Welcome back to the 251st episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Bill Cates. Bill is the founder of Referral Coach International, which helps financial advisors attract more of their ideal clients through referrals.
What's unique about Bill, though, is that he teaches his financial advisors clients how to generate more (and better) referrals from their clients by focusing their communication and messaging in such a way that makes them more referrable in the first place, and then not following that up by asking for referrals but seeking “introductions” instead.
In this episode, we talk in depth about why Bill makes a clear distinction between a (less meaningful) referral where a client gives their advisor someone’s contact information, and an introduction, where the client actively introduces someone to their advisor, the two main reasons Bill says that clients are reluctant to give introductions and how advisors can proactively address those concerns by communicating with clients how referrals are handled internally, and how Bill suggests that advisors can plant the seed for clients to be receptive to providing introductions by periodically checking in with clients to ask for their honest feedback not just on whether they’re satisfied with the advisor’s service but whether it is meeting their expectations.
We also talk about Bill’s advice on the importance of making sure that, when asking clients for introductions, that the conversation frames the discussion in such a way that clients can visualize the specific types of people that would be a good fit, why Bill recommends that advisors put some effort into not only helping clients reach their more traditional financial planning goals but also discovering what’s on their bucket lists and helping them work towards those goals as well, and how, by marrying a target market with a specific client category, advisors can hone their messaging in such a way that they can achieve, as Bill calls it, “radical relevance”.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Bill shares why, despite his own anxiety around the sustainability of his own business early on, he decided to double down on his own niche of serving financial advisors (and how keeping a narrow focus ended out being the right decision for both him and his business), Bill’s perspectives on how financial advisors should actively own the value that they offer to their clients when helping them make good financial decisions that they wouldn’t have otherwise made without their help, and why, in a post-pandemic world, the need for financial advisors to have messaging that is as clear and relevant as possible is more important than ever.
So whether you’re interested in learning how Bill honed his business process by turning “asks” into proactive promotions, how he frames his own skillset to clients to cultivate better referrals, or how he makes clients come to him, rather than the other way around, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Bill Cates.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Bill Cates
- Referral Coach International
- Radical Relevance by Bill Cates
- Top Advisor Podcast with Bill Cates
Michael: Welcome, Bill Cates, to the "Financial Advisor Success Podcast."
Bill: Hey, it's great to be here. And just so people don't get confused, it's not Bill Gates. Missed it by one letter and a few billion brain cells.
Michael: Cates with a C.
Bill: Yes, indeed.
Michael: Just slipping that right in, I would imagine.
Bill: Well, here's the deal. Bill Gates has a lot of money and he's working diligently to give a lot of it away in a responsible manner, we think. And I'm going to help people make money, in the spirit of service to others.
Michael: Fantastic. Fantastic. And it's a good way to set kind of context and frame for us and for the discussion today. I don't even know when I first became familiar with your work. It was very early in my career as an advisor where, as I think, almost everybody learns and hears when you're coming to the business, and particularly 15, 20 plus years ago, the way it started for everyone is the same. Cubicle, phonebook, and phone. The dream for everyone is someday, someday, you could build a firm that has enough great clients that all your growth just comes because your great clients refer other great clients and you don't have to pound the phones anymore. It's going to be glorious. And that referrals, to me, from the start, were always put up there on the pedestal, on the podium of, this is what you want to get to someday.
It's kind of hard when you're getting started because you can't really get referrals from your clients. You don't have any clients yet. So you got to get that engine started. But that once you get it started, the referrals are what's supposed to power it forward. And the thing that's always fascinated me, and more so in recent years, is we just do a lot of advisor research through the Kitces platform, there are these interesting dichotomies to me around referrals that most firms show that their referrals are their number one source of business, but a lot of firms are unhappy with their growth. That the referrals are going well, but still maybe not as much as they wish, and they wish they could get more, and they can't really figure out how to turn it up more. And they could go do other marketing, but they don't really want to do other marketing because referrals seems to work so well. But they can't really always control the pace of their referrals, so it may not be giving what want.
And there's sort of this duality of wonderfully amazingly cost-effective, successful marketing channel, yet I still find a lot of dissatisfaction amongst advisors, that we're still not necessarily getting as many referrals as we expect, as we want. Maybe even sometimes that we feel we deserve. Maybe we don't deserve them, that might be part of the conversation today. But you have always been... I knew you as the referrals guy, the referral coach. I know you're sort of broader now into relationship marketing. But you recently did a book around this called "Radical Relevance" around generating referrals by being relevant. So, just, I'm looking forward to the discussion today of talking about referrals, and to me, just how we make them happen instead of having them happen. Because I think that's really the crux of it. No one's going to complain when a referral falls off the tree and whacks them upside the head, but the pain point, it seems, for so many of us is, "But I don't feel like I'm getting as many as I want and I need and I deserve. How do I make that happen?"
How Bill Distinguishes Between Leads, Referrals, And Introductions [06:12]
Bill: Yeah. It's a big question and we can dig deep and wide in it. Gosh, where to start? I had a conversation with a three-person firm just yesterday who, you know, they're interested in perhaps hiring me. And the lament was kind of what you said. And these folks are very successful. Been at it a long time, very, very successful by anyone's measurement, and yet they feel like they're not getting as many as they could. They're getting some unsolicited referrals or introductions and... By the way, real quick, let me just do a little definition, if you will, on referrals and introductions because people are going to hear me use the words somewhat interchangeably. And these days we really are emphasizing the introduction because it's just so hard to reach people. And the old "referred lead," call George, use my name, well, George doesn't pick up his phone if he doesn't know who it is. And then he is wondering why his friend gave his name out and... It's hard to reach people these days, for the most part, right?
Michael: So the distinction for you is if you're connecting me with Bob, I'll use slightly the neutral word connecting, a referral over to Bob would mean you would give me, Michael, the advisor Bob's number or contact information, I would contact Bob. The introductions version is you will introduce Bob to me. So you're not going to give me Bob's contact info so I go to Bob, you're going to send Bob my direction. Is that a fair distinction?
Bill: It is a fair distinction. But let's have a little fun with this and then we'll get back to the original question, which we should, because it's important. So you've heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Bill: I think the first level is food, shelter, beer, pizza, "Monday Night Football," something, I don't know. And then it goes up from there.
Michael: Joy, survival. Yes.
Bill: Self-actualization. So I have Bill's or Kitces's referral hierarchy. So the lowest level, what I would call it would be leads. And probably almost nobody on this call is working any kind of leads, I hope. We want to wean our self away from that as...
Michael: That's my good old...I'm thinking back to my early days. I would get a stack of leads of people who had filled out in a magazine that they were interested in learning more about life insurance because they have a mortgage. No joke. We used to buy those.
Bill: Well, no, I know, and...
Michael: List of contacts. List of leads.
Bill: Yeah. And some are not any better than a cold call.
Michael: Well, except it worked.
Bill: All right. So that's the kind of the lowest level. And then the next level would be word of mouth. Now, word of mouth is good in the sense that usually it means someone's calling us. It means, "My friend George said I should talk to you." And as long as you're qualified that's great. I mean, we love word of mouth. The problem is it's just not usually enough and it doesn't usually take us necessarily in the direction we want to go. It's very reactive. The next level would be the referred lead, kind of what you said, call George, use my name. There's kind of a in-betweener there where they could be calling their friend and say, "Hey, this guy, this gal is going to call you. You should take their call." So I'd call that a recommendation. That's not bad, but it's not quite the introduction. The introduction is, "Laura, meet George, George, meet Laura. Here's why you should know each other," etc., etc.
We can go into more depth on that, but that's the introduction. And so that's what we really aspire to these days. And I often start some of my videos by saying referrals are worthless. Yeah, that's right. The referral coach is saying that referrals are worthless, unless what? Unless you get connected. In fact, I do recommend that everyone listening, if you're with a client, a prospect, a center of influence, anybody that has the ability to connect you, use the word introductions. And you'll hear me use referrals a lot, but really, when we're client-facing, if you will, outward-facing, we want to use introductions.
