Referability is a long-term game; it’s not a drive-by event but a well-planned, precisely calculated marathon. Repetition, consistency, and authenticity build trust and are the foundational tools of the referral trade. . . Commitment to a remarkable difference demonstrates that yours is not a gimmick. ~John Jantsch, The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself
Asking for referrals is often cited by advisors as one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the profession. There are natural fears involved for both the advisor ("will I compromise my relationship with the client by asking for referrals?") and for the client ("will my advisor have less time for me," "what if my advisor's advice to my friend backfires and my friend blames me?", etc., etc.) Even if asking for referrals is not something that makes you uncomfortable, all clients are different and for some it will be uncomfortable on their part. I first raised this topic in the post "Are You Laying The Groundwork To Boost Your Referrals?" and I hope you'll read that before continuing here — it's a brief introduction to what I'll be laying out in this post and several others to follow over time. I won't be covering different methods for asking for referrals — you can google that topic and find tons of advice if that's the way you want to go. What I'll be exploring are ways that you can systematically build client trust in order that they will be naturally motivated to recommend you to others in their lives, as well as other methods you can use to inspire prospects to reach out to you, regardless of whether or not it is coming on the back of a referral.
The opening quote above compares referability to a marathon and I believe it an apt metaphor. Asking for referrals then, without having laid the groundwork to earn them (or to manage them), might be compared to a sprint, i.e., not a sustainable tactic for gathering referrals over the long haul. While in later posts I'll go into greater detail on ways that you can build trust, the primary focus here will be on some of the tech tools you can use to assist you in handling the referral process or improving your referral numbers. Without systems in place to effectively manage your clients and those they refer to you, you're likely to find that a lot of the little things that can really earn client trust get overlooked.
CRM: Consistent Processes, Accessible Data and the Human Touch
Consistency is one of the keys to establishing your trustworthiness to your clients, and CRM provides ways to achieve the level of consistency required to earn that trust. Even better, while CRM serves well as your primary tech for client relationship management, many of the same tools it offers can be used for prospects / referrals as well. Because CRM allows you to systematize and streamline processes, to take detailed notes and to tag and categorize clients and prospects as much as you would like, and to establish many different points of contact based upon available reporting of your tags and categorization, you have the perfect toolbox at your disposal for managing all of your referrals in a consistent and authentic manner. Let's take a look at some of these CRM tools and how they can be applied to the referral process itself.
Workflows / Checklists for Referrers and Referrals
Your first step when building Workflows or Checklists in Redtail should be a brainstorming session with all of those staff members who will actually have a part in handling the tasks involved in the process being built out. Whiteboard everything that needs to be included in the process so that you have a clear idea of what the process will need to look like prior to building the Workflow or Checklist within Redtail itself. This is invaluable in terms of making sure no steps are left out — perhaps more importantly it can clarify where some of your processes may need changing in order to improve the client / prospect experience. Without well-defined and easily manageable processes, making sure that you meet client-wide service level expectations can prove near impossible.
In regard to processes for handling referrals, meeting those expectations can mean the difference between a client serving as a referrer once or instead becoming a referral machine for you. You should set up Workflows or Checklists both in regard to how you handle thanking the referrer themselves and to how you approach and follow up with those referred to you. Your referrers need to have confidence that when they perform the valuable service of sending potential business your way that those they have referred will be thankful to them.
While Checklists function more as a simple task list for a given process (which is sometimes all that is needed), Workflows are flexible enough to allow you to handle whatever processes you have in place, no matter how many staff members are involved. Similarly, whether there are two tasks involved in a process or 50, Redtail Workflows will greatly simplify the issues you may have been facing in making sure that crucial tasks are performed in a timely manner.
The bottom line on this is that if your current clients feel that you and your staff are at the top of your game, they are much more likely to stick with you as their trusted advisor — as well as to refer you to others in their lives. On the other hand, if your office leaves the impression of operating in a haphazard fashion, you're unlikely to gain any referrals from your current client base that you've worked so hard to cultivate.
The More You Know . . .
I'm going to talk a great deal in the next post in this series about establishing a targeted, ongoing sharing strategy in order to nurture your client relationships. Here I just want to briefly point out some of the tools within Redtail CRM that you can use as segmentation tools in order to support those targeted efforts.
