Here’s Why You’re Unconsciously Influencing People NOT to Refer You and What to Do About It (Which You Probably Want to Do Anyway)


In my previous article I asked you why you think your clients don’t refer your financial planning service. And more than 100 planners gave me a worthy answer.

However, I wonder if those planners have ever thought of this:

First, here are some of your answers:

  • People don’t know if financial planning will be suitable for others
  • People don’t feel comfortable when they refer
  • People fear they bring their relationship with their friends in jeopardy
  • People think their friends don’t need any advice
  • People just don’t like to talk about finances with other people

There are more than 100 other reasons why planners think their clients won’t refer their service.

That’s right. You assume your clients have reasons to not refer you. You assume your clients don’t want to help you.

But is that really true? Is your assumption right? Or is there something else going on?

Are You Prepared To Admit This?

Via Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success:

Back in 1835, social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Americans “enjoy explaining almost every act of their lives on the principle of self-interest”. He saw Americans “help one another” and “freely give part of their time and wealth for the good of the state”. However, he was struck by the fact that “Americans are hardly prepared to admit” that these acts were driven by a genuine desire to help others.

“I think that in this way they often do themselves less than justice”, he wrote.

A century and a half later, the Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow interviewed a wide range of Americans who chose helping professions. From cardiologists to rescue workers.

When he asked them to explain why they did good deeds, they referenced self-interested reasons, such as “I liked the people I was working with” or “It gets me out of the house”. They didn’t want to admit that they were genuinly helpful, kind, generous, caring or compassionate.

Do you recognize this? Then keep reading.

Although the majority of people most certainly won’t see financial planners as a ‘do-gooders’, I believe that most financial planners ARE do-gooders by nature.

However, the question is: are you able to admit – not only to yourself – but also to your peers, your friends and even your clients that you are in business for only one reason:

You Want to Help Other People

Or is this difficult for you? Well, you’re not the only one.

“We have social norms against sounding too charitable”, Wuthnow writes, such that “we call people who go around acting too charitable ‘bleeding hearts’, ‘do-gooders’.

If many people personally believe in giving, but assume that others don’t, the whole norm in a group or a company shifts away from giving.

This is exactly what is going on in the financial services industry. You see, empathy and emotional fluff isn’t valued in our industry.

It’s not tangible. It’s soft. It’s right-brain.

However, most financial planners hold giver or helper values. Actually, it’s why they became a financial planner in the first place- they want to help other people.

But now suppress or disguise these values under the mistaken assumption that other people don’t share these valuesBecause this is “how the industry works”.

When people assume that others aren’t givers, they act and speak in ways that discourage others from giving, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ Robert Wuthnow

So can it be true that you are actually a giving person and you are not expressing yourself as a giving person? (which I know you are)

Do you realize that when you are NOT expressing yourself as a giver or a helpful, caring person (and I repeat – which you are), it has the annoying effect that your peers – and even your clients – will also NOT help you, because of your own wrong assumption that others don’t share your values?

How To Disrupt This Annoying Effect

In his marvellous beststeller Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success professor Adam Grant explains how people who are in a position to provide help (like you), can disrupt this problem.

The first step is to make sure that you ask for help (like asking for a referral). However, that’s easier said than done.

Grant tells a short story about running his programm “Reciprocity Ring” with companies such as IBM, Citigroup, Estée Lauder and UPS and that many participants question whether others will actually give them the help they need.

It turns out that our expectations about people who want to help us are pretty underestimated. Here’s what Wharton found out:

  • In one study participants learned that they would be approaching strangers in New York City and asking them to fill out a survey. The participants estimated that only one out of every four people would say yes. In reality, when the participants went out and asked, one out of every two said yes
  • In another study in New York City, when participants approached strangers and asked them to borrow a cell phone, they expected 30% to say yes, but 48% did
  • When people approached strangers, and said they were lost and asked to be walked to a nearby gym, they expected 14% to do it, but 43% did
  • And when people needed to raise thousands of dollars for charity, they expected that they would need to solicit donations from an average of 210 people to meet their fund-raising goals, anticipating an average donation under $50. They actually hit their goals after approaching half as many people – on average, it only required 122 people, whose donations were over $60 each

So why do we underestimate the number of people who are willing to give? And why do you underestimatie the number of people who are willing to refer you and your financial planning service?

