My LinkedIn Referral Process

Oct 21, 2014 / By Mike X.
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What’s Working Now: For six years running, this advisor has added 11 new clients per year. His “acquisition, investment, and service” process includes specific strategies for prospecting through LinkedIn.

Editor’s note: From more than 500 articles published this year, Horsesmouth members rated this as one of the Top 10 of 2014. Covering topics like using social media for referrals, getting a difficult client to accept your advice, explaining what you do, or creating great prospect and welcoming packets, this year the favorites are all about how excellent communication builds relationships and success.

Editor’s note: In this edition of What’s Working Now, an Advisor Radio feature in which Horsesmouth members tell us about recent success they have had running and growing their businesses, we hear from advisor Mike, who has been effectively using LinkedIn for referrals and client events. You can hear the full interview by clicking the audio file below. Following is an edited excerpt of Mike’s comments.

Quick overview

Advisor: Mike X.
New York

Years in business: 11

What’s working now: Uses LinkedIn to ask clients for meaningful referrals.

Consistent growth

I started out in the business 11 years ago and did the reverse of most advisors, in that I started at a very small firm and then moved to a much larger firm in 2008. Since then I have built up about $100 million assets, bringing $11 million over from my previous broker-dealer, so I have had nice growth. I strive to add 11 new households per year with $250,000 or more in assets. I’ve consistently done that for six years, so I’m very happy about that.

Part of the acquisition process

I first started using LinkedIn in 2005. I remember thinking, “This thing is a goldmine, but I’m just not sure how to use it.” I’ve found it can be a great tool, but only as just part of a much bigger client acquisition process. When a lot of us got in the business, it would have been anybody’s dream to sit down with one of their best clients and have them say, “Let me open up my phone book for you and look at everybody you know.” That information is golden, right? And that’s really what LinkedIn is. It gives you that information.

But just having that information isn’t going to get you a new client. It’s what you do with that information. How do you bridge the gap between, “OK, I got some good information; how do I now use that information to actually go out, get somebody in the chair, and actually do business?”

Generating client referrals through LinkedIn

Before I meet with my client, I’ll go on to LinkedIn and make sure I am connected with them. Then I do an advanced keyword search on their contacts. On their connection list, you can type in a company that you’re looking at, or a specific position, such as vice president. You can even type in an activity, such as golf, and come up with people.

So when I sit down to do a review with my key clients, my best relationships, I have an agenda. It talks about performance, next steps, and there’s a section for potential referrals from the client’s LinkedIn profile.

Now you have some specific people in mind, so when you’re sitting down in your client meeting, you could say, “Hey, Mr. Smith, I’d love to brainstorm with you. Would you mind humoring me?” And usually, the client will always say yes. I find that a lot of clients are willing to refer; they just have no idea how. They’re not salespeople. They’re mostly technical people. They think they’ll have to ask somebody or sell somebody something.

So if you show them a name and say, “Would you mind introducing us?” it goes over much smoother and it’s much less effort on their part to be able to do something for you.

I always like to be in control of the process. So if the client is willing to introduce me, what I usually say is, “Would you mind giving me their email address so I can shoot them a quick email and copy you on it?” If my client would prefer to reach out to the prospect, I ask them to blind copy me in so I can see what they’re saying.

How to use LinkedIn’s advanced keyword search

So, I’m a big fan of advanced search. Let’s say I’m targeting people at Xerox, as an example. I’ll go into my client’s connections, and within their connections I’ll do an advanced search for the word ’Xerox’. That will give me everybody’s name that’s in their network that works or has worked with Xerox. So then when I sit with that client, I can say, “Jim, as you know, I specialize in working with this particular company. I noticed on LinkedIn you have seven connections that have that Xerox connection. I was wondering if you knew any of these people really well.” And then see where it goes from there.

Extending an invitation

Another way to use LinkedIn is to encourage clients to bring a potential referral to an event. So rather than pick out a particular name to bring up to my client, I’ll print out that whole profile and sit down with them and say, “I am going to do this fun event—We’re going to bring in some interesting speakers. Or we’re going to do a wine tasting. Whatever it might be. And it’s a family and friends event. And I’d really like you to bring somebody you know. I was wondering if we can go through your LinkedIn profile and see if anybody fits that bill.”

Prospecting on LinkedIn

To use LinkedIn cold is a bit more challenging, because if you reach out directly to someone you don’t know using LinkedIn, and it bothers them, they can report you. And that will be the end of you using LinkedIn. So really you should use it as an arrow in your quiver along with other things.

But you can still use that advanced search tool to do some prospecting. Let’s say that you work with people in the printing industry. Go into your advanced search and put in “printing” as a keyword, search within 40 miles of where you are located, and go out two levels of connections. I say two levels of connections because it will give you an approachable amount of people. If you go out three connections, you’re going to get 2,000 names and it’s going to be very hard to hone those people down. Now, if you’re brand new and just starting out, you might want to do that.

Now there’s a number of ways you can get in touch with these people and try to get relationships started. You can email a client and say, “Hey, I work with this niche. I noticed your connection with Jack Smith. Would you mind forwarding me his email so I can reach out to him?” Or you can ghostwrite an introduction email. You can ask for the referral’s phone number. You can ask for a reference to say, “Would you mind if I mentioned I work with you?”