So back to the subject at hand in terms of why people don't, I think one of the big things is they're not as referable as they need to be. So let me define that a little bit further. Julie Littlechild who works in financial services arena in Canada out of Toronto, does a lot of research-based type work. And she does a study that she revisits from time to time to figure out what it takes to become referable, or as someone said to me in a session recently, introducible, if you're going to use the word introduction. And she found this, she said that satisfied clients, these are financial planning type clients, they're loyal. They stay with you. But there's a low correlation, actually, between satisfaction, loyalty, and the giving of referrals, making introductions. In her studies, they hover around about 20%.
And so what she's identified and I've adopted, I've been teaching this forever and finally I found Julie's research which just supported what I'd been teaching, what she defines as an engaged client. An engaged client is 100% loyal. 98% of these folks participated in the "referral game" within the preceding 12 months. So who gives referrals? Engaged clients. So then what's an engaged client? See, I can just interview myself here...
Michael: You're doing great. You can go on.
Bill: You can take a break if you want.
Michael: This is fantastic. I'm just going to take a sec. Please.
Bill: And the folks listening to this, you're doing this already. I just want to shed some more light on it, maybe work on how to get you doing even better. And that is, first of all, you've made a value connection. They like the questions you ask, they like the planning, the teaching, responsive service, all of that value-oriented product knowledge, right? All of that sort of stuff. One thing I like about my advisor is there's probably nothing I can talk to him about that he doesn't have some knowledge about. You know you go to somebody who's just a pure investment manager and you ask about insurance and they, "Well, let me all my specialist." Right? And nobody knows it all, of course, except for maybe you, but so there's that. There's that value connection. And then there's a personal connection. And some folks do a pretty darn good job at creating personal connections with clients. Some advisors actually keep kind of an arm's length from the personal connection which boggles my mind, I guess it's just not their personality, but...
Michael: I think there's a feeling for some and, just, you're supposed to be professional, right? We get a certain image of professional, professionalism, keep the separation between professional and personal that just takes us that direction. So I guess you're advocating not going that way.
Bill: Well, call it business friendship. And so what I mean by that is I'm not saying you go out late at night, drinking, telling deep dark secrets, although sometimes you do make best friends with your clients. But there is a little bit of distance, but it's not a lot of distance. It's you build a business friendship. And so, the common denominators, if you will, of people who do very well with getting more referrals and introductions is, number one, they work very hard at the client experience and creating this sense of engagement. And I know this whole idea of just create a great experience. Everyone talks about it but very few people define what it is, and we can get into that if you want.
So you got to do that. You got to be super referable. And there are some people that will give you referrals, make introductions without asking, and those are the people we need to teach a little bit sometimes so that they send the right people to us over time. And then there's the other host of folks that we just got to nudge the process. There are other "marketing experts" or whatever category I am defined by others into who say, "Oh, you should never ask for referral." Bill Good used to talk about, "Never ask free for referral. People aren't thinking about you. They don't care, blah, blah, blah, blah." Well, yeah, and when you do ask, it actually can work. And people know people that you can help. They just don't realize they know those people unless you talk to them about it and create some parameters for the conversation.
So can you build a robust, successful, vibrant practice through referral only without asking? Yes, you can. And I can tell you stories of people who have done it. And if you ask, number one, it'll go faster. And number two, you're more likely to direct it in the way you want it to go, so have a little bit more control over the direction. And if you are trying to scale, if you're bringing in a junior advisor and you need to feed the beast a little bit, then that asking comes in pretty darn handy. And I can't tell you how many folks have come to me and say, "Bill, these are insurance top of the table, they're "Barron's" top 100. They're..." all the gamut. And they say, "Oh, referrals. I'm not good at this." And I go, "Well, wait a second. You're doing well." "Yeah, I get some, but we don't ask, we don't have a process," and that's it, that's the word. When people come to me, they say, "We don't have a process," and they feel guilty about it because they know there's opportunity there, but they don't want to look like the proverbial overaggressive life insurance agent, and so they don't do anything.
How (And Why) Bill Suggests Advisors Should Ask For Introductions (And Not) Referrals [15:48]
Michael: I was going to ask, just, how are you supposed to go about that ask? Because I think that quickly gets to sort of the quintessential pain point. I find a lot of advisors that just aren't comfortable asking, it feels awkward. We have some of the, I guess at least I'll call them the legacy scripts in our industry about how you're supposed to ask. I started almost a little over 20 years ago, so it was at the tail end of giving the client a piece of paper and telling them to write down five names, but we were still at the front end of, "Well, you know, Mr. Client, I get paid two ways. The first is the business that you do with myself and our company, and the second is the referrals that you provide to your friends and family who I might also be able to help. And so you should be basically referring to me because you're indebted to me because of the amazing thing I just sold you." I can't imagine why it didn't work that well.
Michael: It's because of, well, I feel like our industry has a lot of a baggage of some varying levels of awkward, sketchy, or skeevy ways that we've asked for referrals. So I'm assuming from your lead into this, like, there are some better ways to go about this. So how are we supposed to set up this conversation if I'm saying, "Hey, Bill, would be great to ask for referrals to get them more. Sounds lovely, would like more referrals. How do I do this so this isn't awkward or I'm not off-putting the client or putting them in a sensitive position?"
Bill: It's simple, but not always easy. And there is some nuance to it. So let's see where to start. Well, there are two ways to be proactive. One is promoting. Promoting introductions, sometimes I call it planting seeds. These are things you can do early, sometimes often in a relationship. It's not asking. I was working with a team that hired me to do some work, and they said, "Bill, well, we have been asking but it doesn't seem to work very well." And I say, "Okay, well, tell me what you're saying." And they weren't asking. They were promoting. So most advisors are comfortable saying, "Never too busy to see if we can be a resource for other people you care about." One phrase that I've been teaching forever. I didn't invent it. It is a title of one of my books, don't keep me a secret, or don't keep us a secret, or don't keep the important work we do a secret.
I'll tell you one of the more powerful ways to generate introductions being slightly proactive, meaning promoting, is to teach people how you handle referrals/introductions if it ever came up. So we know that the two main reasons that stop people from engaging clients, from engaging and providing introductions, is one, confidentiality. They're concerned. Even if we've mentioned it in the past, they don't want their friends or family members to know how much they have or how much they don't have. And the other is not sure how you're going to take care of it. What it's going to look like. Are you just going to call their friends and are their friends going to wonder why you gave their name out? So they're in a protective mode. So what we need to do is we want to take those away in a way that promotes.
So it's essentially, "George, Martha, one thing I want to run by you really quick, a lot of our clients like to introduce the work we do to other people they care about. And I just thought if that opportunity ever presented itself to you, that it'd be good for you to know how we'd handle it, what it would look like so you'd indeed feel comfortable. First of all, the work we do is completely confidential. They're not going to learn about your financial situation from me, and vice versa. Even with close family members and friends, we don't cross that line. Second of all, we handle this sort of thing with great care, meaning I'm not going to call somebody from the blue and make them wonder why you gave their name out to them. Nobody likes to get that kind of call anymore. You and I will talk about it. We'll craft an introduction that feels comfortable, comfortable for you, comfortable for them, and, gosh, if we're lucky, at least piques their interest in hearing from me. So how's that sound?" And of course, the client's going to say, "Sure, that's fine." It's an easy yes for them. And you're not really asking. It's probably the most powerful way to be proactive, short of actually asking.
Michael: Well, I was going to say, so you're not actually asking for referrals saying...
Bill: No, you're not. You're not there yet.
Michael: ...here's how I'm going to handle it. You're just literally saying, "By the way, if you were ever thinking of referring us, here's how we handle it," which is sort of the very subtle or not so subtle, "Feel free to start referring us any time now." But you never say, "You should start..."
Bill: Yeah. And I've demonstrated that it's going to be comfortable and that it's going to be an introduction. We'll talk about the introduction and you can go as far with that as you want to. So I'll say, if you identify someone, some people have taken that and said, "Bill, well, what I say is, "When you identify someone," right, or a little bit more assumptive, and I think that's okay. I think you have to be careful about being assumptive sometimes with this. This promoting, and we're going to get to the ask in a second, but this promoting of teaching and don't keep me a secret and all that sort of stuff, it serves a few purposes. First of all, it introduces it into the relationship, and sometimes earlier than you'd want to ask, and it just does what it does.
