We all ask people around us for recommendations on products and services – or give recommendations ourselves. And when it comes to professionals that deal with important personal matters, trust is fundamental. This is where those close to us who have experience with a professional are in a great place to make trusted recommendations.

The power of these trusted connections is evident in the financial advice industry. We surveyed around 700 people to understand behaviours and attitudes to referrals. Finding an adviser through friends, family and colleagues was the main path (38%) for those who now have an adviser. Still, there’s untapped potential in your clients’ network. Two-thirds had never recommended their adviser – yet 50% said they would if given the opportunity. That means that given the right conditions, your referrals could double.

We recognise that asking for referrals can feel uncomfortable, for you and your clients, so how can you ease this process and unlock their potential? Here we present our findings and outline a strategic approach you can take to boost referrals for your business.

1. Understanding referrals in four phases

2. Barriers and drivers of referrals

3. A systematic approach to becoming referrable

1. Understanding referrals in four phases

A new client by referral isn’t something that happens in one go. We’ve identified four phases where your referral potential can be impacted. 

1. Client relationships

Simply put, if your clients aren’t happy with your services, they won’t refer you. They must feel satisfied with your service, and recognise the overall value you bring, beyond just your technical expertise. It’s important that your clients have an accurate perception of your value as this is what they’ll ‘transmit’ to their friends and family when talking about you.

2. Transmission

This is the stage where your clients choose to engage – or not – with their peers about you. When they do engage, they’re effectively promoting you. We call this phase ‘transmission’. In this moment your clients are the gatekeepers defining a first impression of you. What they say and how they say it could make all the difference.

3. Contemplation

A prospect is unlikely to become a client overnight. They might take time to research you and your competitors and think about their options. It’s important that prospects find information and stories that resonate with them, such as relatable, quality reviews from other clients.

4. Connection

The peer of your client has made contact – how do you successfully get them over the line as clients? This phase is about making a human connection, demonstrating your value and following up at the right time.

Tax advisor with a client

2. The barriers and drivers of referrals

Barriers to referrals

Providing good value and having satisfied clients is crucial, but good motivation and intent are often not enough to guarantee successful referrals. You also need to identify bottlenecks and remove (even small) barriers.

The biggest drop in referral potential comes during the transmission phase, which relies on your clients’ interactions with their peers. Here are some of the barriers that could come with this phase:

  • Lack of opportunity to discuss financial advice with peers
  • You’re not at your clients’ front of mind all the time
  • Your client isn’t sure of who you can help and what you offer
  • People feel uncomfortable discussing finances with peers
  • Your clients aren’t aware that you’re open to referrals

Transmission isn’t the only phase where bottlenecks can occur. During the contemplation phase, potential clients could be put off if they don’t feel connected with your business or understand how you can support their specific problem. Others might be confused by the way any jargon or fees are presented. Finances are a mean to goals and wellbeing, so people need to feel connected to you at a human/emotional level.

In the connection phase, human elements such as procrastination and lack of motivation could deter a successful referral. Establishing an emotional connection and having a well-structured process is important in turning a prospect into a client.

Drivers of referrals

We know what’s blocking referrals, but what drives them?

  • Satisfaction – as you’d expect, the more satisfied a client is, the more likely they are to refer. Moving the needle from 4 stars to 5 stars can pay off.
  • Being proactive with check-ins – proactively calling your clients is associated with a higher chance of referrals. Aim to do so twice a year, or once a quarter if you can.
  • Indicate your capacity for referrals – when you’re clear and intentional about your ability to help their peers, clients are more likely to refer. 
mature man working from home or sorting the home finances

3. A systematic approach to becoming referrable

So far we’ve done a deep dive to understand referrals. But how can you use this information in a systematic way?

We’ve organised these insights into a three-part framework to maximise referrals.

1.  Reframing referrals – it’s all about helping

2. Become referrable in the first place

3. Strategising – plan and implement a strategic approach rather than a single tactic

1. Reframing referrals – it’s all about helping

People just want to help those they care about. In our survey, 96% of those who had made a referral said their main motivation was to help their family, friends or colleagues. Not to help their adviser.

Your first step is to really digest this fact. You’re not asking for a favour. Effectively, you’re opening up the opportunity to help people they care about. You can do this at three levels – your attitude, behaviour and language:

  • Attitude – your clients want to help their peers. Your role is to facilitate this chain of helping.
  • Behaviour – build a habit of helping by doing so often and authentically. Offer help to clients when you see an opportunity (even for services you don't provide but you have a good contact for in your network). Internally to your office, share stories and resources on how you’re all helping clients.
  • Language – words can carry a lot of weight, so choose them wisely. For example, 'getting referrals' can have some negative and ‘salesy’ connotation. Instead, you can use ‘introductions’ and put the onus on the support for your clients’ peers. 

