Getting referrals through client experience

Now that I’m in my Sweet 16th year at Russell Investments, I'd like to take a moment and reflect on some of the great client events that I've seen over the years. I like to say, there is a BIG difference between doing an event and doing an event WELL. Every year, we hear from advisors that they want to do more client events, but they’re uncertain on where/how to get started. Our partnership with you provides an incredibly differentiated perspective that many advisors don’t get to see—we experience A TON of events run by different advisors from different firms across the country. 

Here’s today’s reality: We believe advisors’ best opportunities for new business comes from their existing client base. Think of the last time you had an AMAZING experiencedid you tell your friends/neighbors/co-workers about that experience?  Of course you did. People like sharing stories about their experiences—good or bad. We believe a positive experience and showing attention to detail is referable, repeatable and something we all can controlFocusing on recent performance and the account statement is uncontrollable, fleeting and unmanageable.

How do we lock in client loyalty while creating experiences that make it easy for your best clients to refer business? By asking your best clients during their annual review what they find joy in doing using the Client Interest Checklist below.

Here’s how the exercise works:

On a regular sheet of paper, create a list like the one below of popular hobbies that people enjoy doing.

  • At the end of your next annual review with your best client, bring this out and say:
  • In 2020, our team is going to formally catalog what our best clients like to do in their free time. Would you take a minute and circle a few hobbies of yours on this list? Based on your feedback, we’re going to plan a series of events this year for you and your friends around these interests.
  • If you have 50 A clients, you should have 50 of these back by the end of Q1/Q2.



Circle the 2-3 hobbies you/your spouse like to do in your free time

  1. Cooking classes
  2. Traveling
  3. Motorcycling
  4. Wine tasting
  5. Whiskey tasting
  6. Beer tasting
  7. Golfing
  8. Gardening
  9. Real estate/Architecture
  10. Photography
  11. Fishing
  12. Hunting
  13. Health/Wellness
  14. Painting
  15. Art collecting
  16. Baking
  17. Tennis
  18. Pickleball
  19. Antiquing
  20. Music

By formally asking your clients to fill this out, they are giving you permission to invite them to something they’re interested in. You will find commonalities among your best clients.You also know that your best clients have friends/neighbors/co-workers that are like them, holding similar interests. This is an essential exercise to expanding your network.

This checklist serves two purposes. First, it acknowledges and places time and effort on your A clients.Second, it is an easy way for your best clients to invite their friends to attend an event that they are more likely to attend. But remember, this is not about a product or vendor. It's about showcasing the advisor.

Tips for a successful event

  • The advisor should always open, introduce speakers and close the event. Why? Because you’re the host!
  • The advisor should have pictures taken of the event with the attendees. A framed picture with a hand-written thank-you note to all attendees is a memorable follow-up after the event. Remember, the details matter.
  • You (the advisor) and the hobby are the natural conversation connectors between all the attendees. Your clients will want to share with their guests how long they’ve been working with you, how you help them, etc. This happens in the natural flow of conversationit doesn’t need to be forced.

Ask your Russell Investments partners what they’ve seen work and not work work as it relates to client eventsThere is a gluttony of seminars and an over-abundance of information.Yet one thing has remained true—experiences matter. People are willing to pay and attend and invite guests to an event that is an experience. 

Below are some event ideas using the Client Interest Checklist that I’ve seen work well over the years.

  1. Cooking Classes – Contact a local restaurant and ask if their chef would host a cooking class.
  2. Traveling – Invite a local travel agent to your office to highlight the best new places to visit in 2020.
  3. Motorcycling – Contact your local Harley Davidson distributor and ask for a behind-the-scenes tour of their facilities, or have them share the latest on the events that they’re hosting. Or, if you’re from Wisconsin like me, take them on a VIP tour of the museum.
  4. Wine tasting – Total Wine stores host private events with in-house experts.
  5. Whiskey tasting – People that love whiskey also love talking about and trying new whiskeys. This has a VIP tour written all over it.
  6. Beer tasting – Contact a local brewery and see if they’d arrange a behind-the-scenes look at their beer-making process and/or a private tour of their facility.
  7. Golfing – Everyone (including me) is always looking for the golf tip that is going to bring their game to the next level. Ask the local pro if they’d do a mini-clinic or arrange a nice course outing experience.
  8. Gardening – Contact a local landscaping company or greenhouse and ask for their horticulturalist to give a presentation on gardening best practices.
  9. Real estate/Architecture – Have a local real estate agent take you on a tour of homes or host a boat cruise on a local lake to look at high-end lake properties. I did this in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, this past year and it was incredibly interesting.
  10. Photography – Many local camera stores host private photography classes. Bring your cameras so they can teach you how and when to use the different camera settings. Not a professional? Contact an Apple store for a private session on iPhoto, editing pictures and how to use the different filters.
  11. Hunting/Fishing – Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops often do demonstrations on the latest gear that will help you improve. You can charter a boat out with a local guide (salmon fishing on Lake Michigan is an amazing experience) or contact the local gun club and see what events they’ve done.
  12. Health/Wellness – This is an ever-growing topic of interest. Have a nutritionist give a presentation on food consumption, dieting and health considerations. Partner with your local gym and have an exercise therapist host a private, popular class for your clients’ age group. Invite a medical professional to discuss the effects of aging on the brain.
  13. Painting/Sculpture/Pottery – Research local venues and have everyone take home their creations!
  14. Art collecting – Contact them on an off-night during the off-season and have their collectors give a talk on their gallery and how they’ve expanded their collection. Do a quiz of the talk at the end and give the winner a prize.
  15. Tennis – Contact your local tennis/country club and host a private lesson for your best clients, then organize a doubles tournament and have prizes for the winners.
  16. Pickleball – Ask one the local leagues/gyms if they have an expert that could host a class to explain the rules. Host an NCAA-like tournament and give the winner(s) a prize.
  17. Antiquing – Find a local antique appraiser and host a discussion on antiquing. Ask your attendees to bring an antique and have the appraiser appraise its value.
  18. Music festivals – Get a large tent, food and wine, and invite your best clients to attend with you.

Good luck. I hope this exercise will help you accelerate referrals and grow your business into 2020 and beyond.