

  • When the subject has come up, did you by any chance communicate the things you and I are doing together, if you don’t mind me asking?

This is called empathetic asking. By asking a question, and then saying, if you don’t mind me asking? It is gracious. It shows empathy by asking for permission.

Your client may discuss specific people or conversations within their peer group or within their family.

  • Encourage your client by saying, tell me a little more about those conversations, if you would. What types of businesses are they in? What were they concerned about when the subject of the economic downturn came up?
  • What are some of the challenges you heard from others when it comes to taking care of their finances, their business or their family?

Ask them if they were, or would be, willing to tell their friends, co-workers or family members about what you do for them. Be clear you are here and willing to help people like them.

At this point, your client may share if they have spoken about you to others. They might say something like, ‘I have brought up your name before. Hopefully they reach out to you.’

You can then probe further with tell me more about that. Do you work with them or do they have children in the same age group as you?

This will get the client talking. It will also uncover if their relationships match your ideal profile. If they do not, you can have a conversation about the types of people who are most suited for your services.

If the connections they share seem like a great match, you can ask a further probing question such as, when the conversation got that far, what did you say I do for you, if you don’t mind me asking? Their answer tells you if they are communicating the right message, and at the very least, reinforces your value to them.

You can then ask if it would be wise for you to reach out to them personally? Or ask about other ways the client suggests would be most comfortable.

Additional Ways to Encourage Referrals from Current Clients

We know it is easier to be introduced to clients when you are part of the same formal network, group or club. The challenge is being introduced to a client’s natural market. That opportunity must be earned. We all hope our clients will promote us to their families, friends and colleagues on an unsolicited basis, but that does not always happen regularly.

First, start by saying, Daniel, again, I want to thank you for always taking my calls during all the chaos we went through with this crisis. I’m glad we were able to have those conversations. Was that helpful to you?

If he says, ‘yes, it was,’ communicate your understanding that many people did not get the same personal experience here in [Atlanta]. You are glad you are here to help them. Tell your client you want to reach out to others in the community just like them who have built something special and have a lot to protect – such as business professionals in the community, individuals with families or lifestyles they hope to protect.

Let them know you want to make sure people are on track. That they are getting sound advice and can use you as a sounding board. You want to make sure they are secure. That they have someone to talk to; just like your clients do with you.

Let your client know that even some of the most successful people saw a halt because of this downturn. It could be a family member or someone in their neighborhood.

Suggest to your client that if the subject comes up, you would be grateful if they would say something like this:

  • My advisor kept me in the loop about what was happening in the market.
  • She didn’t take me for granted.
  • She didn’t give me ambiguous answers.
  • I can handle bad news, but I can’t handle it if someone is ambiguous with me, or just tells me to relax. I did not have that problem with my advisor.
  • My advisor told me what she was consistently doing on my behalf during the crisis.
  • My advisor gave me step-by-step guidance on how to stay focused on my financial objectives, and believe me, that brought me great peace of mind.

You want your clients to say to their peers that you would be more than willing to having a conversation with them to get their questions answered.

Overcoming the Hurdles

Some clients do not refer, or they put up smoke screens. They might say, ‘I don’t know anybody that has any money…I have some family, but, you know, they don’t have a lot of money…I do have a couple of friends, but I don’t really think they are the kind of people you want to work with.’

Your response should be that this is about the community. You are not simply looking for people who have all kinds of money, because this is not simply about money. This is about giving people guidance and direction during these critical times.

You can say to your client, people are concerned and anxious. This is about us having the opportunity to treat them as an individual, just like we did with you, not as an account. We want to treat them and support them as individuals. It is up to them and me to have a mutual conversation to see if we are a good fit. And if not, at the very least, we can refer them to someone that could help them.

Tell your client, the last thing I want to have happen is someone you know not getting sound financial advice. That they do not get the opportunity to have direction, given the anxiety they’ve been through, perhaps, during this chaos.

