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The Single Most Important Step in Asking for Referrals

When was the last time you did business with a person or company and they checked in with you later to see if you were a happy customer/client?  It doesn’t happen often. Why? Either they don’t have a system in place to make it happen, or they are afraid that something negative might come up. Or maybe it’s a combination of both reasons.

Of all the referral techniques I’ve taught over the years, hands down the most important and most effective technique is that of checking in with a client to see if they recognized the value of the work you’ve done for them. This conversation is called the value discussion, and it should be held at all stages of your relationships with prospects and clients. First, if there’s a problem that the prospect or client hasn’t voiced – because you haven’t stopped long enough to give them permission – then they are a candidate to move their business and you’re probably not very referable. Second, if they are happy with your work (which I suspect most of your clients are), then they are getting more in touch with the value you’ve provided and are, therefore, more predisposed to give you referrals.

Earlier this year, I delivered a referral seminar to a group of 41 financial advisors in Louisiana. After the session, their manager offered them an incentive to start holding value discussions with their clients. He told them that if they scheduled value discussions with 12 clients in a six week period, he would reward them with $250 of travel and entertainment money. Sixteen of these advisors completed the assignment on time. And these 16 advisors generated 132 referrals – just from the value discussion. That’s how powerful this technique is.

Getting the Most from Value Discussions

One best practice that’s used by many successful financial professionals is to let the client know – before the meeting – that they’ll be checking in with them at the meeting. In this way, the client won’t be surprised or thrown off in any way by a request to discuss what’s working and what’s not working.

One of the things we do at our Referral Boot Camp is hold sample conversations. Here is one that illustrates my point. Of course, these are generic examples. You must make this concept fit your own unique personality and your client relationships.

Before the Meeting

“George, I’m looking forward to our meeting in two weeks. I wanted to give you a heads-up on one of my agenda items. I want to check in with you to see how our relationship is going, and see if there are any areas of improvement you feel we can make  to make sure you’re getting the value you expect from our relationship. If you like, think a little bit about this before we meet.  Make sense?”

During the Meeting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            “George, you’ll see the next item on our agenda is ‘Value Discussion.’ Let’s put the market aside for a minute and talk about something we CAN control – that is, our relationship and the quality of our communication. Is there anything not working for you in our relationship?” (Let them respond. If it’s a significant problem, you may not want to ask for referrals until the problem has been resolved. But either way, make sure you get to the positive side of this discussion.)

“Well, I’m glad that you have no concerns about how we’ve been working together. Let’s move to the positive side. What value, do you feel, are you getting from our relationship?”

What to Ask in Your “Value Discussion”

The value discussion is at the heart of asking for referrals. It creates the right atmosphere for a great referral conversation. If done properly, the client will not feel “set up” but, rather, their working with you will be validated. I’ve seen many folks walk away from value discussions with both referrals and more assets on the spot – just by holding the value discussion. Here are a few questions you should consider asking. You probably won’t ask them all, and you make think of a few that are even better suited for yourself and your clients.

If you like, you can even email these questions to your client before the meeting, so they won’t be caught off guard and will be ready for the conversation.
1) In what ways, if any, am I falling short of your expectations? Please be specific.
2) In what ways am I exceeding your expectations? Please be specific.
3) Are we meeting often enough? Are we talking often enough?
4) Is there any area of financial planning that you feel unclear about or that you think we need to address further?
5) Please describe your experiences (favorable and unfavorable) with my assistant and/or my staff?
6) Please describe your experiences (favorable and unfavorable), if any, with my home office.
7) Looking over our entire working relationship, where do you feel we have been of value to you (and your family and/or your business)?

Bottom Line
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Make it a habit of checking in with your clients. Create an agenda for every meeting. One of those items should be “value discussion.” Let your new clients know that you’ll be checking in from time to time to make sure they remain satisfied – no… happy – with your work, and let your current clients know that you’ll be doing this more often.

About Bill Cates

Bill Cates
Bill Cates is the President of Referral Coach International.  His trademarked Referral Advantage™ Program has been featured in such publications as Success Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Selling Power and Research Magazine, and his own business success has been featured in Money Magazine. Bill is a regular contributing editor for many financial services publications. Visit his Web site at Bill Cates, author of “Get More Referrals Now!” and “Don’t Keep Me a Secret!” is offering you a free copy of his report “7 Deadly Referral Mistakes” as well as a subscription to his free referral newsletter with 30,000+ subscribers. (What do they know that you don’t?)  Go to  To contact Bill, send him an email at or call (301) 497-2200.

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