It plants the seed. Down the road, it can take hold. Occasionally it acts as a barometer, meaning you see how people react to don't keep me a secret or we're never too busy to help others or here's how we'd handle it. And you see some people occasionally retreat from that a little bit. You can tell it from body language, or they may say, "Well, I appreciate that. And we're pretty private folks..." so, in the world of sales, it's a little trial close on the ask, right? It's how do they react to this? And sometimes...
Michael: Sure. We can certainly think of those scenarios, right? Just the person says like, "Well, I'm kind of a private person." It's like, "All right. Yep. Got it. Got it. Yep. Okay."
Bill: So you get it, right?
Michael: Won't bark up that tree. We've got a lot of other clients we can continue this conversation with. But as you know, easy way to just float it out there to even find out is this someone who says, "Well, we're really kind of private people," or, it's this someone who's like, "Oh, I didn't realize you were taking more clients," because you hear that sometimes even though you did see all of our growth, right? Like, "Yes, we're taking clients." Sometimes people don't realize it, and sometimes you get someone that leans into it, like, "Oh, yeah, because my business partner really actually needs to find advisor as well. I should set you two up."
Bill: It can turn in right on the spot. And that brings up a funny little anecdote. A year ago, it was an October evening having an outdoor COVID safe dinner with my financial advisor and he sat down and after not much time had passed, he says, "You know, Bill, I just heard something from a client today that you're going to tell me is not a good thing to hear." And I go, "Okay, what's that?" Well, a client said, "Aaron, are you still taking on new clients?" And I said, "Yeah, that's usually not a good thing to hear, at least from your A clients," right? You want them to know that you're never too busy to see if you can be a resource for others. So that's the promoting side. A lot more ways to do that, but that's the essence.
How To Implement An Expectations Check [23:10]
And then the ask. All right. So I teach something, I've been teaching it for 27 years. Of all the things I've been teaching, without question, it's probably the most important, most valuable. It will generate referrals without asking sometimes, it creates this feeling of engagement which we know we need to create. And I call it a value discussion. Lately I've been sometimes playing with the words “expectations check”. But essentially it's checking in, in any given place in the relationship to see how we're doing, to make sure that we are meeting expectations, and if we're not, that they have permission to tell us. They can vent if it's a little something they need to vent. And so, this is probably one of the most important things I teach because it helps you become more referable and it's essentially the first step in an ask, is that check-in, that value discussion.
It could be, well, you want to make it an open-ended question. So, for instance, let's say you're delivering a financial plan, right? Or an insurance policy, a deliverable, and you say, "We've been through a bit of a process to get to this point, have we not?" "Oh, yeah." "And I know I ask you a lot of..." "Oh, you ask a whole lot of questions." "So, I'm curious, tell me the value you feel you've gotten from the process." It's not, "Did you get value from the process?" Closed-end. It's not old-style setup, "Have you found today's meeting helpful?" "Yeah." "Great. Who do you know?" It really is a genuine interest to know the value. And here's what this value check-in does. First of all, it gets your prospects or clients more in touch with the value because they are speaking it out loud, and that helps.
It also teaches you what you've done that's been received well by someone, so you learn. That's good to get that kind of feedback. It also gives you more context about your prospect or client. Every advisor knows that the more you know about a prospect, the client, the better you serve them because money intersects all aspects of one's life, and we're always trying to gain more context. And so, their answers to these open-ended questions help that. So at a review meeting, it could be, “You know, let's put the market aside, let's put the economy aside, let's put the pandemic aside, let's put politics aside. Let's put everything aside except for what we can control, which is our communication, our overall working relationship. Gosh, anything not working, I need to know about, right? Any place we're not meeting expectations.” You got to start there. Anything negative. And most of the time they're just going to flip it and right go to the positive. And occasionally you're going to learn of something that needs to be addressed. And it may be something very small, but it still should be addressed. And then you flip it to the positive. So I staked my reputation on this. I gave a speech this morning before we recorded this. And I said to everybody in the room, I said, "Look, if you guys and gals would just do this more, you will get great feedback, you'll fix some problems you didn't even know were there, and you will start getting introductions without even asking." Because I've been doing it for 27 years and I've seen it a gazillion times. So that's the essence of it.
Michael: So I'm setting this up, I just want to make sure I understand this setup. So the ongoing client kind of anchors around the, “I just wanted to check in, is there anything in our relationship that isn't working at this point?” And then just shut up and either let them highlight something negative if there is, or they'll turn it positive and either way you get some good feedback and perspective. So if I'm...please, go ahead.
Bill: No, I was just going to say if I could fine-tune the verbiage a little because sometimes words really do matter. Rather than just relationship, I would say working relationship or I would say, and you heard me say earlier communication or overall working relationship. It just seems to be metabolized better by our clients than when we say anything in our relationship. It's a subtle kind of thing. So I just wanted to...
Michael: So anything in our working relationship that isn't working?
Bill: Yeah. Anything not working. I used to say, "Has anyone dropped the ball along the way?" And some advisors had said, "Bill, I feel like if I said that I might be throwing somebody under the bus." And I go, "Yeah, I get that. And so perhaps we don't say that. Perhaps we say is there any place where we've fallen short on your expectations?" Ultimately you got to pick the words and phrases that are going to work best for you and produce a result.
Michael: But the essence of it is either they're going to highlight something negative, in which case you go home with something to fix, cool, helpful feedback. Or they're not going to have anything negative to say, and they're going to highlight something positive, in which case they've, basically, are now going to spend a few minutes buttering themselves up about how much they like you, because they're going to start talking positively about the positive things they've been doing with you and the value they've been getting.
Bill: Yeah. And sometimes we have to pull it out of them, but we have to be careful because we don't want this to feel like a setup. I've heard this from folks over the years that they feel like if I don't handle this value discussion right, I'm going to feel like I'm setting the client up by having this conversation. So the important thing to know is that you want to do this, whether you ask for introductions or not. This is just important for the health of the relationship. It's working in your business, working on your business, it's working in your relationships, it's working on your relationships. And this is for the health of the relationship, period. Now you can go to the next step and be proactive from time to time, but it is not a setup by any stretch. And sometimes it's good to come prepared to this conversation where you can, if they say, "Oh, no, no, we like you a lot."
And you say, "Well, last time we got together, we set up that 529 for your kids. How're you feeling about that? Have you thought about...?" "Oh, yeah. I just feel so much sense of relief from that. So thank you for that." So sometimes we need to feed the conversation a little bit to make sure that we're getting some good stuff. And if we're not getting good stuff, you know, do we go to the next step? Al Fox is a client of mine and become friend. Al's doing very well in this business, got $1 billion under management. He says, "If I ask a value discussion and I don't get much back, then either I haven't brought the value or they're not, (and I know I have)," he says, "Or they're not seeing it. They're not getting it. And so there's some education that needs to be done first." So...yeah. Yeah. Go ahead.
Michael: So in the spirit of verbiage then let me make sure I got the...so just the first one, we've just gone through our comprehensive planning process, we've delivered a plan, however many are, 10 hours into the process for a lot of us by the time we do all the pieces. I've delivered the plan. So just what was this verbiage then? I think you would set up as like, "Hey, we've, we've been through a lot going through this planning process together. Tell me about the value you've gotten from the process." Am I framing that well?
Bill: Yeah. We've been through a lot to get to this point, a lot of conversation, a lot of questions. I'm just curious. Curious is a great word, it kind of comes from the Colombo School of Sales and it's non-threatening. "I'm curious, tell me the value feel you've gotten from the process thus far." You could say, "Well, now that we have a plan, we need to work on the implementation, but I'm curious, how are you feeling about this process so far?" And then they'll tell you about the question, their assumptions, and, you know, all kinds of good stuff, educational, and all that. And so, we teach what we call the VIPS, and that's the V in the VIPS to asking. The I is treat it with importance.
Why? Well, because the work you do is important. Hopefully, you believe that. So it deserves to be treated with importance, and we also know that how you put things out there to people, how you send stuff out to the universe kind of determines how it's going to come back. And if you're kind of weak, wishy-washy, apologetic around this, you're not going to get a very good response. So own your value, own the fact you do a good job, own the fact that there probably isn't a person on this planet that you couldn't sit in front of and help in some way. And that's what this is about. This comes from my definition of financial leadership. So for me, financial leadership is essentially helping people make financial decisions that are in their best interests that they wouldn't make without us. And that's our job, right?
