Sometimes when writing an article, it takes a spark to ignite my train of thought.

One such spark occurred recently while involved in a video conference with the Dimensional practice management team from across the other side of the pond. It was a great forum for learning and gave me a detailed understanding of some of the innovative ideas for advisers and planners that are coming out of the States.

One statement in particular struck a chord with me. The host emphasised how the best firms, those which remain ahead of the curve, focus on “creating an appetite to refer”.

This resonated perfectly with what the team at ClientsFirst and Adviser Store have been pushing for years - condensing it all into a valuable nugget. The best marketing starts with the client experience and your clients are your best marketing tool.

If you deliver an exceptional proposition, doing the rest is much simpler. Consistently, the most successful firms I work with are those that generate the highest proportion of referrals.

How do they do this?  

They create such a great experience that their clients are enthused to be working with them. They make their clients feel proud of being connected to their firm and highly valued.

Their interactions with their clients go beyond the format of a formal client-adviser relationship and become something more; something which their clients shout about. They build - at risk of sounding like a New Age spiritual guru - a ‘meaningful connection’ with their clients.

Firms that emphasise this type of relationship generate many more referrals than those who do not. However, it’s no accident that they do this. These firms craft such relationships through carefully curating an experience that makes the client feel special.

Greatest is best

I’m sure most of your clients think you’re great. After all, you’ve probably advised them on some tough financial decisions in the past and delivered measurable results. They’ll be forever grateful for the sound advice and stewardship of their personal wealth. And it’s likely the clients of your competitors will feel the same about them.

Advisers who do their job well generally have high rates of client satisfaction.

Most of your clients might think you’re great, but will they refer? Possibly not. In Britain, people are renowned for being stand-offish about their finances. Generally speaking, how they manage them is unlikely to pop up in informal conversation. Good advice alone is unlikely to cause your clients to tout the many benefits of signing up with your firm.

To generate steady referrals you need to deliver added value. You create an appetite to refer by being awesome. By being better. The best. While someone’s personal investment portfolio mightn’t emerge in conversation, a memorable client experience is far more likely to come up. Instances like these can be the gateway to eventual referrals. They get you on the radar of your clients’ friends, colleagues and family.

Sweating the small stuff

Generating a steady stream of referrals is all about doing things differently, and adding those extra touches to the delivery of your proposition that other firms don’t. Being creative, being exciting and being authentic. All in all, having some pizazz.

Being the best means creating a client experience filled with memorable little details. These details have an immersive effect which they generate through creating a warm and constant presence in clients’ lives.

Client gifts are a great example of small details that fuel referrals later on. These can be anything; I’ve known of firms doing everything from sending new clients high quality kitchen knives to indoor plants and even oven gloves.

One way I like to think about what constitutes a worthwhile gesture is to ask yourself: “Would this be talked about at a dinner party?” If it's too dull, rudimentary or unimpressive, don’t bother with it. Within reason, the quirkier the better.

Client gifts are just the start. Do your clients come down for meetings in offices that are identikit blue and beige? If so, improving the client-facing side of your offices should definitely be on your agenda.

Something else to consider is where do your clients wait for meetings? I’m sure we’re all aware of how unpleasant waiting in an uninteresting room can seem. This space should be as nice as possible - ensure you have staff on hand to attend to clients' needs. If you have anything that resembles a doctor’s surgery waiting room, you should renovate this as soon as you can.

Be good enough to eat

If you’re going to give your clients an appetite to refer, you need to create a firm tasty enough to eat.

Good financial advice or planning is enough to make your firm ‘filling’ but not enough to astound. To be widely recommended, you need to do extra, and it’s the exceptional little things that provide the client experience equivalent of fine dining.

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