A Win-Win Client Referral Strategy

Asking clients for referrals can be a win-win for everyone.


  • Use enlightened self-interest to engage your clients in the referral process.
  • Deliver the referral request at the appropriate time in your discussion with existing clients.
  • Shift focus from “Help me, help me!” to “Help me help you.”


Incorporate this script into your annual review or over lunch with clients you wish to replicate.


“Mary, have I ever explained to you how we manage our practice? Great, let me take a moment and explain it because it impacts you as a client. Every business in the United States has two fundamental requirements if they’re going to survive: to grow and to serve. Fail at either, and over time the business will atrophy and die. One of the greatest challenges is allocating time and resources appropriately to those two critical requirements. Many advisors spend 70% of their time trying to grow and only about 30% of their time actively engaged in serving their existing clientele. We have reversed those percentages in our practice, which is one of the many benefits of our team structure. We spend 70% of our time working with our existing clientele and only about 30% trying to grow our practice. I assume that, as a client, you would like us to continue to work that way? Great! The only way we have been able to accomplish this is with the help of our best clients.

Those clients consistently introduce our team to individuals and families that they believe can benefit from our services. Now before you give me any names, let me describe the kind of people that we are best designed to serve. And frankly Mary, this is the easy part. If we had 100 clients just like you, not only would we be one of the most productive practices in Dallas, we would be one of the happiest; because our friendship transcends a purely business relationship. So Mary, I’d like you to think of two or three people that when you look at them, you feel like you’re looking into a mirror. Now when I said that … who just popped into your mind?"

Now, the key to this referral request is that it only works for those clients that you wish to clone. If this is not true, it will be blatantly disingenuous and therefore fail miserably.

However, for the right client, whose relationship with you truly transcends a purely business relationship, this can work beautifully for the following reasons:

  • It’s genuinely flattering
  • It engages one of the most powerful human instincts, enlightened self-interest. “It is in my interest to keep you off the streets and in front of my portfolio.”
  • The request is specific (when you look at them … ) rather than general (who do you know … ), which of course brings specific and prequalified people to mind

Handle it correctly and clients won’t see your asking for referrals as a self-interested request for new business, but an opportunity to help their family and friends.

Take Action

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Why This Matters

There are two problems with the vast majority of referral requests:

  1. The underlying premise of most referral requests is, “Help me, help me!” but the underlying premise of these requests needs to leverage enlightened self-interest to reflect a “help me help you” relationship.
  2. The traditional referral request usually begin with, “Do you know anyone” … or… “Who do you know?” which basically gives the potential referring source the entire planet to filter through, in an often vain attempt to come up with a suitable referral.

See the CEO Advisor Institute Compelling Conversations Guidebook here.