And it's to question assumptions, it's to educate, it's to open up new thinking, all of that, and it takes courage sometimes to do that. And that's why we get paid the big bucks. And that's where all this referral/introduction, promoting, you name it, it all has to come from that place of belief and value. And so we want to hold it with that level of importance. Some people say, "I have an important question to ask you." Some people just make sure they ask in a confident manner. Another way to treat it with importance is to make sure you don't run out of time and run good meetings, running from an agenda. So there's a lot of ways to treat it with importance. The P is permission to brainstorm. And this is a very intentional, well, they're all intentional pieces, but we talked about this idea be it assumptive, non-assumptive. There are times where it's great to be assumptive. This is not one of them.
We know that when it comes to providing referrals/introductions, especially around money, some people do not feel comfortable with that. And that's the mistake of some of the old-style methodologies, is they're too assumptive. And that's what starts to put people off a little bit. And that's when you get weird objections.
Michael: I think this is where a lot of us or the conscientious advisor feels the angst and anxiety of, "Well, I don't even want to open the door to a conversation. That may be awkward if it turns out my client is one of those that doesn't like to go there."
How To Have An Introduction Brainstorming Session With Clients [33:03]
Bill: Well, yeah. So here's the deal. Some people, and in my speeches and sessions I have fun with this. And I say you got roughly 20% of your clients, do a great job for them, they're going to love you. Those will get you those unsolicited referrals. You got another 20%, you could run into a burning building and save their children, and they wouldn't do this with you. All right. Good to know. And then the other 60%, give or take, they'll do it if you bring it up, but they don't always do it right when you bring it up. So we found that when you ask in the right way, you don't always get right then. Sometimes people really do need to warm up to this and feel comfortable. Now's there's a way to help that. And we can get there in a minute, and you can remind me.
So I've never had anyone ever, ever, ever in 27 years, lose a client by using this process or even aggravate a client. The worst thing that happens is you plant the seed, you back off with dignity, professionalism, you plant the seed, no problem. And you know what, next time you see that person, some of those folks are going to say, "Hey, I think I got somebody for you." So they're going to do it on their own terms when they're ready. That is the worst thing that happens. So how do you get to this place of confidence? Well, you practice. And most people don't practice in this business. This talk I was giving earlier today, you know, was at a top golf facility. It was me, the last speaker of the morning, and I was between them and lunch, beer, and golf. And that's the last thing you want to be as a speaker.
Michael: Yeah. It's a tough place to be as a speaker. Yes.
Bill: But I said to them, I said, "How many of you play golf?" A lot of hands go up. "How many of you have fairly new clubs?" Hands go up. "How many of you have taken lessons?" Hands go up. "How many of you have been videotaped in the lessons?" Hands goes up. "Any equipment junkies? When you see something, you just got to get it?" Hands go up. "How many of you warm up before rounds?" Hands go up. "How many folks go to a range just to hit balls in the middle of the week?" Hands go up. "How many of you take that same dedication and practice and coaching to your client acquisition, to referrals, to introductions, to other things? Do you...?"
And of course they don't and, well, it's hard to get confident and it's hard to be and feel professional when you haven't taken a professional approach to this. So, you know, that's where the rubber meets the road. You gain the skill and the confidence by learning a proven process, which we teach, and then you practice that with somebody, a team member, a colleague. I don't always recommend it with a spouse, unless you have the right kind of relationship. Like I would never practice with my spouse. But nonetheless that's how you get good at this. And so, that's what it boils down to, is practicing, getting good, playing around with it, not taking things personally, all of that.
Michael: So what's actually happening in this permission to brainstorm phase? What am I actually saying or doing at this point?
Bill: What we're doing is we're softening it up a little bit by making sure they're okay with the conversation. So the permission is kind of, you know, okay, if we talk about this, and then in the brainstorm or explorer, whatever word you want to use is showing that we want this to be a collaborative approach. We're figuring this out together. Now, the last step, by the way, that's the P of the VIPS. The last step I should cover real quick and I'll put all together for you, is suggest names and categories. And you don't have to brainstorm. I got to tell you, without question, the easiest, most effective, usually the most comfortable way to make this work for you is to say, "You know, you've mentioned your sister and brother-in-law a few times, based on what you've said, I have a feeling I could probably be a pretty good resource for them. Can we chat about some ways for you to introduce me to them, so it'd feel comfortable for you and comfortable for them? Would you be open to that?"
A specific introduction to specific people you know are in your client's life. That's the easiest, that's the place to start with this. Yeah, I mean, occasionally they're going to say, "Well, no, she doesn't follow my advice. No, you don't want to talk to her." It happens sometimes, but not usually. Now, can you open it up a little bit more and say, "Hey, I've got a few ideas to run by you. Are you open to a little brainstorm? And there's a couple people you mentioned last time we talked, and actually a couple categories of people we do some pretty important work for. In fact, you're in one of those categories."
And, "What category is that? And who did I mention last time?" So this coming prepared and letting them know you've come prepared is huge. It really does make a difference because it's going to help the advisor feel more comfortable and confident because you know where you want to go with this. You've got a couple of ideas, so if one doesn't work, it's okay, just brainstorming. And I got a couple of other ideas. And then you can open it up. You can say, "Yeah, well, that's a couple ideas I had. Anybody come to mind for you..." But you don't want to start there. The big mistake that people make, and I suspect just about everybody listening to this right now has made this mistake, I know I have, is to throw it open to the whole universe and say, "Who do you know we can help?"
Does lightning strike from time to time? Yeah. But most of the time it just fizzles and it doesn't produce the result. So when I work with a team or with a group and there's some coaching involved and I'm following up afterwards and they're going through the videos and whatnot, and they feel like they're asking in a pretty good way but they're not getting, I can almost guarantee that they're not coming prepared in a very good way. That's one place that it breaks down.
Michael: Because they're not asking specifically enough?
Bill: Correct. The goal here is to help our referral source, whoever they may be, in a lot of cases, clients obviously, to visualize people in their mind's eye. When you say, "Anyone you think we can help?" They go, "Ah, no, I don't know. I don't know, give me some cards or something." But if you say, "George, you came to us because you were selling your business and you knew it was time to get your ducks in a row, and all that. And that's the category of people we do some pretty important work for. Anybody that you can think of getting ready to sell a business, they're dreaming about selling their business. Because sometimes we can come in there and just make sure that they're set up from a tax standpoint and knowing what to do with the cash and how to take the cash in the right way." "Oh, yeah, actually, I do know somebody, I was just talking to someone today about that." So people know people, but if you don't give them the parameters to help narrow their focus, they won't think of those folks.
Michael: Well, in my experience, there's always this challenge that when you ask clients in that way, just the, "Do you know anyone who needs help or we welcome introductions to anybody you know who needs help," that in the end, what the client does is they try to think of anybody they know who has the particular problem they had that you solved for them. Which sometimes works out fine if it really is kind of your perfect ideal client and you solved the perfect problem with them that you wanted to solve. And that goes great. But even in the early days for me, one of the notorious things about being in the life insurance business is just, what you discover quickly is most of your clients they think of you as their life insurance guy or gal.
And you try to make the shift from life insurance to broader planning, and they don't refer you people they know who need planning. They refer you people they know who need life insurance, because that was the thing that you solved for them. And so when you say do you know anyone who needs help, it's where their mind naturally goes, to the place that you helped them. And I've seen this even crop up for advisors in sort of unwitting ways. I remember an early client situation when I wasn't yet in the lead seat, but watched this happen second chair, where a couple that we'd been working with who was having a lot of marital distress over their financial stuff. This was early 2000s.
And basically he got overconfident in the tech boom and crash and lost most of their money, and she was not so happy about that. So he was not allowed to manage the money anymore, which is why they were in our office. So all sorts of wonderfully awkward couples dynamics, and a bit like we were helping them get to a good place, and the wife was basically really, really happy that we were taking over the investment stuff and taking it off her husband's plate. And I had asked them for referrals and ended up getting more than one referral but eventually we figure out the wife was sending us people she knew who had marital problems associated with money. Because in her mind, we were the people who solved the marital money problem. Except their marital money problem was they had a portfolio that had lost a lot of money.
