“The referral whisperer,” aka Michael Brizz, held a group of 100 financial planners rapt today in San Diego when he insisted that “there are literally thousands of referrals in your client database today. Clearly the opportunity is huge.”

Over the course of a 45-minute session at the FPA's annual conference, Brizz, president of the Center for Professional Achievement in Weston, Fla., laid out a process for cultivating referrals based on a deeply and surprisingly personalized approach to addressing client needs.

“If you want to get high impact referrals,” he said in the quiet rhythmic tone of a practiced preacher, “you must give high impact referrals.”

To that end, he urged planners to take stock of how many substantive conversations – defined as those lasting in excess of 15 minutes a week – they have weekly with clients. He then asked audience members to reflect and calculate the percentage of these calls that included a request for referrals. If they are like most in their profession, he said, the answer would probably be few to none. The blank or abashed looks on the faces of many of the attendees’ faces suggested he wasn’t far off the mark.

Brizz urged them to expand their conversations with their clients, to ask them questions about their personal, philanthropic, religious, spiritual and athletic lives. Listen closely to the answers, he advised, even taking the time to map out the social and professional circles your clients move in to understand who they know and who you would want to know in each one.

“Think beyond the financial,” he urged. “Pay attention to what is going on in your clients’ lives.”
He described a planner in St. Petersburg, Fla, with a wealthy, elderly client who fell down a flight of stairs at church and suffered severe injuries to her face. As a result, she stopped going out. Shut up inside her home, she no longer saw friends or attended the yoga classes she had loved.
So the planner picked up the phone and called his own yoga instructor, Brizz said. “Then he called his client and said I’ve made arrangements for my yoga instructor to come and give private instruction to you and up to 50 of your friends in your home. Do you think that made a difference in that relationship?” he asked rhetorically.

In another instance, a planner set up a meeting with a client and an admissions director at Brown University, he said. The meeting, which took place without last names exchanged, afforded the client a chance to ask how his daughter, who dreamed of going to Brown, should go about applying. Another planner called in a favor with the president of his local chamber of commerce to assist a client in finding new job in Chicago.

In other instances, he suggested using the following scripts:

·      - Ask elderly clients with children who could be clients: “Do you know for sure that your children are working with someone to craft a solid financial future?” If the answer is no, as it often is, then say, “You have spent a lifetime building a nest egg for your children. Let’s make sure all your work does not go to waste.”

·      - Reverse the question for children with parents who could be clients: “Do you know for sure that your parents are working with someone to craft a solid financial future?”

·      - For business owners: “What new projects are you working on? Are there any outside resources I could help you with?” Brizz posed another question that needed no answer: “When you connect the right talent to the right opportunity, how much value do you think that provides to a relationship?”

·      - When discussing your clients’ social lives, vacations or religious activities he advised planners to ask the following “magic words”: “Oh, really? Who did you go with?”

 Brizz emphasized that these approaches only work when built on a foundation of established trust and delivered value. He urged planners to begin these conversations by querying clients about their experiences with the planning they’ve already received. This way, satisfied clients often develop their own language in praise of their experience.

To transition to the referral request, Brizz suggested planners ask, “Do you think that others might find this valuable?” or suggest, “You may be able to help someone you know."
He suggested the planners request referrals from A clients every six months and from B clients once a year.

By employing these and other techniques that he has developed in a trademarked system he devised called Referral Mastery, he promised planners they could double their profit and double their time off.

At the end of the 45 minute session, planner Gary Strom of Santa Barbara, Calif., said Brizz had turned his own thinking about the referral process on its head.

“In our market we’re constantly competing for the high-end, higher net worth clients,” Strom said. “Do any of us ask for referrals in this way? No. Usually referrals come by chance instead of by plan. This system is much better. This is a much more client-centered approach. As opposed to saying, ‘I need your help to grow my business,’ this is, ‘How can I help?’”