PANC 2019: Prospecting and Asking for Referrals

Advisers share their own stories about increasing their referability.

From left: David Kulchar, Oswald Financial; David Griffin, Atlanta Retirement Partners; David Hinderstein, Strategic Retirement Group; and Jason Johnson, UBS Financial Services. Photograph by Matt Kalinowski.

Among the breakout sessions on day two of the 2019 PLANADVISER National Conference was a panel discussion dedicated to the topic of prospecting and asking for referrals in today’s retirement plan marketplace.

Jason Johnson, senior vice president and a retirement plan consultant at UBS Financial Services, moderated the panel. Speakers included David Griffin, director of institutional retirement plans, Atlanta Retirement Partners; David Hinderstein, president of Strategic Retirement Group; and David Kulchar, managing director, retirement plan services, Oswald Financial.

The trio of Davids encouraged advisers with growth aspirations to not focus on one or two tactics but to build a strategic framework for becoming more referable. Another consideration they emphasized is the way advisers can leverage technologies that will help them scale their businesses, support growth, and add more value for their existing clients.

Hinderstein stressed the importance of leveraging centers of influence for his practice’s growth—attorneys, benefits consultants, CPAs and others.

“At this stage we are a 100% referral based business,” he said. “Our referrals come most often from [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] attorneys and the staff members of companies we work with. When they change jobs, they speak highly of us to their new employer and advocate for bringing us on. And that doesn’t necessarily mean just the most senior executives. We have won business from referrals made by lower-ranked employees as well.”

Hinderstein noted that it is no accident that these people advocate for his practice.

“We have a systematic approach to building a referral network,” he said. “We’re constantly staying in contact with our clients and building that deeper, trusted relationship.”

Griffin pointed to strong success his firm has had in building relationships with payroll service providers.

“We need to get to know these people well, because they are generating new plans and growing plans all the time,” Griffin said. “Importantly, I’m not trying to do business with all of them. Instead, I look for real quality relationships with a handful of great people. That’s been my strategy, and as I bring on new producers in the practice, I push them to form their own distinct relationships. It’s a great way to generate referrals.”

Kulchar shared a unique approach his firm is taking to build a dynamic database of cross-referenced centers of influence. 

“Over time we get to know every service provider partner our clients have, and we populate a customized database accordingly, built on RedTail technology,” Kulchar said. “We have built the system so that we can dig in and cross-reference these centers of influence, to get a really clear picture of who in the network knows each other and in what capacities. For advisers thinking about growing their referrals, that’s where I would start, with a database.”

Kulchar also noted how his firm works with many nonprofit clients. He has found it quite useful to get to know their boards of directors, and to establish a rapport with entities like the Better Business Bureau.

“If you get a new HR vice president that joins one of your clients, you may consider asking them to come in and meet other HR people in the area,” Hinderstein suggested. “You host a lunch, and all of a sudden you have 20 HR VPs together in one room and you are leading the conversation. It’s powerful.”

Griffin shared a similar strategy. He recently sat down with a client who is a CFO and brought to the table a spreadsheet of other CFOs in that geographic area. Griffin asked casually if his client CFO knew any of the other people on the list, and it turned out she knew quite a few. Before Griffin could even ask, the client offered to recommend Griffin and his firm to these folks.

“She was eager to promote us,” Griffin explained. “I offered to draft up an email to make it easy on her and it went from there. Asking about your clients’ relationships with other centers of influence is not invasive if you do it the right way. People who are proud of their partners are happy to talk about them.”