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Referrals from trusted sources are the preferred way for most clients to find their financial advisers.  However, some advisers struggle to create fruitful referral relationships while others have real success in developing deep, sustainable, and profitable relationships with key referral partners.

In this article, we will discuss the Seven R’s of Successful Referral Relationships to enable advisers to deliberately cultivate active and prosperous relationships with other advice professionals.


The first R is Respect. It’s essential to demonstrate respect for your referral partner, their profession, and their clients.  It’s also important to gain their professional respect by demonstrating your skill set and knowledge.  Every accountant (and many a lawyer) has been approached by financial advisers seeking their referral business – and yet in many cases they don’t refer as they don’t have professional respect for advisers.

When building respect, knowing and understanding your Client Value Proposition (CVP) is crucial.  CVP has been a buzz term for so long now that it has lost its meaning for many advisers.  However, in essence, it is about having complete clarity about what you do, for whom and how they benefit as a result. Being able to explain this to your referral sources is key to your success. Sharing de-identified case studies to prove your prowess can work wonders in helping them understand the power of what you can do for their clients.


You cannot expect referrals to always come to you, without you referring back the other way (unless that is the clear mutual intention for the relationship).  Reciprocity also demonstrates respect for your referral partner and their business.

If you cannot refer clients back to your referral partner, consider other ways to reciprocate.   One of the most powerful ways to enhance a referral relationship is to provide professional development sessions in their staff training days. Not to teach their staff to provide unlicensed financial advice, but to keep them up to date with strategies that are available, show them the types of solutions you can provide for clients, and help them identify opportunities to refer.  This also gives the added bonus of demonstrating your competence. If you have permission from their clients, the best-case studies are those of clients that they recognise.

Right person

This point is two-fold: Firstly, make sure the person you develop a relationship with has the power to influence where the referrals from their business are directed. There is no point in you having a brilliant relationship with the owner of the business, if he/she spends little time face-to-face with the types of clients that you want referred to you.

One of the advisers we work with had a great relationship with the Senior Partner of an Accounting firm and they couldn’t understand why they weren’t receiving any referrals.  When we dug a little deeper, we discovered that the accountants who dealt with the clients had their own friendships/relationships with advisers at other firms and were simply referring all the clients to their friends. The advice business concerned had never spent any time cultivating relationships with the people who had that actual influence with the clients and the potential to refer.  This was a costly mistake.

Secondly – ensure that the person referred to you is the right person for your business – that is, they fit your ‘ideal client’ or ‘target market’.  Educating your referral source on the types of clients to whom you can add the most value is another key part of the process.  Many of our clients will share their ‘Client Avatar’ with their referral partners – a document that describes the demographics and psychographics of their preferred clients, along with the challenges they solve and technical expertise that they provide.

Many advisers feel that they will offend their referral source if they turned away a client and that the referrer wouldn’t be inclined to send new clients in the future.  The fact that they’ve referred to you doesn’t mean that they expect you to deliver services to a non-ideal client at cost or at your expense – take it as a sign that they want to send people to you, they just don’t know who to send, and use it as an opportunity to educate them. Make sure you still solve the problems for their client by referring them on to someone else to serve their needs, then take the time to explain what to do with a similar client in future.

Results (communication of) – when you receive a referral, it’s essential to thank the referral source and to keep them informed as to their progress. While you cannot breach their privacy by sharing details about the advice you’ve provided, you can keep them informed and therefore build their confidence that you’ve solved their challenges, which will reflect well on them.

A great example of communication of results is where an adviser responds to their referrer with no less than four emails:

  1. One thanking them for the referral and advising when the clients were coming in;
  2. A second email after the appointment telling them how it went and that she was sending out the letter of engagement.
  3. A third email thanking them again and advising that they’d signed all the paperwork and her firm were in the midst of implementing the advice.
  4. A final email after everything had been put in place advising them (with permission of the client), of the relevant matters that the accountant would claim in their tax return that year.

This might feel like overkill, but from the accountant’s perspective, they were delighted that she was able to help them. Staying informed throughout the whole process helped create trust and reduce any hesitation in referring another client to her.

Regularity – communication between you and your referral source needs to be regular.  It’s not enough to go and see the referrer once, explain what you want, have them agree and then sit back and wait for the referrals to roll on in!  You should be in regular communication with your referral source.

This means:

  • Ensuring they receive all the regular email and newsletter communications that you send to your clients.
  • Setting up a regular (at least quarterly) catch-up to stay in touch with what is happening in each other’s business.  Show a genuine interest in their business and allow them to share their challenges with you – you may be able to assist them, but if you can’t, just being a sounding board can be a valuable role for you to play.  The better you understand their business and they understand yours, the more empathy you can show them and the more focused you can keep them on the right type of clients that should be referred to you.
  • Keeping them informed on the progress of their referrals to you (as per Results above).

One of the findings from our research on what sets apart the very best advisers is that without fail, they run their referral relationships like a finely tuned machine. They leave nothing to chance; they don’t simply have casual coffees from time to time. These businesses have systemised processes to ensure that not only the advisers, but the support staff who implement clients’ advice have a regular communication path with the referral source, and the success of those referral relationships is not left up to chance.


To obtain referrals from a new referral partner, you need to understand what is relevant to them and their clients.  Both in order to find partners for whom your services are relevant and to ensure you share similar views as to why they might refer.

What’s in it for them to refer to you?  It’s likely that the professionals you seek are those who will value your ability to solve the problems of their clients. Rather than desiring a referral fee, they’ll prefer the gratitude they receive and the satisfaction that comes with knowing their clients have been taken care of. If your intentions or your client types are not aligned, it won’t matter if you deploy the previous 5 R’s – you’ll be far better off seeking new relationships or spending more time with existing ones that haven’t yet borne fruit (if they’re relevant!).


To maximize your referral potential, you may wish to expand your reach beyond your existing referral partners. Consider the other professionals your clients may be working with, such as lawyers, mortgage brokers, or general insurance agents. They may not be obvious referral partners, but if they work in the same ‘target market’, they could refer clients to you if they understand what you do and the value you provide.

You could also join local business groups or attend networking events to meet new professionals and expand your referral network.

So, there you have it – the Seven R’s of Successful Referral Relationships.  How do your referral relationships measure up?  Are you nurturing them adequately to ensure they become thriving contributors to your future business growth?

Written by Sue Viskovic