Pop quiz: What's the single best source of new business in your practice? If you answered "my existing clients," you're in good company. In fact, 95% of RIAs say that introductions from their current clients are very important in sourcing new clients, according to the latest research by my company, CEG Worldwide. No other source of new business ranked as high.
Even better, the majority of RIAs surveyed told us that such introductions resulted in their five best new clients during the previous 12 months.
And yet there's a problem: Too many financial advisors do not regularly reach out to their clients to ask for these crucial introductions. In fact, nearly 40% of all financial advisors surveyed ask regularly. RIAs did manage to outperform their peers - 67.5% ask regularly, versus just 48.4% of independent broker-dealer representatives, for example. But the data show that far too many of you are ignoring a huge growth driver.
It's time to stop waiting for clients to take the first step. A highly satisfied client may, once in a while, provide you with an introduction without being prompted. But you can't count on that for any kind of steady stream of introductions. Instead, you need to generate success deliberately. Here's a process for systematically getting more high-quality introductions from your current client base.
LEARNING TO ASK
The obvious question is: If introductions to new prospects from existing clients are so important to financial advisors' businesses, why don't advisors ask for them all the time? The biggest reason we hear is because they think they're asking their clients to do something that is of benefit only to the advisor, not to the clients themselves.
But this isn't actually the case. Think about what you charge your clients, then think about what you deliver: vital help in addressing a wide range of financial concerns - both investments and advanced planning issues - that affect them and their families. Now consider the actual value of this, not just in financial terms (such as tax savings, enhanced returns or risk reduction), but also in emotional terms: creating real peace of mind for your clients.
The difference between what you charge and the actual value you deliver is essentially your gift to clients. When you ask your clients for introductions the right way, you are offering to extend this gift to the people they care about. You are offering a service that has not just a very high perceived value, but a very high actual value. The upshot: You should feel absolutely comfortable and confident in seeking out introductions.
To further build confidence in asking for introductions, I recommend the following step-by-step process:
1. Offer a second-opinion service. Start by confirming that your relationship with the client remains strong. Next, bring up the problems that many investors face: With all the uncertainty in the markets, they are unhappy with their financial advisors and are looking for better advice. Many more investors, in fact, are unsure whether they should stick with their current advisors.
Explain that you would like to offer a second-opinion service to people they care about who are dealing with those challenges, so that they can have the same type of advisor-client experience that you and your clients enjoy. Tell the client that you would review those people's portfolios (at no charge), using the same type of process you use with your most valued clients, so you can determine where they are now, where they want to go, and whether there are any gaps that need to be filled. If, after your second-opinion review, you determine that the person is in great shape with their current plan, you will say so. Or if you see that it would be in the person's best interests to work with someone else, you will either explore working together or refer them to another advisor who can serve them better.
Our most successful coaching clients have received millions of dollars in net new assets through this second-opinion process. What's more, their clients have been grateful that they were so willing to help their family and friends make better financial decisions.
2. Ask for an introduction - then ask again. Simply ask your clients if they know of someone who might benefit from your second-opinion service. Given how many investors are confused and uncertain these days, it's very likely that your client will immediately think of someone. Once you receive a name, immediately ask if anyone else comes to mind. Continue to ask until no other names are offered. If you don't get any introductions the first time you ask, just let them know that you will be asking again down the road and ask them to think about it a bit. (In fact, gaining introductions is so important that I recommend you ask for them at all your regular meetings with clients.)
3. Gather contact information and background. Once you have a list of names, ask for information, as well as what would be the best way to approach the prospects. Consider asking for a personal introduction; have the client contact the person to let them know that you will be getting in touch soon. In most cases, it's best to simply ask the client to give the person a call or email heads up that you will reach out to them.
4. Commit to following up. Your client is making the effort to contact the people being introduced, so make a point of assuring your client that you will follow up with a phone call immediately and that you will let him or her know how the conversation goes.
5. Thank your client. Tell the client how much you appreciate the introductions and that you look forward to providing these people with a second opinion of their financial situations. Also send a brief, handwritten thank-you note. This has become a lost art and is greatly appreciated.
6. Call each prospect. Your goal for the initial contact with each prospect should be to schedule an initial second-opinion meeting, during which you can conduct a process of discovery about the person's finances, goals and values. Tell prospects that your client spoke highly of them, and mentioned that they might benefit from meeting with you.
If a prospect says "yes" to your offer, schedule a specific date and time to get together. Explain that you will send a follow-up letter outlining the financial information and records that he or she should bring to the meeting in order to make it productive.
If the prospect responds with "no, thanks" or "maybe," he or she may already have an advisor. If this is the case, point out that in a challenging environment, many people are looking to have a second opinion to ensure they are truly on track toward their goals - and that you would be happy to offer that assessment at no cost. Emphasize that you don't take on new clients unless you can offer them substantial value, and that if you find that their current advisor is doing a great job you will say so.
7. Send an invitation. Immediately after arranging the initial meeting with the prospect, send a follow-up letter to prepare him or her for the meeting. Include the documents that you will need to conduct your assessment; these may include items such as tax returns, brokerage statements, mortgage statements, wills and trusts, and other financial records.
8. Let your client know the results. Your client who made the introduction will be curious about how things worked out. You do need to protect client confidentiality, of course, so get a prospect's permission to report back to the client who provided the introduction. But if you do receive permission, let the client know if you were able to get in touch with the prospect and, if so, how the first meeting went. Lack of feedback devalues your client's efforts on your behalf - and could make it tougher to get new introductions.
9. Thank your client again. A client who provides one introduction is likely to provide more down the road. Keep your clients inclined to make additional introductions by acknowledging how much you appreciate their assistance. It's important that you acknowledge the client simply for providing the introduction, whether or not the prospect worked out.
By following this process, you'll demonstrate to your existing clients your value and commitment to helping investors solve key financial challenges. In return, you can expect them to reward you with qualified introductions to new prospects, enabling you to build a rock-solid business for years to come.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.