In a study by Frank Flynn and Vanessa Bohns it turns out that people like you tend to underestimate the role that embarassement plays in decisions about whether or not to ask for help.

We don’t want to look incompetent or needy, and we don’t want to burden others. There’s a pressure to look successful all the time. Opening up by asking for help would makes you vulnerable.

So, the question is: is it possible to not feel embarassed when asking for help?

According to Grant there’s little reason to feel embarassed when everyone is making a request. By making requests explicit and specific, you provide potential givers with clear direction how to contribute effectively.

Wharton tells about a research that shows that the vast majority of giving that occurs between people, is in response to direct requests for help. In one study he tells about managers describing times when they gave and received help. Of all the giving exchanges that occured, roughly 90% were initiated by the recipient asking for help.

So, let’s test this.

In this community are almost 1300 financial planners at this very moment. And I’m quite sure of the fact that we can help each other. Why? Because most planners share the same problems, have the same experiences and we all want to make financial planning matter (I hope…:-)).

Now, in my humble opinion there’s little reason to be embarrassed to help each other. You see, most financial planners who read this blog share the same values like you. They are giving, helpful people.

That’s why there’s no need to feel embarassed. There are already a huge amount of planners who open up by commenting. Just check out earlier articles.

So, why don’t you do too?

Why don’t you ask the readers of this blog for a little help?

And what if we help each other by sharing our knowledge – by giving a reply?

Just think of a problem you are facing today in your financial planning service. What is your biggest struggle?  It can be anything. Something big, something small. Something technical, something emotional. Anything.

I understand I already asked you this question in the past, but now I hope also other planners will contribute by helping you with their knowledge.

Just be very explicit and specific. Don’t ask: “How can I get my clients to pay my fees?” Ask: “How do I convince my clients about the fees I charge and why it is worth it, when they compare my service with my competitor on price?”

So, I’d like to ask you to Ask A Question. Make A Request. Don’t feel embarassed.

Do it by sharing your question in the comment section – below.

And when you think you can help another planner with your knowledge, please do. Don’t feel embarrassed.

When you ask a question or help another planner by sharing your knowledge by hitting the reply-button, you’ll receive the free PDF about Why You Don’t Have to Do A Single Thing to Receive Multiple Referrals

So, go ahead, ask a question (by commenting below) and help other planners (by reply-ing to a comment below).

One warning though : according to Grant the effect is that you begin to care about others, even if you have never met them…

To Your Success,



Leave a Reply 44 comments

Monisha Murthy Reply

Not clear with how to present financial planning to a prospect

Fotis Joannou Reply

Knowing how to ask is the problem I face around referrals

Brian Foster Reply

I\’m a believer in having a niche market. When you are narrow in the tyle of client you help, it is easier to become a \’go to\’ person for specific people. This has three advantages. Firstly, it is easy for clients to know who to refer… they look just like them. Secondly, there is a more obvious reason for the introduction, and thirdly, if you have developed a niche that you enjoy, your business will fill up with people you actually want to be part of it. The narrower the niche (micro-niche) the more powerful this becomes.

lilibeth Reply

i use a line which seems to work, I tell the client *Let s reverse our situation , you are the planner, I am the client, Who can you think of who might greatly benefit form my work?\”

Mahesh Reply

When is it good to ask for referral? After the implementation?

Jeff Lido Reply

Most of my referrals come from clients who are either newer and still excited about the process or ones that have been with me for years and know that value I provide and can communicate it well. I spend time with my clients and at the end of meetings assess how it went, evaluate their social circles and personality and determine whether they would be able to appropriately communicate to someone to come and see me. Not every client will be a good referral source.

jeff L Reply

Initial discovery meeting with new prospects. Our client/prospect ratio is poor. Need help converting at a higher level?



Brian Reply

I have the same feelings I have been reading about here when it comes to referrals.
Bill Cates, (not Gates), has an excellent system for Introductions, not just referrals. Google it. It takes you through 1st meeting to delivery and builds each step of the way.
I also have those that know me best send out small cards I provide that say, \”introducing\”, (me), He has been helpful to me…
That does far better on the follow up than just getting a phone # and name.