2. Become referrable in the first place

The second part of this framework is that to succeed with ‘introductions’, you need to prepare and focus on:

  • Satisfaction – increase levels of satisfaction as much as possible and measure it.
  • Value – list all you do that adds value to a client and what else you can do. Talk to your clients and help them understand the value they get and guide them to build a narrative around it.
  • Strategy – becoming referrable isn’t about one moment in time. Consider all the phases, barriers and touchpoints to implement a broader referral strategy.

3. Strategising

Practically speaking, you should consider three stages to plan and deploy your strategy.


Be prepared by defining your goals, processes, and collaterals to be delivered across all touchpoints (relationship, transmission, contemplation, connection). For example:

  • Ideal client profiles – take time to define who your ideal clients are. This will help you to shape your content and communications so that is resonates with your target audience.
  • Plan touchpoints – lay out all the interactions you want to have with clients and prospects, such as feedback, annual reviews, check-ins, comms (social, newsletter) and education. Prepare all the material and scripts you’ll use during these touchpoints (like case studies or targeted content).
  • Make ‘introductions talks’ intentional – be considered in choosing a good moment to have a fairly short but intentional conversation about making introductions. Make sure your client understands what you’re asking and doesn’t perceive it as an ‘off-the-cuff’ remark.
  • Track relevant info – prepare a digital tool (like your CRM or Excel) to track client information you’ll use for your strategy and measure its impact. For example, who referred who, when did you talk about introductions to a client, what did you say and what were their reactions, as well as their story with you (their starting point when first met and their changes).
A beautiful Japanese entrepreneur laughing while holding a pen and talking to her coworker. (selective focus)

The first stage of delivering is to make sure you follow through on everything you’ve prepared for.

But delivery is also about how you interact with your clients, to meet their needs and increase their satisfaction and perceived value of your services. Here are some ideas to help you shape your tactics around introductions by addressing the bottlenecks we previously mentioned.

  • Guide clients to create a value narrative  – your goal is to broaden the client view of their journey with you and enhance how they perceive the value they receive. The tactic is to help them rehearse their internal narrative by reflecting on where they started and the progress they’ve made. Guide them through questions such as ‘what problem did you have when you came to us?’ ‘what did we do to address that issue?’ and ‘what impact do you feel we have made?’ By encouraging them to think about the bigger picture, they’ll have a clearer idea of how you’ve supported them and will be better equipped to accurately describe their experience when talking to their peers.
  • Ask for feedback on negatives and positives – outside of written feedback, you should give your clients the opportunity to express verbally how they feel about your services.  For example, ask them what you’re not already doing that they’d find valuable, and what three things from your services they find the most value in. This gives you a more nuanced view on how they feel, while also demonstrating that you care.
  • Spell it out – clients need to be clear of your intentions and understand what you’re asking of them. This should be a dedicated moment where your clients fully process your ask:
    • Encourage them to introduce their peers to you in effective ways (such as email, LinkedIn and meetings).
    • Highlight your capacity for new clients and that you want to help people in their lives.
    • Reassure them of your confidentiality policies to alleviate any privacy concerns.
  • Remind client they were referred – when one of your clients joins you as a result of an introduction, remind them of that. This is an effect known as ‘referral contagion’, where clients who were referred are more likely and open to referring others.

The connection phase is all about strengthening the relationship with a prospect so they become a client. Curate every step and detail so that prospects feel confident and reassured in choosing you and of the value you’ll bring. Here are some actions to consider:

  • Take the lead by following up effectively and promptly after first introductions.
  • Set expectations for your first meeting by making clear how you’d like to help them, the meeting goals, and by reassuring them of strict confidentiality.
  • Help them feel familiar with you and validated in their choice by linking to your online profile and signposting any social proof like case studies and online testimonials.
  • Make each step of the journey as easy as possible – for example, using technology to allow them to schedule meetings when it suits them.
  • Even if the prospect doesn’t become a client, remember to thank whoever made the introduction to show your appreciation.

Unlock the potential of client referrals

Your clients offer a significant opportunity to grow your business through referrals. But this requires a considered approach that addresses the bottlenecks at each phase of the referral process.

By adopting the stages and techniques we’ve outlined, it could help to strengthen your client relationships and maximise referrals to your business.

To learn more about the strategies behind referrals, watch our webinar Client referrals: strategies to grow your business’ lead by Mauro Renna of Aegon’s Centre for Behavioural Research.


Trends Insights