If you enter information into Redtail, odds are there is a quick method for searching for it and retrieving it at a later date. Here is a list of searchable fields within Redtail CRM. In addition to those types of Advanced Searches, you can also search User Defined Fields and send those results to your Advanced Search page. Similarly, you can run Notes Reports for whatever time frame you would like and send those results to your Advanced Search page. Also, Standard Reports within Redtail provide you an easy way to isolate specific client segments in order to take further action.
What's the point of spelling all this out here? Taking careful notes and entering as much data as you can about each of your clients and prospects is essential groundwork for later being able to know with whom you might want to share interesting or important information that comes across your desk. When you can easily retrieve a list of clients that might have a strong interest in information you have to share, you're more likely to follow through and actually share that information and, consequently, further solidify those client relationships.
The Human Touch
Using your CRM effectively can be a game changer for your office in terms of garnering referrals. If 1) your staff is diligent about taking careful notes and entering everything you know and learn about your clients within Redtail, 2) you've defined your processes using Workflows and Checklists and 3) you begin using the available tools for targeted and ongoing sharing, you're creating an environment where your clients can always feel that they are receiving a personal touch, which is exactly the type of service provider that people tend to refer to those they care about. I won't underplay the value of the technology itself, but its true value lies in the human touch that it allows you to provide to all of your clients.
Website: Is Yours Serving as a Welcome Mat or a Warning Sign?
If CRM is the heart of handling referrals, your website can certainly play a deciding factor in whether or not prospects actually reach out to you after being referred by one of your clients. If you've invested your time and energy in cultivating a great experience for your clients, you don't want to fall down when it comes to how you present your business online (either on your website or elsewhere online).
Odds are that, even when someone has referred you, that potential new prospect is going to seek you out online first to see what they can find out about you and your business. It may not have been this way as little as ten years ago, but now a large majority of people take a look at any goods or services they are interested in online before ever making a phone call or visiting a storefront.
So, how well does your website represent the image you are trying to present. Are you putting your best foot forward for those who may be looking at your service for the first time? Do you keep your website updated to reflect current staff and services? Do you spell out what it is that your office does well, who you are best equipped to serve and what value you can bring to their lives? Does your website feature a blog where prospects can learn more about your take on financial matters? Are you using real photos of staff and your office or stock imagery — if the latter, you may want to consider using real photos to create a more personal connection from this very first "meeting".
Furthermore, outside of the content on your website, how up-to-date is it in terms of available technology today? Does it look like it was built ten years ago? Was it built ten years ago? If so, it may be time to reinvest in your site so that it loads quickly, looks great and performs well. Note that I used the word "reinvest" here — your website should be viewed as an investment rather than an expense, as if it leads prospects through your door rather than turning them away you will recoup the costs of a new build or updates to an existing site.
Finally, by all means make sure that your contact information (phone number and email address) are easily visible and accessible throughout your website. If a prospect decides to reach out to you, make it easy for them to do so before they get distracted by other things.
Videoconferencing: Meet Where They Want
Just as the internet has changed prospects' ability to research your firm prior to deciding whether or not engagement with you is desirable, it has also expanded their options in terms of how they are able to participate in meetings or discussions. Broadband availability and usage has made videoconferencing, which in the not-too-distant past was sketchy at best, a suitable method for communication in those situations where travel makes a face-to-face meeting prohibitive. Or, in those cases where a prospect makes the request to meet by videoconference, whatever their reason may be. In short, regardless of your preference for how you like to conduct meetings, you should be flexible to meet the desires and capabilities of your clients and prospects as technologies continually evolve.
If you're feeling hesitant about introducing videoconferencing as an available means of client/prospect communication, consider the below from a recent InvestmentNews piece, "How advisers will communicate with clients in five years":
Video conferencing, in particular, looks to take off substantially: nearly 1 in 3 advisers said they would rely on it in five years — a meteoric jump from the less than 1 in 20 who said they do so now.
Investors, however, weren't quite as bullish in predicting its future prevalence, with a lesser 1 in 5 saying they thought they would rely on video conferencing. But among investors under age 45 — advisers' next generation of client — that figure was 28%, closely matching adviser perspective, and a sign that advisers are on track with their plans to make video conferencing a more important piece of their service delivery in the future.