John J. Moroney Reply

I am relatively new to the business, and I feel hesitant to push people when they say that they do not wish to refer anyone.

John Russel Barbosa Reply

I always advice the Financial Planners in my team that to hit their targets, like MDRT, the best way to do it is to treat their top 20 clients to a coffee or lunch or dinner. During their conversation, thank their client for valuable contributions, share their target production and Ask for their help, by asking \”Could you possibly refer me to someone who might value my services? So I can help them with their financial plan as I have helped you?\” And it works like a charm. 🙂

Marty Reply

If you were in a meeting room with your client and a friend came over to say \”hello\” , you would introduce them to each other wouldn`t you ?
And they would do the same for you. It is about getting that same attitude and feeling about about introductions to others when you are alone with your client.

marc Reply

In his excellent book \”Stop Asking for Referrals\”, Stephen Wershing insists that asking for referrals is just plain wrong: it puts the relationship backwards; it put pressure on the client; it does not respect the natural process of how a referral occurs.

He argues that people refer to help a friend in need or to elevate their own social status. In other words, it\’s about them not about us. Therefore, he says we should do everything to ATTRACT not ASK for referrals.

He goes on to suggest a few strategies to attract referrals:
– Be good (outstanding) at what you do
– Remind clients that the business grows through referrals
– Make clients understand how they can help a friend by connecting them to you
– Need to check client satisfaction and act on the feedback
– Consistently communicate the solution you provide so that the client recalls you when the situation occurs
– Define precisely your ideal client and don\’t try to be everything to everyone
– Build a network

    ronald Reply

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for your reply. You might appreciate the fact that I invited Stephen to write a guest article about referrals. And he accepted…:-)


    Matt Reply

    i think these are really good points. It is also helpful if you can understand more about the business and social circles in which the client moves. I have also found that it is often the case that multiple referrals come from a small number of clients. Don\’t therefore expect every client to be a referral source. They probably won\’t be.

Dean Reply

Guilty as charged. We really should be more inclined to ask. I personally feel that most of my clients value their friendships more than their adviser and so wont give referrals, but in truth i have not tried so i will never know. Thanks for the insight guys.

rg sherrill Reply

I too – fail to ask as I don\’t want to make my clients feel awkward. Kas hit it on the head and makes a good point about how to reframe it.

Wayne Smith Reply

I just need to ask – it is that simple!

Kas Reply

Sage advice Ronald. I totally agree with you that there’s little or no reason to be embarrassed to help each other. Yet a lot of people fail to get referrals. One of the reason is that we think too much about our-self before asking for referrals. Questions like : Am I being too pushy? Am I getting red in the face? Am I embarrassing myself? , create fear and stop us from asking. A simple exercise for financial planners to overcome this feeling is to think about the couples whom they have helped retire comfortably, children who have been able to pursue their Harvard Dreams etc., think of many others who can benefit from the financial wisdom to live a financially independent life that they deserve and then ask for referrals with confidence!


Johnathan Schultz Reply

The biggest thing that I have learned by asking for referrals is to make sure that the client is on board with the process. If the client genuinely feels that there is a value to what they have just done and you feel that you have given them some value in any way, then it should just seem natural that you want to help others. Asking them for help so that you can spend more time helping others instead of being on the phone seems to make them feel like they are returning some value and that they are helping to protect people close to them that they care about.

Erik Reply

Ron, I really enjoyed the article.

I have found the ones who refer are those who I have really gotten to know on a personal level. I do believe that it is not easy for everyone so I have also found that asking clients for specific types of people is helpful. I think one of the challenges for the client is to narrow down who they would really like to refer from all the people they know. Asking them to refer someone specific like someone who is Married from 50-70 with over within 5 years of retirement can help them from being overwhelmed. Also, I have found explaining to your clients what their referrals can expect in detail can be helpful. When I explain to them that I like to meet a referral on neutral ground before they come to my office I think many feel more comfortable. This way your client knows you will have a chance to qualify each other personally before you get into a more professional setting.

