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The Key to Limitless Referrals

Author, speaker, and coach, Sarano Kelley explains how Advisors can master virtual prospecting using tried and tested techniques.

January 2021

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Sarano Kelley

Author, Trainer and Coach, The Kelley Group, Intl.

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Get a sneak peek of his upcoming three-part event series – brought to you by BMO Global Asset Management – where Sarano Kelley will provide practical business building solutions that can easily integrate into your practice.

Seven steps for six degrees of separation

As a Financial Advisor, starting the year with a fresh pipeline of prospects, growth opportunities and a steady stream of referrals is crucial to improving your bottom line. Today, as the world continues to work from home – behind screens – forging meaningful connections with prospective clients and strengthening existing relationships can seem challenging.

In reality, the solutions to business building barriers are right at your finger tips – provided you’re ready to shift your perspective towards what I call the Seven Steps to Acquire a Client. Essentially, this process builds on the “six degrees of separation,” which concludes that the majority of people are five connections or fewer away from your existing network. For an in-depth look at this unique sales process, join my exclusive Advisor event series, Connecting with Clients, by registering here.

In brief, the seven steps include:

  1. Acquire clients: Every accomplished Advisor has already passed this hurdle, so the question here is “To what is the degree are you leveraging those relationships?”
  2. Ask for referrals: It’s one thing to get referrals, but it is just as important to ask for them – proactively, consistently and effectively.
  3. Ask clients to meet with their Centers of Influence (COI): For instance, have you accounted for all of your client’s COIs? Their accountant, insurance advisor, estate planner, tax attorney, middle market investment banker – the list goes on.
  4. Ask referrals for referrals: The next step is to request introductions from people you’ve been referred to, because each new layer opens up exponential possibilities.
  5. Ask referrals to meet their COIs: In addition to knowing the referral’s extended contacts, you should aim for meetings with other professionals in their world. (See list above.)
  6. Ask your clients’ COIs to introduce you to their COIs: Just like referrals, your influence network can grow further the deeper you go, from one connection to the next.
  7. Ask your referrals’ COIs to introduce you to their COIs: The cycle continues from clients to referrals – expanding your outreach six degrees over.

In adopting this approach, it could be argued that you almost never have to resort to cold calling, or reach out to a stranger without context. The fact is, very few have mastered this art of connecting through connections, even though the new norm of virtual communication presents a very unique opportunity in this respect.

Screen-to-screen relationship building

The seven-step sales process comes to life in four phases – leverage, rapport, relationship and recommendation. In other words, there is a natural progression from getting referrals, to making sure you’re liked by those connections, and then building trust before they decide to do business with you.

Four phases of the sales process, The Kelley Group

In a virtual setting, this sequence of consolidating prospects can be especially challenging. With face-to-face conversation off the table, the biggest test is how to connect with someone for the first time when you’re speaking to a camera and not a person.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • It’s easy to look disconnected on a video call if you speak to the screen rather than the actual lens. Grasping the referral’s attention is what makes or breaks your leverage.
  • No matter how comfortable you are with video meetings, none of us are Oprah. Screen presence and likability are skill-sets that take special training and practice to master.
  • Remain positive, because it is possible to build trust virtually once you develop the communication skills.
  • Asking for a recommendation is relatively similar to in-person meetings, given that there is a presentation involved. However, overcoming objections requires extra attention and care.

More than anything, to have a meaningful conversation online requires you to project yourselves authentically. In a screen-to-screen world, this means sharing your value proposition in two measures of communication – one that appeals to the rational, conscious or analytical mind, and the other that touches, moves and inspires.

Linking from clients to prospects

When it comes to researching and structuring a referral strategy, LinkedIn is one of the most accessible online tools available – and perhaps among the most underleveraged.

While training Advisors on virtual selling, I ask them to take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of friends, family, social acquaintances, clients and COIs, and identify at least five people that they would like to meet.

Next, I ask them to write to their connection to say, “I’m doing some research for business building, and noticed five people who are part of your LinkedIn network who look interesting. I’d like to know if you have any insights on these individuals.” In this situation, we’re not asking the client or friend to reach out to these people; we’re asking for information. In many cases, the contact may say that they do not know those prospects well enough, “however, here are five others I think you should meet and I can introduce you to.”

Sustaining and developing relationships in this manner can be hugely beneficial. After all, no one is likely to entrust a stranger on LinkedIn to manage their money, whereas recommendations offered through your network – even if it comes from six degrees apart – has a higher potential of converting to a business win.

Looking ahead

For many Advisors still fixed on the old order, the reality of a dwindling new business pipeline is likely to be more evident than ever before, especially as many elderly and wealthy people continue to opt out of the face-to-face communication cycle. The solution, of course, is to adapt.

To be great at anything, including online prospecting, it takes consistent study, training, practice and coaching. Many people use a video platform or a social network, but how many people take the time to study it? How often do they get trained, and put their learnings to practice? Some of the top performers in the financial services industry have a coach. As it happens, even I have a coach. Ultimately, Advisors have to choose to challenge themselves to a higher level of client engagement and business building, which now invariably involves embracing a virtual future.


For more ideas to enhance your practice, contact your BMO Global Asset Management Regional Sales Representative.

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