Best source of referrals? Not clients

Accountants, lawyers, et al., deliver more-promising prospects; nonprofits another opportunity

May 24, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

By Liz Skinner

The lion's share of financial advisers say other professionals — not clients — are their best source for bringing in new accounts. And those who take a deliberate approach to seeking such referrals are seeing even more business walk through their doors.

Michael Fischer, founder and principal Sequoia Financial Advisors Inc., said the firm is easily adding eight to 10 clients a year now that it has a focused strategy for courting its two favorite accounting firms and two law firms.

“Referrals used to be a random pleasant event; now, every month, we get a couple of invitations and referrals,” Mr. Fischer said. “I feel so much more relaxed.”

In fact, about 61% of advisers said accountants, lawyers and other centers of influence were their best source of new clients, according to a CEG Worldwide LLC survey in 2010.

Several years ago, Sequoia sought help from a Genworth Financial Wealth Management Inc. coach who helped the firm replace its existing plan for attracting referrals, which consisted of taking accountants and lawyers to lunch — something that everyone else was doing, too.

Today it has a calendar with a series of monthly events, communications and other outreach to its top centers of influence, including sending accountants baskets shortly before the April 15 tax deadline “to invigorate them to cross the finish line.”

Mr. Fischer also now brings an accountant with him in a client meeting when taxes are a focus or a lawyer when the meeting involves estate planning. He also became an expert in Social Security-claiming strategies, and offers continuing education to these other professionals on that topic.

“Now I'm a resource for knowledge, and it's helped us nurture the relationships with these firms so we work together more closely,” Mr. Fischer said. “They generate enough business for us to grow at a nice pace without killing ourselves.”

Focusing on gaining referrals from other professionals also has meant he doesn't have to ask clients to recommend him to friends and family, something he is uncomfortable with and believes sends the wrong message to clients.

Matt Matrisian, Genworth's practice management director, said advisers are most successful with attracting referrals from other professionals when they are “deliberate about adding value to the relationship.”

He said advisers should thank accountants and lawyers for every referral, and should do so in a public way. He recommends, for instance, instead of sending a gift basket to the professional's home, send it to the office where it will be shared by staff and maybe clients.

“Leverage the thanks,” he said.

In addition to accountants and lawyers, some advisers may be positioned to gain referrals from the leaders of a nonprofits to which they have a personal connection and have helped raise funds, Mr. Matrisian said.

With the approval of the board, an adviser could be offered access to donors, he said.

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