How many perfect referral opportunities do you think slip through the fingers of your colleagues at the bank every day?

I hear stories all the time about bank employees answering customer questions but stopping short of actually recommending them to the resource they often need: the bank advisor. Whose fault is that?

As a leader, it is up to you and no one else to get more referrals from fellow bank employees. You need to assess and address the leadership issues in the bank structure, as well as how you can influence bank employees to give you more referrals.

Finally, you need to consider how you can provide ongoing coaching and recognition for success.

Begin by reviewing what is supposed to happen during the referral process. Supposedly, a teller, loan officer or trust officer will recognize when a customer needs your services and will refer them over to see you. Sometimes a bank will pay a nominal reward as well.

Is that system working for you? If it is, you're doing well. (You're also in the minority.) As is so often the case, reality in this industry is often different from what is drawn up on paper. The reality is that other bank employees are worried about their own metrics-not yours-and if they remember to refer you, it's simply a bonus.

Then you have issues of trust (and I don't mean an investment trust). Trust officers may even see you as a threat.

However, it is not your boss's job to fix this situation. It also is not the bank president's job, or anyone else's for that matter.

The job is yours and yours alone. So how do you start? You need to think like a wholesaler. A wholesaler's job is to influence a large group of people to recommend their products. But in this case, the product isn't a mutual fund or any physical product. It's you. But there are still lessons to draw from the wholesaling playbook that can be adapted to solve this problem.

The first thing you need to do is build relationships. That means getting to know people and helping them solve their problems to earn their trust and respect.

If you don't know how to do that, just ask them. Believe me, they'll tell you. You can forget getting more referrals if you don't have much of a relationship. Just like the horse before the cart, the relationship has to come before the referral.

Next you have to turn up the volume and get your message out.

Forget about sending e-mails; they'll be deleted. Forget about stopping by their desk and chatting; people are too busy.

So what would a good wholesaler do? A "lunch and learn," of course. Pizza is always a good way to get a group together and the price of admission is your 10-minute presentation.

A mutual fund wholesaler would educate about products while you need to educate about how to identify potential referrals. I would go back to a referral you received in the past and talk about the needs of that client.

You should focus on how to identify that need, the dreadful consequences of the client leaving the bank without filling that need, and the exact words they should use to refer that client to you to fill that need.

Stories are great, examples are better and a testimonial is the best. If one person stands up and shares a story of how they identified the need, sent the client to you and the client was better served, everyone is a winner.

The important step is before your lunch. Check with people you have received a referral from and ask them if they would mind sharing their story during the meeting. If the bank provides a reward for referrals, a great time to present this reward is at the conclusion of that story in front of everyone present. Let them go back to work with their stomachs full but their wallets hungry.

I recommend holding the meeting on a regular schedule. Every two weeks is good, but never on a Friday. Say, the first and third Thursday of every month in the conference room. And you may need to do two shifts because not everyone takes lunch at the same time.

Another tool from the wholesaler bag of tricks is "trinkets and trash." Anything you have, like pens, mugs and T-shirts, can be used as prizes. If someone answers a question, they get a prize. They sent a referral; they get a prize, and so on.

Of course, role playing is also essential. Have them role play with one person as a customer and then switch. The best role playing participants should also get prizes.

If you need more ideas, ask your wholesaler contacts. They may even ask if they can attend the meeting.

To get the most benefit from these types of meetings, you'll need to provide recognition for every success. Have them stand up in the meeting and get cheered. If you have a reward system, hand them out.

And did I forget to mention the importance of contests? Yes, have a monthly contest for the most referrals and see what you are able to use as prizes (compliance may have a limit to what you can spend).

Each month only focus on one type of client need at a time. Focus on how to identify that need, what type of questions to ask and the exact script to refer you. Ongoing coaching by you as the leader is the only way to consistently make those referrals happen.

If you are not the only consultant in the bank, the semi-monthly lunch meetings may have some political ramifications that you need to work out. This is not the only way to get referrals, after all.

In conclusion, you need to be the leader in getting the referral process going, adopt some wholesaling type of techniques like lunch meetings, keep the referrals coming consistently, and provide ongoing coaching and recognition for success. At the end of the day, no one else is able to do this the way you can as a leader.

Todd Colbeck is founder and principal of Colbeck Coaching Group, a subsidiary of General Business Center. He can be reached at

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