Clients May Think You Don’t Need Their Help

Sometimes a client might not refer because they think you do so well. It does not occur to them to proactively refer you to others. They think you are doing great and don’t need help from them.

You can say, Daniel, I appreciate that. A lot of times my clients, who I am thrilled to work with like you, might think we do so well and really don’t need help generating clients. First and foremost, thank you for thinking so highly of us, and yes, we are one of the top firms in our area and we are grateful for that. I want you to realize, we have a team of people. I have my assistant, we have many specialists here, and our objective is to help as many like-minded individuals as we can. I am always open to speaking with someone who really values sound financial advice, respects assistance, and wants help protecting their lifestyle and future.

We, in fact, do very well, and I believe that’s because we treat each client as a whole person. We have service models for anyone who wants to take positive action in their lives. We also have a network of professionals who may be able to help them if there is a particular need. I do want you to know there are a lot of people out there who don’t get the comfort they need during these times. We saw this all too often with this crisis. Many individuals are looking back at the last several weeks and thinking, it might be time for us to look for another advisor because we weren’t really pleased with how they handled the situation.

We would welcome the opportunity to talk to them, even if it’s just giving them an answer or some points of guidance that might help them move forward.

The truth is many people lost over a third of their holdings because their advisor never picked up the phone to call them. Their advisors relied on mass emails for communication. We want to help as many people in our community regain their sense of structure and balance.

I am so glad you and I are in close communication. We know there are people who perhaps are not getting their full needs addressed. As we’ve gone through this crisis, you and I have had several conversations. And I appreciate you always taking my call so that we can adjust and plan accordingly.

It’s unfortunate when others do not feel confident with their advisor. What we’ve decided to do is expand our network. We want to work with more people like you, who really deserve to have individual attention. You can feel welcome to encourage those you know to give us a call. We always have time to help others. Frankly, we are fully committed, and purpose driven here. This community has been through a tough time. We’ve stepped up to help. Not just during the bad times, but also in achieving their financial objectives for the long term.

Clients May Not Want to Get Involved in Others’ Financial Affairs

The client may come back and say, ‘well, I really don’t like to get involved in other people’s financial business. If someone brings it up, I’m happy to mention your name.’

Often that is a concern or objection that is hard to overcome. If a client were to say that to you, let them know you understand and thank them. Remind them that you are not asking for appointments. Let them know you are simply looking to expand your network and visibility in the community, in the event others ever have a need.

Convey that you want to make as many professional connections in the community as possible, so that others always have a person they can pick up the phone and call as a sounding board. At the very least, you can direct them to an appropriate person based on their concerns. Make it clear you want others to have the same reassurance they did during this time.

Facilitating the Introduction

If your client mentions a few individuals that might be beneficial for you to talk to, tell them you would be willing to make the outreach. Say, if you think it would be beneficial or a welcome outreach from me to call or email them I can. No expectation. I can simply say you and I were talking, and Daniel spoke very highly of you. I wanted to say hello and introduce myself. If they ever need an ear or a few questions answered during this time, I would be willing to provide any guidance I can.   

This is a softer approach.

You can say, first, we get to know them. It’s purely educational focused. Not that we want to be an advisor for everyone, but frankly, we want to work with people like you. People who are great clients. We want you to have a softer way for your friends or colleagues who are concerned to have the opportunity to run things by us without the pressure or fear of something new. If the person decides to continue the conversation, we can determine if we can help them, or recommend them to someone who can. Knowing that, in an any introductory conversation, if we can lend some advice to them that moves them forward, that’s wonderful.


A crisis like COVID, coupled with an economic downturn, is a difficult time for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Your goal is not to come off as optimistic or salesy, but as a person who is willing to serve. By sharing an empathetic approach that is reassuring to clients, you can socially engage the conversation of referrals and how you are here to help others just like them.


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Tiffany MarkarianAcquiring Referrals During and Post-Crisis

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