A lot of the other marital problems she referred were people who were fighting about credit card debt and people who were fighting about other financial things that was not such a great fit for the firm. And to me, it was sort of this realization moment that if you don't get very clear about what kinds of clients you ideally help and want to help, it's amazing the boxes that clients sometimes put you in, that you may not even realize you're in until you ask them who do you know who needs the kind of help we gave you? And you find out that the way they thought of your help is not the way you thought of your help. It doesn't show up until you got mismatched referrals because you didn't clarify that conversation.
Bill: Yeah. There's a lot to what you just said. There's framing the work you do at the very beginning of the relationship. But even if you do that, even if you frame it in a more holistic way, if you get started without doing a plan. So if you get into a transaction, let's say, of life insurance, sometimes it's hard to recover. So the key is that you've got to frame it right from the very beginning and hold the frame. They need to know that this thing that you're doing this road, you're going down with them at the moment, because it needs doing sooner than later is a piece of the bigger puzzle or bigger picture, and you're not letting go of the bigger picture. And if someone just wants that little part of what you do, then you have the decision, is that the business you want to take on or not?
And when you're new in this business, usually you take on everything. But at some point, you want to make sure it's a right fit situation. So the interesting thing about coming prepared and suggesting names and categories, and notice I said, "And, you know, actually you're in one of those categories," it creates curiosity. A couple of people you mentioned last time we got together or I want to run a couple of categories that people we do some good work for and in fact, you're in one of them, what category am I in? So it's fun, it's looser, we're treating it with importance, but still loose enough that we can be collaborative and just kind of figure it out together. So that's the value of doing that.
And also, a lot of folks listening may want to start to be selective of who they ask. Maybe you don't ask everybody anymore. People tend to refer lateral and down on the economic ladder. And so C clients will tend to refer C or D prospects. Occasionally, you know, you get lucky from someone like that, but it's rare. So you want to start playing the odds and you don't ask everybody. You ask the people who have the ability to send the right people to you. So, anyway.
What It Means To Be “Referrable” [45:42]
Michael: So one of the other factors that you had mentioned to this early on in kind of this dynamic of some of us are not getting the referrals that we want to, we think we deserve. In some cases, and I think you've made the case here, it's that we're not asking and we're not asking well, but you can do that and it's okay. And we've talked about some of the ways of how you go about that. The other that you had mentioned is just, sometimes the truth at the end of the day is that we're not that referable in the first place. So maybe a little bit of tough medicine for a few of us to sort of think about that and step into that for a moment.
But can we talk about that for a little bit more? What does it mean to be referable or not referable? Because I think for a lot of us, I think for a lot of our listeners, we do great comprehensive planning work for clients. We know we do good work. We know we do better planning work than the average advisor. But we're not getting the referrals that we like. So is this just an asking issue? Or do I have a referability gap as well? And what exactly is this?
Bill: Yeah. And it's hard to know for sure, but, so one of the things that... I have a new podcast, it's just getting started, called "Top Advisor Podcast." And by the way, folks can pick it up at topadvisorpodcast.com. I've interviewed several people, some of them are live now, by the time people are listening to this, who have built robust referral-only businesses, by creating a lot of engagement. And what I mean by that is by really, truly getting to know their clients in a way that a lot of advisors don't. Now, a lot most advisors who do planning will talk to their clients about what are your goals in life and what are some things you've always dreamt about doing? Okay, well, let's, you know, there's nothing worse than an unfunded dream, so let's make sure some money can get allocated to that. But it often stays at the surface.
It's, tell me more about that. Why is that a dream of yours? So it's probing and peeling back the layers of the onion of the individual and sharing a little bit of your own vulnerability and, or what's important to you. So let me give you a perfect example of one of my first podcast guests. I just love what this guy's doing. When you look at it from one perspective, it's nothing new that other people aren't doing, but the way he's framed it, it's really making a difference. So his name is Lester Matlock. He's out of Little Rock, Arkansas. Lester has a bucket list. He has a bucket list of things that he wants to do places he wants to see, etc. And one of his bucket list items was to tend bar.
He always wanted to tend bar. And then he didn't really know the drinks much and just thought it would be kind of fun to do. So his smart wife said, "Why don't we do a client event? Why don't we bring some of our clients together? We'll have a fun event. We'll let them know that they're helping you accomplish one of your bucket list items. And we'll just have a good time. You'll be the bartender. Maybe they'll tip you a little bit, Lester." And so, he had a friend that had a restaurant and actually worked as a bartender a couple of nights, and that's when he realized he definitely didn't want to be a bartender full time ever. But everybody comes to this great event and guess what? He's got this big board where people write up one or more of their bucket list items, things they want to do, places they want to go.
And so over a course of a couple of years, the theme, if you will, of his practice, of the relationships that he's developed with a lot of his clients, is what's your bucket list? Now that's not any different than goals and dreams, but the frame around it, by calling it bucket list, it's just different. And in some cases he's just supporting them, nudging them, encouraging them, and in some cases helping them figure out the money side of things. For instance, right before COVID, he took 18 clients on a Viking river cruise in Europe. One of his bucket list items was to go to some of these cities in Europe and he put it out to his clients. Why? Because it's the bucket list thing and a bunch of people took him up on it. Now, he didn't pay for it. By the way people were wondering about that. Now he didn't pay, he just organized it. He might've even gotten a free trip. I didn't ask him that. But sometimes when we organize trips like this, as the organizer, you get comp. Anyway, so let me give you a real...
Michael: It's a good financial deal. We're financial planners. We can totally appreciate it.
Bill: Yeah. Well, let me give you a real-world, real-life example of how this really made a difference for people. So one of his clients, a woman, her second parent died, left a lot of money. She had four siblings, so there's five siblings. And what does money do sometimes? Sure. Just credible arguments, intention, and just busted up the family. It's just like they wouldn't talk to each other, it was broken. She was distraught. Somehow in the conversation, it came up, she said, "You know, Lester, if we could just get us all together some way, if I could just take them all on a cruise and no children and no spouses. And we just get back together as brothers and sisters..." And he says, "Well, do you really want to do that? Let's work on getting the money for that." Okay. Okay.
So it took a little while for her to save the money, but not too long. And she put it out to her brothers and sisters and they actually took her up on it. So the five siblings went out, no spouses, no children for a week cruise. And they came back, patched up. The relationships are back together, they're healed. I mean, this is real-life stuff. And so, this is engagement, right? It's bringing value and connecting personally with people. This is what creates advocates. This is what we want. We want advocates. We want people who are going to really give us good introductions to the right kind of people. And it's this sort of stuff that does it. So big believer in client appreciation events, small events, generally speaking, and just finding ways to engage with people that's not the typical quarterly planning meeting conversation where it's always on the surface. Even if it's personal, it's still on the surface.
So that's what creates the advocacy. And the people that are building referral-only businesses, and particularly the ones who are doing it without even really asking, that's the kind of work they do, is they make sure they're really getting to know folks on a deep, good level. And, man, those people would just become advocates and send people their way.
Michael: And so this is much more in the direction of, I guess, client events and things of that nature that you're doing. And I guess not even just events for the sake of an event, but events that ties in some way meaningfully to the clients in the first place, right? Like let's do bucket list events for you. Let's try to find opportunities for you to do this thing you always wanted to do and never seem to get around to doing.
Bill: Yeah. And both are valid. Yeah. I mean, you can do things just to do them. You find a cool venue that nobody's been to, and you say, "Hey, let's do an event here because let's experience this venue," that counts. And then if you can do things that also bring an extra special bit of value to the clients, like a trip of some sort, or this cruise that he helped her with, that's cool. I see a lot of advisors who have other interests. Many times I've had folks come after me after my speeches and whatnot and say, "Bill, I love the cook. I love to entertain. What do you think? Should I bring people over the house and cook for them and even do cooking lessons, or...?" Yeah, of course.
If you're a wine enthusiast, if you're a good golfer, whatever it is, people like to be around people that are passionate about stuff. And they like to be around people who are good at certain things, even if they're not good at it. So this is that business friendship. So let me give you a statistic that I got from Julie Littlechild, bringing her back into this conversation, who I've got to interview on my podcast. She's interviewed me for hers, so I got to get her on mine. And one study she did, and I may get the statistics off slightly, but not much, so is essentially it was something like about 63% of financial planning clients gave referrals, made introductions to their advisor to help their friend, their colleague, their family member. To help the other. Roughly 37%, give or take, did it to help the advisor.