In other words, over one in four of your next generation of clients will expect videoconferencing as an option and if you aren't willing to provide that option, another office will. Aside from this, including videoconferencing in your stable of options may allow you to expand your geographical reach as well, if that is something you are interested in doing.
If you have little experience with videoconferencing software, Business News Daily takes a look at six affordable videoconferencing solutions here.
Content Gathering, Management and Sharing Tools: Share it if You've Got it
In the next post in this series on boosting your referrals, I'll be taking a look at ways you can begin developing a targeted, ongoing sharing (of information) strategy in order to build client rapport and trust. But, since this post is concerned with tech tools, I want to go ahead and lay out some of the tools that may aid you in those efforts. You should by no means consider this list exhaustive, but rather just a quick look at a few of the tools I've found effective. If they don't work for you, there are lots of other options out there for you to consider.
Flipboard, Feedly, News 360, Reverb — of these four, I've spent the most time with the first two. Were it not for the fact that Zite is going away, it would be at the top of my list here. But, Zite was acquired by Flipboard in March of 2014, and is expected to go away by the end of this year. I'm hopeful that Flipboard will take the best of what Zite offered and incorporate those features into what they do well. That said, each of the four apps listed here offers various ways for you to personalize topics or sources of information that are of interest to you (or your clients) that you can browse at your leisure.
What do you do with content that you've discovered that you want to share? If you want to share it immediately, your course of action may be as simple as an email, a phone call or a text if you're only sharing with one client. Or, it may mean using one of the social channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) buttons within those apps if you want to share it generally to all of your followers. But, if it's content that you want to share with a select group of clients, you may want to save it for later so that you can come back to it, after getting your list of recipients together in Redtail and crafting a message to go along with the content you're sharing.
My top tool for saving content, with no competition, is Evernote. I use it everyday for lots of different purposes and it syncs between my computer, smartphone and tablet, meaning I always have everything I've saved in Evernote with me. In addition to being able to email content you find elsewhere into a specific Evernote Notebook you've previously set up, you can also use Evernote Web Clipper to add content (full page, article, selection or URL) you find while surfing into one of your Notebooks. I won't go any further here about describing all the different ways you can use Evernote, but I can heartily recommend it as a tool for saving content for later sharing.
How you share is going to depend largely upon the information you're sharing and your intended audience, but outside of the one-on-one and social methods mentioned above, you might also consider beginning a blog (or firing up your existing one, if you've been neglecting it), sending Broadcast Emails from within Redtail, using one of our Email Marketing partners such as MailChimp or Constant Contact or using another delivery mechanism with which you're familiar or comfortable.
Which tools you use will be up to you. What is important is that you have your tools in place so that you can know when something might be relevant to a client, or a subset of clients, or all of your clients, and then be able to effectively manage that content for sharing when appropriate.
Be on the Lookout for New Tools That Sound Promising
You can't try everything, but you can give those tools that look particularly promising a go. You never know what new tools (or existing tools of which you were previously unaware) will come along and make a profound impact on your processes. Whether a tool immediately presents itself as one that will aid with referrals, just bear in mind that anything that helps you serve your clients better is a referral-building tool. Trust Company of America published a white paper a few months back titled "20 New Technologies Every RIA Needs to Try". You can view that here. While many of the tools on their list will probably be familiar to you, you might spot a few that hold potential for improving your processes.
If you don't already, I would also recommend that you subscribe to Bill Winterberg's FPPad Newsletter, as he does a great job each week of covering the big changes in financial planning technology.
Finally, using some of the Content Gathering tools I mentioned above, subscribe to topics or sources that cover advisor tech and scroll through new stories there when you have a few moments.
Perhaps the most important thing you should take from this post is a willingness to 1) explore how your current tech solutions can be put to greater use in your referral efforts, 2) consider replacing those solutions that hinder those efforts and 3) remain alert for those solutions that hold great promise in this area, always bearing in mind that gains in efficiency and productivity often lead to increased client satisfaction levels and, consequently, an increased willingness to provide referrals. Your tech tools should underpin your referral efforts by streamlining and supporting your processes, allowing the "repetition, consistency, and authenticity [that] build trust and are the foundational tools of the referral trade".
In future posts in this series, I'll take a look at some specific referral-building tactics you might implement to help you move further away from "the ask" for referrals and more toward the reputation- and relationship-building activities that will prove more sustainable over the "marathon".