Or you can just reach out to the person directly and say, “I specialize with people in your industry, and we have several mutual connections on LinkedIn. I’d love the opportunity to have some coffee with you.” If you don’t want to go out and see them, or they’re reluctant, you could set up what we call a phone briefing. Essentially you set up a 15-minute phone call that happens within a week of speaking to them or emailing them. In the interim, you send them your brochure. Then you get on the phone with them and talk to them about their situation and you can showcase your expertise in a short window.

Finding leads

I head a team, and our team uses LinkedIn differently. I handle my platinum clients; I’m the one who knows how to drive particular things in that particular segment.

But my junior partner does other things with LinkedIn. He might do a search for someone who is recently retired or in transition and he’ll get a long list. He doesn’t have to worry as much about offending people because he’s reaching out to newer people. So then he’ll take that list and he’ll see who he’s connected with and use outside websites to get their information. He then cross references with the do-not-call lists and either sends a mailer or makes a phone call.

So there are ways you can glean leads from LinkedIn if you’re at the more beginning, mass-calling stage of your career. If I were just starting out today, I would get on LinkedIn and connect with whoever I know. I would go to every church, charity, and chamber that I could and get business cards and connect with those people. Then I would use a networking lead service site to get their phone numbers to start reaching out and sending mailers.

Going outside the box

If I had to rate LinkedIn in and of itself, on a scale of one to 10, well, the score is not that high. It is a useful tool, but you can’t use it alone. What I find is if you just reach out within the context of LinkedIn, you’re not going to get much of a response. You have to do something outside the box. So if you use it to identify the person that you want to meet—great.

Now, how do we get to that person in the non-traditional way so it’s not just another inbox email on LinkedIn that they delete? Because that is what usually happens if you don’t know the person. I’d say the sample set of cold introductions and emails I’ve sent to people on LinkedIn have a response rate of probably 25 to 30 percent. And out of that, maybe 5 or 10% were actually willing to meet me off a cold email.

So it’s really more of a data collection tool to be able to then invite those people to relevant events or ask for their outside information from a client. At least that’s my experience. I’m sure there are other people that have a whole dynamic way in which they get cold people from LinkedIn and build up this huge business, but it has not been my experience.

Premium account

I think LinkedIn Premium is worth the price for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it’s for the saved searches. With the Premium edition, you can save up to five advanced searches and you get higher visibility in your own profile searches. If somebody searches for a financial advisor in your town, you’ll be listed higher if you have the Premium account.

And on the flipside, when you’re searching for people, which in my opinion is the much most relevant use of this tool, you can save up to five advanced searches with the Premium account. You don’t have to re-create them every time you want to look at the list.

Also, by having the Premium account, you can sign up for weekly updates for anybody that’s added to your search criteria. Say you specialize with Whole Foods and you have a search list for Whole Foods within a 50-mile radius of Washington, D.C. Well, anytime somebody joins LinkedIn or adds Whole Foods to their profile, you’ll get an email telling you they’ve now joined.

Getting started

For advisors starting out with LinkedIn, I would advise them to look for advisor training programs through their firms. A lot of the larger firms are seeing the writing on the wall and they have advisor training programs focusing on LinkedIn. So I would join that program and do some of the tutorials and reach out to your specialist to guide you through that.

If you’re at a local independent somewhere that doesn’t have that type of infrastructure, I would look at your local Department of Labor. It may sound odd, but they have workshops. Local networking groups also have workshops on using LinkedIn, or check with your public library. There are also countless books on LinkedIn. Search for the best LinkedIn books for advisors and take baby steps.

Create your profile. When you sit down with a client, put it on the agenda to ask if they are on LinkedIn.

For the more seasoned advisors, I would have a junior partner or assistant look through the contingent beneficiaries. If all you clients are in their 80s, they’re not going to be on LinkedIn. But their kids will be. So why not look up the kids?

What’s next for me?

I have a passion for being able to serve the needs of my clients that they entrust to me. And my goal is to continue to grow. If I continue at the rate I am, there’s a good chance this year will be my first million-dollar year. I want to continue to grow that and expand the team to be able to reach capacity.

Nothing is successful unless it’s measurable and scalable. So I want to expand upon AIS—acquisition, investment, and service. I want to get to know my clients on a deeper level and let that grow. I firmly believe that if we’re open to it, the universe will guide us to exactly where we need to go.

What’s working now?

What’s the one thing you (or your team) have been doing recently that’s making a difference in how you’re running your business and succeeding? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks.


Very well done. This helps newer advisors see the light and realize that building a sustainable, growing advisory practice can be done in the right environment.
Mike, thanks very much. I use LinkedIn much the same way as you do. I really like your idea of making sure you add your prospective clients to LinkedIn prior to your meeting them.
Fantastic interview Mike! Horsesmouth I hope you continue to interview FAs as this is a fantastic series and the best part of the website in my opinion.
Thanks Mike! A ton of useful and applicable information.
Horsesmouth always provides new and innovative tips to us! Being a Financial Advisor is tough and gratifying, all at the same time. Thank you for providing great articles like this on on practical ways to use Linked In!

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