So what happens is, when we build these business friendships, that 37% probably increases a little bit. And look, even the 37% is good. So if we can harness the energy of both, right? You mentioned doing great planning and understanding products. I mean, this industry, this event I spoke at was a three-hour event. It was 2 hours and 15 minutes on products, and then me helping them get more people so they could have somebody to sell the products to. And so the industry does a great job with that, but they don't necessarily do a great job at building these relationships. And some do, and those are the folks I'm interviewing for my podcast, is the people who do a great job of that. And that seems to make the difference. Plus if you think about it, it has an element of fun, right? My advisor brings people on his boat and things like that, and he's having fun and meeting people at the same time. What a better way to live a life.
What It Means To Be Radically Relevant [55:46]
Michael: And so are there other techniques or tactics or ways that we go about trying to build referability, or does it really just all come back to you've got to be doing things that engage clients in more meaningful ways and it just keeps coming back to the engagement activities?
Bill: Well, that's a pretty central ingredient. And with that said, yeah, there are other things. So for instance, in my newest book, "Radical Relevance" one of the things I talk about is targeting niche markets, target marketing, everybody listening knows what I mean by that. Some do it, some don't, some come to me and say, "Bill, I've been thinking about doing this. I'm all over the place. I should do it, can you help me?" So it's what happens when you start to narrow who you're trying to pursue and attract into your business. Actually, everything gets more effective and more powerful. First of all, by targeting a market. And let me make a definition here. The difference between a category and a market. So a typical target market in financial service could be employees in a large company or executives in a large company.
It could be owners and executives in a specific industry and medical practices, right? Administrators, faculty in universities. These are kind of typical target markets you see. People who are retiring in five years or people who are retired. And that's not a market, that's a category. Now, what happens is when you put the two together that's when you got some power. So for instance, Dennis O'Keefe, one of my coaching clients, very successful, been at this for a long time, had a target market, Verizon employees, and he helps them navigate into a successful retirement. So he's looking for people five to seven years, roughly, and then out for retirement, and he helps them through that whole process. So that's a category merged with a target market, and that's when you're most effective.
And what happens with that is a few things. First of all, they know people like themselves, and when they see that you're focusing on people in their company, their industry, they just start to think of others. It's pretty natural. Sometimes employees in companies will start the bird dog for you a little bit, right? They say, "Hey, we got all these people retiring, or these layoffs are happening," or whatever. And then ultimately our messaging is going to be more effective because in "Radical Relevance," it's a lot about our messaging. We want to have a relevant message that will speak to our prospect. And so, the narrower our focus in terms of who our right-fit client is for us, the more effective our messaging is going to be.
The mistake that so many people make, and look, I have to resist this myself. I fall into this trap just like the next guy does. And that is we say, "Well, we don't want to leave this group out. We don't want to this group out." And when we try to make the net bigger to try to catch more possibilities, we actually weaken the process because our messaging is going to be weaker. And so the narrower the better. Can I give you a couple of examples?
Michael: Sure. And I think even just the high level, how do you resist that temptation, as you'd said, to not cast the net wider? Because you noted it's hard if you're not growing enough to focus on not casting the net as wide, when you're already not happy with how fast you're growing.
Bill: It's about clarity, it's about discipline, it's about hiring someone to follow you around, every time you try to do something you shouldn't do, they slap your hand. I don't know what it's like. so I'll give you a personal example and then I'll give you a couple others. So when COVID hit and I've been focused on financial services for 27 years, it's most of what I do. Occasionally I'll work with a firm outside of financial services if I feel it's a good match. I'll do a good job. And I'm a whore for the money, that happens sometimes. So when COVID hit, like everybody else, I wasn't sure how's this going to play out? Should I cast a wider net? Should I start to see if I can help more accountants and bankers, which I do some in, but not a lot?
Should I work on helping other types of business consultants? Because the principles I teach would work for them too. And then I said, no. Nope. Nope, Nope. I got to resist that. I'm going to double down on my target market. In fact, not only am I going to resist that, but I'm actually going to immerse myself even deeper. And, boy, it's the best decision I ever made. And that's where the podcast came out from doing that. My podcast is my relevance laboratory. It's like I've become a curator of all these best practices in what people are doing, and sometimes helping them with their challenges and sometimes learning myself and sharing that with other people. So I'll give you a couple of examples of how going narrower can make a big difference. By the way, just the other day I looked it up, is it more narrow or narrower?
Michael: I'm going with narrower. I don't know. It's more narrow?
Bill: No, they're both acceptable, I found that out. Two days ago I spent about five minutes wasting my time to figure it out. So if anybody got something out of this little interview of ours, more narrow or narrower, either one is acceptable.
So where were we? Okay. I was talking about examples. All right. So let me give you a couple of examples. Let me tell you about Todd McDonald. Todd McDonald at Albany, I do a kind of a mastermind with Todd and a few other folks. When Todd got started in this business, he went to some of the veterans, he says, "All right, guys, gals, if you were me just starting out, if you were starting over, what would you do differently?" And they all said, "Well, we wouldn't try to be all things to all people. We'd get focused. We'd have a target market. And he said, "Okay."
So he takes that to heart. And he, in high school and college, he had a mowing business, he did some driveway resurfacing type of work. So kind of like construction. So we started going after construction because he had an affinity to that. And not too long into that, he decided he didn't want to work with the small construction folks. He wanted to work with the big guys, if you will. And so Todd works with heavy construction. His clients build runways, bridges, commercial buildings, roads, right? Big stuff. You'll look at his website, it's backhoes, it's road graters it's cranes. He's got hardhats with his logo on it. So that's his target market, but his bull's-eye are family-owned, closely-held heavy construction firms. That's who he serves. If you're not in that bull's-eye, then Todd's not right for you and you're not right for Todd. Family-owned, closely-held heavy construction firm.
Let me tell you about Adam. Adam Cmejla. He's in my first offering of podcasts. He's in the first four that we just put out. So he was looking at what he called white coat professionals. that meant doctors dentists, pharmacists, and optometrists.
Michael: Anybody who wears the white lab coat.
Bill: The white coat. Exactly. Not the orderly in the insane asylum or whatever. But he realized very quickly that targeting these four different types of folks was like four different marketing initiatives, four different businesses. He couldn't do all four at once. He had to narrow to one. So he picked optometrists. One of the reasons being is that his wife is an optometrist and on his website, it's funny, it says, "We're married to optometry, literally." And he brings a lot of value to these optometrists that another advisor couldn't bring because he gets to know their business. Optometrists tend to be a little bit more entrepreneurial than other types of medical professionals. So that spoke to him. So he's doing that, it's working, and then he found the bull's-eye.
The target market is optometrists, 37,000 in the United States. His bull's-eye is optometrists who want to sell their business within five years. They're going to cash out, they're going to have this event. He's going to help them get there, he's going to be there with them after they do, and all of that. And so he is the guy, nationally, within the industry, if you're thinking about selling your business within roughly five years, you got to talk to Adam Cmejla. And he actually partnered up with a venture capital firm that helps with this sort of thing. And that's what happens, the power of a target market. He was doing Zoom meetings, he was doing client meetings long before COVID hit. Most of his clients, he hasn't met in person. And I know some advisors go, what? Right? How can you do that? Well, that's what he did, but people come to him.
So, again, he has learned, he and Todd and a few others I've talked to, have learned the difference between prospecting and marketing. Most financial professionals are taught how to prospect, right? Leads cold calling, asking for referrals is a form of prospecting, nothing wrong with that. Prospecting will always be a piece of what we do, but marketing is what brings the prospects to us and we don't have to chase them. Some of them will actually start to chase us. So that's what targeting a market will do, is you start to go into that realm of marketing and drawing people to you rather than having to chase them down.
Michael: So then help us understand, where does the radical relevance framing fit? You've now done a whole book around this, is that essentially the endpoint of when you get more niche, you can get more relevant for the people you're niching for, and that's what it comes down to?
