Every salesperson has wrestled with the age-old question, “What’s the best way to get referrals?” Depending on how you’ve been trained, you might have a few different ways to answer. Many say “ask” or “ask the right way" or “make sure you’re planting referral seeds along the way to make it easier for someone to provide them to you” but I beg to differ. I have always found that the best way to get referrals is to be referrable. To me, there is only one way to be referrable in our industry: by creating a superior client experience that fosters stark raving fans.
The most successful companies in today’s economy are building themselves around one single focus: creating an exceptional consumer experience, one that goes beyond just products and solutions but connects to how people think and feel. How clients and prospects experience the totality of our practices matters more than ever – from on-boarding, to execution, to ongoing service. In the book The Experience Economy, authors James Gilmore and Joseph Pine II argue that businesses must orchestrate memorable experiences for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product! The experience economy can be quantified as the economic value of an experience, which is a psychological process we go through, not just one centered around transactions or even a professional relationship.
When the book was written back in 1999, the authors likely had little idea of what would become the digital economy of today. This digital frontier not only connects us like never before but is built around highly customized and cultivated experiences. To successfully harness the power of the online frontier, we must build a standout brand that is the focal point of everything we do as professionals.
Build the brand and they will come
Great brands are not about products or selling things, they are about creating exceptional experiences that foster repeated buying behaviors – think of Apple or Disney. These brands attract a strategic audience that has a high level of synergy with what they offer:
- They focus on improving lives, not providing us with stuff.
- They demonstrate a unique understanding of their audience.
- They encourage responses and foster engagement.
- They develop community, not just a growing list of customers to sell to.
The right brand delivers a superior experience, one that turns clients into stark raving fans, but also one that allows your fans to tell everyone they know about you. In the digital landscape word of mouth has become world of mouth, and the right brand and content engine makes singing your praises to others easier than ever.
In addition to your brand, what other factor is necessary for your success? Laser-focused Niche Market development. The most successful financial professionals build their practices around niche markets – they do not try to reach a mass audience; they concentrate instead on pursuing their ideal clients. They have an “ideal client profile” that includes not just demographic information, such as profession or affluence, but also their digital market preferences as well, such as which Social Media platforms they are on and what kind of content they like to consume.
The riches are in the niches
Why is this true? Simply because in today’s digital marketplace, mass marketing and “spray and pray” simply do not work anymore. People looking to work with someone financially are not looking for “someone close by” with a certain set of credentials. Consumers are looking at professionals based on values, a demonstratable unique value proposition that speaks to them individually, and a significant amount of potential synergy. Properly developing a niche accomplishes these things for you. You develop a personal brand, built not on what you do but why, giving potential clients the chance to connect with you on terms important to them. You stand out in a niche as a subject matter expert, instead of just a professional that markets to said niche. Imagine what it would be like for your practice if the major players and influencers in your niche all looked at you as the "go-to" for the industry. It's the difference between selling to versus selling from within.
Harness the power of persuasion
- Commitment & Consistency: People crave consistency – we never want to be seen as hypocritical – so help your clients verbally recognize what they really want to do, and then become the facilitator in making that a reality. Once they have said “this is what I want” then it’s next to impossible for them to behave in a manner that undermines that statement without experiencing significant psychological turmoil. Cialdini emphasizes that getting people to commit to small actions can lead to larger commitments over time, as individuals want their behavior to align with their previous statements.
- Social Proof: People often look to others for guidance on how to behave in uncertain situations. Cialdini argues that by showcasing the behavior of others, particularly those similar to the target audience, you can influence their decisions and actions. When you have a strong brand that shines in your niche market, you’re already a bit of a celebrity and have the social proof necessary to reinforce why someone would have a great experience working with you.
- Authority: People tend to follow the lead of credible and authoritative figures. Cialdini suggests that by establishing your expertise and credibility, you can increase your influence over others. In the digital marketplace, people are looking for subject matter experts that can guide them toward making the right financial decisions that will change their lives.
Facilitate decision making
Our finances should be a means to living our best lives, never a stumbling block. But with so much information out there, much of it conflicting, it can be hard to navigate a way forward with confidence. The best financial professionals have one job: facilitation. As professionals, we must empower people to live enriched lives and not be held captive by financial stress. I guess you could say we are in the human transformation business. Be part teacher, part therapist and create a safe space for people to dive into their money concerns with you. What financial decisions do people want to make but don’t know how to make, or are too scared to make? What financial stressors exist? What keeps them up at night? Encourage honesty and vulnerability and demonstrate empathy and understanding. Then simply help your clients make the decisions that they want to make but did not yet know how to make until you helped them!
No more asking for referrals
When clients repeatedly enjoy the benefits of good financial decisions, they will be your best fans, because that is a positive life experience they will not want to give up. To help your fans rave about you, get them to engage with your online community so they can become your digital brand ambassadors. Because, stark raving fans will always share their experiences with others!
Brian Haney, CLTC, CFBS, CFS, CIS, CAE, RFC, LUTCF, LACP is the Founder and CEO of the Haney Company in Silver Spring, MD. As a branding enthusiast he started his consulting practice Advisor Branding Solutions to help financial professionals achieve digital marketing success. Brian is a NAIFA National Trustee and was awarded NAIFA’s 4 under 40 Award in 2017, their Diversity Champion Award in 2018, and was NAIFA’s YAT Leader of the Year in 2021.