Jeff Reply

I too am hesitant to ask for referrals. It seems like begging which a truly successful practice would not have to do. And I\’ve noticed a dramatic decline in the number of referrals offered over the past decade. Perhaps that is a function of an older clientele as I\’ve aged and the thought by my clients that their friends and associates are already \”taken care of.\” Years ago I did ask regularly and was successful at it. But at some point I stopped seeking referrals and my practice stagnated. I like John\’s approach with the satisfaction survey and will start to use that.

Marsha Reply

Count me in as one who avoids asking for referrals. I\’d like to know how you ask, what exactly to say. I am hosting a client appreciation lunch in a few weeks where clients are invited to bring a guest. I expect 20-25 people, half of which will be guests. I\’d like some suggestions on how to make this a \”thank you for your business\” occasion without being \”sales-y\”, yet I do want to follow up with the guests and get referrals from my current clients that attend.

    Pablo Reply

    Marsha, I too have encountered the same problem. I\’ve only hosted a handful of these events. The one thing that I have done since day one, is to have people sign in. I usually have a table at the entrance where I greet my client and their guest. Recognize them by first, or last name, and have them sign in. I ask for name, phone number and email address and usually my client signs in first. In doing so, the guest is most likely to provide their contact information. It\’s not hard for me to ask for a follow up meeting a few days later or for the guest\’s business but I find it difficult to pitch myself during an \”appreciation\” event.

Dan Reply

I took a personality test and it says I am a \”Social\” person. This allows me to make freinds but it prevents me from naturaly asking for a referral since I don\’t want to jeopardize the freindship. I have to recognize and overcome my \”nature\” in order to ask for a referral. I use the help model and ask clients for help to get connected to a specific person or company. It makes it easier for them to refer.

Marc Reply

I am fully guilty of the noted assumption that others might not be helpful, leading me to not ask for referrals in the first place. Having said this, as John Bloomfield outlined, I was successful in asking for referrals and actually getting them from the clients who I genuinely like and where the personal relationship was so strong that asking for a referral became natural. But I will try to copy the indirect method John is suggesting to improve my referral ratios.

Robert Berglund Reply

So should we, as advisors when asking for referrals, focus on their desire to help us, or on helping the ones they are referring us to? For a client we have not seen for awhile, could we use a letter sharing something of value, and requesting the referral followed up by a phone call?… or only as the result of a face-to-face review? Bob Berglund

Judy Reply

I will ask for referrals over multiple meetings and come out with \”my friends are just not ready or not interested or are not in the same place we\’re in financially\”. It can be disappointing to work with a fantastic client and know that likely his/her friends would be great prospects to meet and then come up short!

I believe that being THE resource person to my client leads to being top of mind with them. I often offer connections or provide introductions to people I network with which can lead to indirectly being referred back new business opportunities.

Terry Gelber CPA, EA, MTAX Reply

Would you refer financial planning clients to your CPA if the CPA also sells or recommends investments as well as provides tax services?

Some people think tax pros should only do tax work, and some people think it is a great idea because they understand tax consequences of the same investments.

Richard Taylor Reply

I suffer from the same issue as Sean, although it is getting better as I am being firmer in my assertion at the outset that I expect referrals in return for providing value with no promise of commitment or cost. But it\’s still hit and miss and can be awkward. Main blocker for me is I operate in a city where cold calling is rife and people are very mistrustful of financial advisers (which, as frustrating as it can be, is an opportunity for someone genuinely qualified and experienced, which I am).

Sean Reply

I ask clients for introductions to others at nearly every meeting. They have already agreed they found value in our current meeting, but still don\’t refer others. I am truly at a loss. How do I change this paradigm?

    Mike Leffler Reply

    Sean, a thought that occurs to me is to frame your service around specific clients and specific situations (assuming your not doing this already). You could think about a specific client type you would like to help most–employees of a certain company, people facing a certain financial challenge, etc. You may want to help people create an income stream from their portfolio, help widows who haven\’t dealt with finances before, etc. This type of framing can be communicated with your network to help them connect you with the type of people you are targeting. Now, I need to work more on this myself!

