One of the most useful presentations I’ve been to in years (and those who know me know that I attend and present at a lot of industry conferences) was delivered by Sam Richter, a senior vice president at ActiFi, one of the industry’s leading software and solutions companies.

In “Know More! Referrals: Using Technology to Generate More Prospects and Land More Clients,” Richter shared dozens of quick tips and insights on how to use the impersonal web to personalize our referrals. Richter’s was one of many excellent breakout sessions offered by the Financial Planning Association at their annual Business Solutions Conference held at the Hyatt Cambridge, just outside of Boston last week.

“When was the last time you met with a prospect or client and really knew what was going on with the individual and the issues they are facing?” Richter asked. “Did you know about their hobbies, politics, family, charitable inclinations and latest business achievements – or were you just winging it?”

I had to admit that I’d been winging it a bit more than I’d like due to a flurry of travel and business demands. My seatmate looked a bit guilty, too.

“Today I’m going to teach you how to know more than you ever thought you could (or should) about your clients, prospects and competition. When you practice Sales Intelligence, you’ll win twice the business of those who ‘wing it.’ You’ll ensure relevancy and impress any client, any prospect, every time,” Richter smiled.

“With information comes confidence. When you conduct a meeting or make a sales call, confidence is key to making a superb impression. Knowing something about the person and what he or she cares about is a great way to improve your confidence, even if you choose not to use it,” he said. “When you’re unprepared, it can show. It can be felt over the phone. When you have information and knowledge, you exude confidence. You feel and act more successful. This positive energy actually attracts others to your point of view.”

“Good salespeople have always asked probing questions to learn what interests their prospects and clients,” Richter said. “Today, with the help of the web-based tools, we can all be great sales people by knowing what the person cares about before ever walking in the door or picking up the phone.”

For those who think you’re not a salesperson, here’s a little side note from me: You are always selling (and reselling) yourself and your ability to deliver not just results but also a good client experience. Every staff member should be a relationship builder and salesperson, too. Everyone in the firm should embody the brand and be able to quickly, accurately and authentically articulate your firm’s value proposition. Knowing how your value proposition corresponds to the client’s personal and business interests is an essential element in building a successful enterprise. That’s why Richter’s presentation and handy reference book (which I read on the airplane going home), Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling: Web Search Secrets (seventh edition, Beaver’s Pond Press, $34.95) provide such great inside information for your use.

Finding the Right Information – and Using it in the Right Way

Richter launched into a fast paced an entertaining session to show us exactly how our businesses could be better with better information. We learned that “the web” is not synonymous with “the Internet” and that there is, in fact, an “invisible web.” Better yet, we learned at least 20 new ways to search the web and glean better information. We even learned how to access the “invisible web” – and how to tactfully use the factoids we’d glean about friends, colleagues, clients and prospects so as to engage and delight them versus totally freaking them out.

The term “invisible web” refers to billions of websites that cannot be indexed or “vacuumed up” by the search engines such as Bing, Yahoo! and Google. The invisible web makes up the majority of online information. The good news is it is accessible and is often times free. You just have to know how to find it.

A quick way to access the invisible web is via The Warm Call Center. You can also download the Know More! Warm Call Toolbar, something Richter developed so we don’t have to remember all the web tools he told us about and type them into a web browser. He told us that is the only web address we will ever need to practice what we’d learn.

Applying the Platinum Rule

Richter played a humorous clip – a spoof really – of what could go wrong if, for instance, Betty the local pizza parlor owner, used online tools and CRM software to ham-handedly toss in numerous bits of highly personal information into a telephone pizza order. The crowd roared when Betty told the customer that there would be a $69 surcharge for delivering to his neighborhood, where the crime rate had recently surged up due to a burglary at a neighbor’s house (she was tuned in to an online crime report that fed data related to his street address into her CRM), and that they’d need him to sign a waiver to hold them harmless for selling him a double-meat pizza since he really was supposed to be on a low sodium diet (she had access to some of his health records).

“Don’t be like Betty,” he warned. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to use all the information you’ll be able to glean about a person after today’s session."

“Just be transparent and sensitive. Follow the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. Tell them that you always like to do your homework before meeting to discuss business and that you’d come across an article about their kid’s soccer team or latest business success. Mention that you checked their LinkedIn profile and drilled down a bit to see whom you know in common.”