Bill: That's a part of it, for sure. I mean, so the subtitle of the book, "Radical Relevance" is "Sharpen Your Marketing Message, Cut through the Noise, Win More Ideal Clients." So a lot of it is getting just crystal clear and sharp and market and bull's-eye so your messaging is as crystal clear as possible, it resonates with others. And that's what we need. We need our message to resonate so they'll actually pay attention to it because of the marketing message overload that's out there. How does the referral and relevance thing come together? Well, the, the straightest line to relevance, the straightest line to being relevant with someone who doesn't know us is to get introduced by someone they do know, right? That borrowed trust to the introduction. And that's how these two things come together. But you better have a good, deep, compelling way to talk about what you do or the introduction will only take you so far and eventually you'll lose the folks. So that's part of it.
Part of it, it comes from a philosophy of just a relentless, never-ending endeavor to really get to know our clients, the market, to bring incredible value to these folks and not to stay on the surface. And in the book, I haven't several sections, but one section is strategic relevance. And so, strategic relevance is the big picture things like your target market, your bull's-eye, how you talk about your differentiation, some of those things. The tactical relevance is how you actually implement those things. So the words you use to talk about your differentiation, the words you use to craft an email introduction, or reaching out to someone or how you introduce yourself to a group in a webinar or a session. All the tactical ways that you talk about your value.
So there's a lot that goes into it, but the essence of it is you've got to be relevant to your prospect or client, or they won't notice you. And if you're not compelling, if you don't keep it moving, then they'll soon forget about you. And no one wants to be ignored or forgotten about. And some advisors are quite good at the things that I teach, but what spurred the book in the first place was I was preparing for a speech and I always interview some folks, and these were some of the higher-level folks at this particular firm. And I said, "All right, when you do get a referral, whether you asked or not, what do you say to the prospect?" And I'm telling you, I got the lamest value propositions I've ever heard. And I'm thinking, "And these are some of the more successful folks. I wonder what would happen if they actually had a really good way to talk about their value." And so here's what I learned. That getting introduced to someone in a good way will compensate for maybe not a great way to talk about your value. I trust your George, George has said good things about this person, I don't know. I'm a little confused when I talked to him, but I trust George. I'm going with him. Right?
Michael: So we may be growing on referrals because it's overcoming our bad confusing marketing. Good news, the referral was good enough that even though your marketing wasn't good, it turned out okay anyways.
Bill: Yeah, exactly. Look, nobody's perfect and we all have areas where we can improve. And when I come to folks, most of the time they're not broken. Their practices work and they're making money, they're pretty successful. They just want to get better. So we have to look at the areas and what happens with the messaging work I do is, is sometimes they just haven't done it for a while so they need to revisit. They feel like they've lost their focus. Sometimes it's the scale issue where they're hiring new people and they want those new people to be on the same page as everybody else, so there's some work to be done to do that. Sometimes they want each person in the team to focus on a different target market. So actually, you could have two or three or four disparate messages, but all geared towards a specific target market. So it's constant growing around this, right?
How we talked about our value five years ago is going to be different than how we talk about it now. And it'll be different five years from now. And so it's constant work or ongoing work to a certain degree. It's something you want to revisit certainly from time to time. And they come together, right? You do great work, you build great relationships, and you have great ways of talking about your value. So the messaging is right and you're in front of the right people with the right message. Another way to think of relevance is this, it's the right message delivered in the right way at the right time to the right person, solving the right problem. There's a checklist in the book that if you do any kind of a marketing prospecting initiative, and it's not producing the results you want, well, one or more of those things is wrong, right?
Either you got the wrong message for the right market, or the timing is wrong, or you tried to do it on Facebook and you should've done on LinkedIn, or whatever. All of those have to come together. And most financial professionals are not trained in marketing. They make their best guess, and sometimes that works and it works well enough, but sometimes you need to get some of the basics that you never really learned around this sort of thing. So I just love it. I was telling a guy yesterday, when I was at college I was a business major at first and I hated it. I hated marketing, I hated business, I hated all of it. I became an economics major, and then the calculus killed me on that. And then I became a sociology major. And I found a professor who stimulated me and so I stayed with that. And now I love marketing and I love business and I love the messaging and how to get in front of the right people with the right message. It's fun. It's just a game.
What Advisors Are Missing When It Comes To Being Relevant To Their Clients [1:12:10]
Michael: So just for all of us advisors out there who were doing comprehensive personal financial planning for their clients based on their experience and their credentials and the capabilities of the firm and command healthy fees and have great client retention rates, what are we all missing? It's just, I know a lot of advisors like that and great value is evidenced by strong fees and client retention. People are literally paying for it and they're not leaving. They're continuing to pay. But they're not exactly growing bang gangbusters on referrals. Is there some gap between what they do and the kind of relevance you're talking about? Where's the gap?
Bill: Well, it's hard to answer generically. I guess it starts with, number one, making the commitment and building a culture. So getting referrals, getting introductions, it's more than just asking. That's a piece of it. And we've talked about how you can actually make it work without even asking. It's a culture. It's a culture of service, it's a culture of talking about in a way that people get it that isn't off-putting. So let me do it this way. Let me give you another example here. You can tell I'm excited about my podcast, because a lot of my examples I'm giving right now are ones that I've picked up from these interviews, and just like we're having a nice, pretty deep interview here, I'm having them too. And so, I want to tell you about these, these two ladies, very successful, Diana and Katrina. They're out of New York.
And they have a bit of a niche, which helps. So they both actually were in kind of the media world up in New York, and then they eventually became financial professionals. So they have that kind of niche going for them a little bit. But here's what they've done. They've told all their clients, they've shared their vision for what they want their practice to look like, how many clients they want, the level of service they want to provide, the number of clients they feel they can provide that service to and still be engaged, but not be burnt out. Just a transparent, "Here's our model. Here's what we're doing. Here's how you, Mr. And Mrs. Client benefit from this and how this will happen is from introductions. This is how we will achieve this great vision of a business where you benefit. We feel good about the work we're doing," yada yada.
And so that's the culture, and they're very transparent about the culture. They don't ask for introductions, but they have taught their clients who they serve the best, they've taught their clients who fits and who doesn't fit. They've talked about the best way to make introductions. They've done pretty much everything but actually ask. And so, because of that, because they're incredible service and now they have a CEO, a Chief Experience Officer, so they're working very hard at paying attention to clients and what they're saying and how to surprise them with neat things, right? That's that personal connection thing we talked about. So in seven years they told me they doubled their clientele and they tripled their assets under management just by sharing this vision and everyone kind of being in it together.
And clients often love it when we pull back the curtain to our business. So think about it. Good advisors are helping clients create a vision for themselves. It could be how they want to live now, it could be what their legacy, their retirement, all of that. We help people get clear. And, man, that is valuable stuff that we do to help our clients get clear on what's important to them. Well, guess what? They don't mind helping us get clear either. Sometimes they love it when we say, "Hey, we're thinking of going this direction or that direction. If you were me, what would you do?" I have 17 rules of radical relevance. The first rule is the straightest line to relevance with a new prospect is an introduction from someone they trust. Rule number two is always give your clients a seat that the table. And what I mean by that is, you know, advisory boards, when you're working on marketing campaigns or going after certain type of market in a certain way, go into some of your clients and letting them look at the language.
When I help people come up with the verbiage for their website or LinkedIn profile, it's not just them and me, at some point when we want to bring some of their clients into this conversation because they see it differently than we do. And what really matters is what they see. Value is in the eyes of the beholder. And I can't tell you how many great phrases and angles that we've picked up by talking to clients are around this. So it's the culture, it's the bringing our clients into the world of what we're trying to create on our own vision. It's not an arm's length. It's a more intimate relationship. Again, a healthy intimate, it's not crossing boundaries. We shouldn't cross, but nonetheless, it's that level of caring and listening and appreciation for each other. That's what does it, that's what builds that business.
And my guess is a lot of folks listening are doing that, and probably doing it pretty well. And perhaps we're reinforcing this for you and you're going, "Yeah, I'll do that. Yeah, I'm doing that too. Yeah, it's good. I'm on track." And that's what I do sometimes, is just help reinforce what people are doing and encourage them to keep doing it because it does work.