Bo Reply

My Question is:

Should you visist clients at their location, or should you only receive clients in your office. (save time, gas, etc.)

    Walter Reply

    Hi Bo,
    Obviously much more effectieve if clients come to you but it depends on how easy it is to get clients. If you are booked fully you will find it easier to push that they come to you. If you are hungry for business likely you are more willing to travel yourself. As long as you do business there is no best. Personally I prefer people to take the effort and come to me and prepare, for my time is costly. Some if my most wealthy clients travel so much that I am glad to get 30 minutes with them. Fine as long as we do business.

    Barb Williams Reply

    I always prefer to make my first appointment in my office, and for privacy matters, when personal data and concerns must be reviewed in detail. However, once the relationship is established for those who live at a distance I will meet them somewhere in-between and sometimes at their office or home. It just depends upon the relationship and the information being reviewed.

    Felicia Reply

    I would love to hear from others about getting clients to come to your office during working hours. I don\’t mind the kitchen tables, but 2-3 nights a week and take their toll.

Arnold Acosta Reply

I am guilty on what you said, that people \”don’t want to look incompetent or needy, and we don’t want to burden others. There’s a pressure to look successful all the time. \” Often times I think that when I ask for referrals from my clients, I am a big burden to them. What is your spiel when asking for referrals? When you had a sales presentation and the client said he is not ready to get from you, do you still ask for referrals?

    Shrikala Jammalamadaka Reply

    The same is for me. I did not want to ask for referrals, because i do not want to look needy and in particular do not want to be counted to those agressive kind of salesmen feared by every client. Furthermore, i thought that my financial advice was not good enough for my clients. I learned through other marketing consultants not to hesitate and dircctly approach my clients and ask for an \”assessment\” of my consultancy. And in fact, the did give quite positive response, some of which i now published on my website.

      John Bloomfield Reply

      If you are embarrassed about asking for referrals you can do it in an indirect manner too. Clients often worry that they are troubling you by referring their friends because you are so busy and successful already – I\’ve seen this lots in my own client bank.

      When I first started in the industry I used to post clients a satisfaction survey to ask for feedback at the end I used to write in pen a note saying why I had enjoyed working with them specifically and if they knew anyone else they thought I would enjoy working with please pass on my card, and enclose a couple of business cards.

      A couple of years in I looked at which clients refer and which didn\’t to see if I could up my referral rate without doing all the cheesy in your face stuff the sales books suggest. What I found was that clients I genuinely liked referred more and when I had been really busy I hadn\’t sent out the survey – clients who had the survey were about 6 times more likely than those who didn\’t to make a referral.

      So maybe think of an indirect way to do it – or feel free just to rip off my idea if you prefer 😉 try it for 6-12 months and see if it makes any impact.

        Bony Haro Reply

        John, that is a great idea. Would you mind sharing the survey with us to get a sense of what questions and how are they posed to clients.

        Sean Hinson Reply

        Great idea John

        Thank you and with respect , I am going to rip off your idea.

        Thanks for your help

        Barb Williams Reply

        John, thank you for sharing your approach. Are you willing to give us some ideas as to the important questions to ask and the length of the survey? Although in our current digital world I see red when surveys are requested, I believe that the right questions and length along with the personal note could be a valuable tool.

    Richard Butt Reply

    I get your point and suffer the same problem. I have tried to get around it by doing and thinking the following. If you have done a great sales presentation and given brilliant advice to the client ( I am sure you have), the client has already received something great from you even though he didn\’t buy from you…..if a client has received something valuable why wouldn\’t they refer you out at the very least to help others they know… prepared in how you ask for referrals is key ie what you say, the way you say it (tone etc), always ensure you keep asking for referrals on your meeting agenda.

    Tasjah Reply

    Yes…you still ask for referrals. After confirming from the client if he or she thought the info was valuable for others….then go for the referrals!!!!

    Susan Reply

    During my time with clients or prospective clients I simply share that I am accepting new clients and if someone comes to mind as we walk through the process I\’m happy to help.

    That way they actually know that I am interested, it plants a seed, and it\’s not pushy; it doesn\’t feel pushy to me. \”The battle is between the ears.\”

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