People laughed when he said, “You don’t want them to think you are a stalker.”

“Sometimes when conducting sales intelligence you will find things that aren’t appropriate to bring up during a meeting,” he continued. “For example, you might find out about the person’s family, religion, political affiliation and donation amounts, hobbies and other personal interests. The person might find it odd that you mention a health issue or his golf handicap. Be transparent and appropriate. You don’t want them to call Homeland Security on you.”

“On the plus side, if you practice the techniques we’re going to cover here today, you’ll find that you’ll not only do a better job of questioning prospects and existing clients, you’ll also be able to start predicting answers prior to asking the questions. You’ll be armed with a crystal ball showing you what’s on their minds. You can use what I’ll teach you today as a preparation tool prior to meetings and planning sessions.”

Fourth R University

Richter said we were about to enter the Fourth R University with him as our guide. Traditional education has continually focused on the Three R’s: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. The Fourth R, according to Richter, is Research.

Use the Fourth R to determine what’s going on in the other person’s world, and tie that into how you can add value. When you take the time to learn about the other person, you will build mutually beneficial and valuable relationships.

The Fourth R separates the traditional financial advisor from today’s successful client-centered, Sales Intelligence-based financial advisor who knows how to find relevant, credible and objective information and apply it in ways that solve the client’s problems in unique ways.

“Companies spend thousands of dollars sending their people to training seminars designed to teach them how to ask better questions,” Richter said. “The Fourth R is the complimentary ‘silver bullet’ to any sales technique where the key success component is asking questions so the prospect shares key issues. Why? Because the Fourth R takes the guesswork out of knowing what kinds of questions you should ask.”

The Key to Exceptional Referrals

Richter showed a slide that provided some data points from a recent Advisor Impact research report  conducted by Julie Littlechild in conjunction with Schwab Advisor Services and Deena Katz and her CFP students at Texas Tech University:

  • The percentage of clients who were happy with their advisor: 91%
  • The percentage of clients who gave a referral: 29%
  • The percentage of advisors who asked for referrals by name: 2%

Why? They don’t know what the names are.
The keys to exceptional referrals, according to Richter are:

1.     Ask from a position of strength. Saying “I need your help to build my business” is weak.

2.     Feel good about asking for referrals. You provide value.

3.     Create an identity. Build and nurture it.

4.     Know whom you work best with and find prospect that meet the profile.

5.     Know your clients before you ask.

6.     Know the prospect and understand their world as well.

The great thing about the web is that there is a vast amount of information out there that can help us know our clients and the prospects and their world. The problem is that none of us have ever been formally trained on using even the most basic tools such as Google. A show of hands confirmed what I suspected: that advisors in the room felt that knowing how to use basic web tools such as Google was critical to their business success. Ironically, Google only makes up about 4.8% of all search results. And, remember, there’s still the invisible web that none of the search engines are cataloging. Richter classifies LinkedIn and Facebook as “semi-invisible” and gave us some good tips on using the advanced features on LinkedIn.

Richter then took us through a series of slides and taught us how to do good searches, what to do if we got messages such as “page cannot be found,” and how to use advanced features to find information we didn’t even know existed. He taught us how to overcome “temporary amnesia” and how to find just about anyone’s email address. He taught us how to drill down into a dozen sites and find news and information that would be relevant in preparing for a meeting and/or asking for an introduction. He taught us how to tap into sites that simulate the information in really expensive databases such as Dunn & Bradstreet for free. He showed us how to build a good leads list and suggested pumping that information into our CRM systems.

The art of using all this information is to be appropriate and to make the other person feel exceptionally important. Once you master some of the Fourth R techniques, you’ll be able to quickly do some of this research quickly on your smart phone. It will take a little practice though to get good at it.

There’s much more than I could say about what Richter covered, but since Richter has already written a book on it (and that seems like a bargain at $34.95) and is offering the Warm Call Center Toolbar at for free, I strongly suggest you buy the book and try the toolbar (I know I’ll be doing just that right after I finish writing this article.)

And if you ever get a chance to hear Richter speak, do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc. ( Swift also spoke at the FPA Business Solutions Conference, joining a panel of experts who spoke on social media and building your online presence). Readers can purchase session recordings and corresponding Power Point presentations ($25 each or $225 for the entire conference) from the FPA at