What Bill Does For His Clients And The Low Point On His Journey [1:17:39]
Michael: So can you give us a little bit of further context of just your business and what you do? We'll have some links out in the show notes for your podcasts and for your book, but just for advisors who are not as familiar with your work beyond the great conversation we've had, just, can you give us a little bit more context of the business of Bill Cates and what you do?
Bill: Yeah, sure. I appreciate that. Well, for 27 years I've been helping financial advisors with client attraction. It's about acquiring clients. It's about acquiring the right clients. Not always a quantity play, but a quality play. And so that comes into the realm of obviously referrals, centers of influence, targeting niche markets, social event marketing, and just a bunch of other things related to that funnels the whole marketing side of things. How I work with people, coaching, consulting, speeches workshops. I have online video training that's often part of the coaching where people can go through and learn a lot of the principles and then we get on the phone and talk about implementation. So it's a range of how we help people. I won't work with folks that I don't feel like I can really help. It's got to be the right match.
Just like an advisor needs to feel good about who they're taking on, it's got to be the right match for everybody's sake. So what I love is learning, using it in my own business, teaching it to others, watching them use it, see how it works, what works, what doesn't, how they refine it teaching more. And so, it's kind of an ongoing continual learning, using, teaching, learning, using teaching, and it's extremely rewarding to help people with that. And, yeah, it's great. People say, "So, Bill, when are you're going to slow down?" I don't know have to slow down. I just want to help people. It is fun. I have a blast.
Michael: So what's the most common mistake that you, you still see advisors make when it comes to trying to grow through referrals?
Bill: Well, and before you said the word referrals, if you had left it at mistake, I probably would have said trying to be too many things to too many different people. So that's a big one. You see that a lot. Another mistake before we get back to the referrals that I also see is when they're scaling and hiring people, they aren't always training those people as well as they could and getting those people, the tools that they need to be successful. But when it comes to referrals, gosh, it's what we've talked about. It's engagement, deeper relationships. We talk about my relationship, marketing system. It's relationship. And so, deeper relationships, and then being appropriately proactive. And, look, if there's anybody in your ear saying you shouldn't ask for introductions, it doesn't work, it irritates people, don't listen to them because all they're doing is projecting their fear or their bad ways that they learned onto you.
For 27 years, I've been helping people do this and do it well, and it does work. You just got to have the right approach. And my approach is not exactly what your approach is going to be. It's close, but we got to tailor it and fit it to you and your world. So it's not this script or the highway, it's these bullet points and make it work for you. So just don't believe those people that say you can't do it. You can, it works. People are doing it all the time. So I don't know if that makes sense. A little bit of a rant there. Thank you.
Michael: So what was the low point for you on your journey of building this?
Bill: Oh, boy, well, low point, low point. I guess I've had some challenges along the way. So I've been at this for a while. So, 9/11, low point for the nation, low point for a lot of people specifically, low point for my business for a while. Planes were grounded, meetings were canceled.
Michael: Kind of tough when you're in a speaking business and that was a...
Bill: Well, yeah.
Michael: ...pre-, well, you can just Zoom it on a webinar. We didn't...
Bill: Yeah. We didn't have that back then.
Bill: Yeah. And the great recession hits and that actually hit me pretty hard because it hit the market pretty hard. All of a sudden, people who had a lot of stock in their company, their stock wasn't worth anything.
Now we all recovered from that too, but that did hit me pretty hard. And then, of course, COVID not as bad, but a little bit of a scramble. So here's what I've learned about. You've heard about the concept of survival of the fittest, right? What is that really? And I actually did a little digging into that when COVID hit. So here's what I learned. So a biologist would tell you in any given ecosystem, the organism with the widest range of responses thrives. So it's not the strongest, it's not the fastest, it's actually the most flexible. And I would add to that, it's the most relevant. So this idea of relevance and radical relevance and all, with COVID, it actually became more important than ever before. Because any time things are changing, any time people's worlds are mixed up, ours and our clients and prospects, people cling to relevance.
People cling to what they understand, what they get, what makes sense to them. And the brain wants that. The brain is trying to keep the organism alive, and to do that it's trying to use fewer calories. So any time we come to them with a message that is in any way, unclear, confusing, it makes the brain work harder. They don't like it. We lose people because of that. And we lose opportunity. So relevance has been around forever. It's always important. And I think in today's world, is more important than ever before. It's just because of marketing message overload, and it just seems to be one jumble after another these days between the political climate and the environment and just all of this stuff. People cling to what they understand and what makes sense, and what's clear to them, and of course, then confirmation bias comes in. And so then they just start looking for things that confirm what they already believe, which is a whole other hour, two-hour conversation. So I hope that makes sense. That's why I enjoy the whole idea of relevance.
The Advice He’d Give To Newer Advisors And What Success Means To Him [1:24:22]
Michael: So what advice would you give to newer advisors getting started today? I feel like some of what we've been talking about is kind of unlearning some of the, maybe not ideal behaviors that the industry's taught us that we we've yet to unlearn and relearn. So for someone who's coming in and has the fresh start, fresh mind, what should they be thinking about to get off on the right foot?
Bill: Gosh, lots of things, obviously. But through my glasses of marketing and client traction and things like that, I would say find the niche, find the target market. Maybe don't put all your eggs in one basket until you really know it's a viable one, but start to explore and experiment and pay attention to that. And resist being all things to all people. When you first get started, it's hard. I know you got to pay the rent or the mortgage and sometimes we do things that we know we probably shouldn't be. But just have that vision for at some point having that kind of clarity of the market you're going to pursue and how you're going to pursue them. And then also I would say, is, look, when you first get started, sometimes you have to work leads, sometimes you have to do things that aren't referral-based.
But you want to apply the principles, referrals, and introductions as quickly and as often as you possibly can with clients, with centers of influence, with your natural market. Look, anytime you've got a challenge in your business or your life, I can guarantee there are people out there who've had the same challenge and they've figured it out. And so we use the relationships, that's kind of what relationship marketing is to a degree, is just finding those relationships to solve those problems. So that's another thing that I would recommend. And then really work hard to find that balance because it took me too long to find the balance. I used to joke that I was not qualified to speak on life-work balance in front of an audience because I didn't have it.
And with the podcast, I haven't had it because I've been so excited and doing all this work for it, but I'll get it back. I don't know. So there's a few lessons, a few things. And I guess the last one is to just always be aware that you have mistaken beliefs, you have limited thinking. We all do because we're human. And then when people give you advice, it's one person's opinion. If it resonates, if it makes sense, all right, maybe you start to play with it. But it's just one person's opinion. And be careful of just going in one direction or another because you'll get torn so many different ways. The beautiful thing about this business is that there's a lot of ways to do it and do it well. So there's a few things.
Michael: Love it. So this is a podcast about success and one of the themes that always comes up is just the word success means different things to different people. So you've had this wonderfully successful career in building around referrals and relationship marketing, but how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Bill: Yeah. To me, success is abundance with balance. So we take different areas of our life, relationship, money, play, spirit, different aspects of our life, and we create abundance in all of those things. Now, to have it perfectly balanced, it's probably always a balancing act, right, but it's to create abundance in all those areas and to have that mindset of abundance. That's the way I see it. So if we're working really hard and we're working all the time but our relationships suck, then I don't consider that success. If we got great relationships but we can't rub two nickels together and we're stressed over money, well, that's not success either. So it's the main areas of one's life and creating abundance in all those areas. To me, that's what success is.
And I think it's a constant endeavor. I don't think success is a static point, right? We're always balancing because we often have competing commitments, competing goals, and desires. I raised my daughter from age seven myself and I'm running a business and I'm traveling, and yet I got to be home for my daughter. It was sometimes impossible to create the right balance. So it can be stressful. But usually when you do in your heart what you know is right, then things do work out the way you need them to work out.
Michael: Amen. Amen. Well, thank you so much, Bill, for joining us on the "Financial Advisor Success Podcast."
Bill: Well, you're very welcome. Thank you for having me. I hope people found some value from this and I look forward to hearing from people. Please reach out to me, tell me what you like, tell me what you agree with, tell me what you disagree with. Tell me what you implement. Let me in and I'll let you in and we'll all grow together. So thank you for this opportunity.
Michael: Awesome. Thank you, Bill.