If you've done any marketing, you would probably agree that referrals are the most effective way to get the word out. But while asking for referrals is one way to go, it's not enough. If it were, those who are brave enough to ask for referrals would have a lot more than those who aren't.

The best way to get new clients is by creating deeper loyalty with your existing clients and with key local businesspeople so that they become advocates for you. Of course, advocacy begets advocacy. If you want your clients and business owners to be stronger advocates for you, you must become stronger advocates for them.

If you're serious about adding value, become an expert problem solver. The more problems you solve for your clients, the more value you will add and more loyal they will be. To solve more problems, you have to uncover them first by getting to know your clients at a deeper level, by spending more time with them and taking a greater interest in them and their families.

To get more referrals, start by creating a "loyalty ladder," identifying the clients who are most useful in growing your business and then marketing yourself to them in such a way that they not only "get" your story, they also sell it to others.

This idea comes from a great book called Up The Loyalty Ladder, by Murray and Neil Raphel. You might think of the ladder as a continuum that defines the amount of loyalty between you and the individuals in your pipeline and your book of business.

It starts with prospects at the bottom, and runs through shoppers, customers, to clients, who use you as their primary advisor. Your advocates are next. They are people who really believe in you and want to help you succeed. They strongly endorse you to family, friends and business associates. They usually give you referrals if you ask for them, and, at times, even when you don't.

At the very top of the ladder are raving fans, who are looking for opportunities to refer you business. You probably have a handful of advocates and fans on your ladder, but most advisors could use a lot more. To turn more clients into advocates, you'll need to focus more on clients in the middle and upper parts of the ladder rather than prospects. This requires shifting from a selling process to a loyalty process. That means telling the right story to the right people using the right approach.

THE RIGHT STORY
Write your mission statement. You need to deliver a clear and compelling message. Start with a one- or two-sentence mission statement that addresses the client's question "What's in it for me?" Answer this question by defining your core values. It's not enough to put nice sounding words like "integrity" and "service" on a piece of paper. To give your story teeth, you must articulate how you plan to deliver on those promises.

Define your philosophy. A well-articulated philosophy of your key beliefs about what you do and why, what you and don't do when it comes to managing wealth, handling financial problems and investing, for example.

Quantify your knowledge and experience. Include your credentials, professional designations and positions over the years. Also define who you are outside of work, including information about your family, interests, personal achievements and community involvement.

Define your points of distinction. What makes you different from the competition and why should people do business with you? Start by identifying the key challenges and frustrations of your target audience (business owners, corporate executives, etc.) when it comes to obtaining financial services. Brainstorm with your team to come up with as many as you can, and enlist the help of your existing clients if possible. Pick three to five priority frustrations that seem most troublesome and develop solutions for them.

The next step is to turn your story into a marketing brochure to give clients and centers of influence when you meet them. Even if your firm has its own marketing materials, you need to establish your own identity to differentiate yourself from the other advisors you compete with. This will help your clients and centers of influence to tell your story for you.

THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Now identify the right people—those who can have the greatest impact on your business. These would include your key clients and professional advisors or centers of influence in your community who are in positions to refer you the types of clients you should be working with.

Here are two steps to help you identify the right people:

Develop your key client list. Your relationships with your key clients represent the single most valuable asset you have in your business (except you). Usually your key clients are individuals or families who have achieved a high level of success in life. They have money and know others like them. This puts them in a unique position to have an extraordinary impact on your business.

Use net worth as your main selection criteria in order to replicate your best clients. Also include clients who are advocates already, even if they don't meet the net worth criteria. They may not know as many people with big money, but they can still have a nice impact on your business.

Develop your professional network. This is a network of people who provide services beyond the traditional financial ones. These could be architects or fitness instructors, art dealers or caterers.

The key to building an effective network is to design it around professionals and disciplines that are relevant to your key clients. If your key clients are business owners and corporate executives, you will need different kinds of professionals than if you handle mostly retirees and widows. A business owner might need a good web developer, while a retiree might want to meet a good pro golf instructor. By building this network, you provide a professional concierge service at your fingertips. The best part is that your clients will help you identify the professionals for your network if you just ask them.

THE RIGHT APPROACH
Once you've identified the right people, the next step toward raving fandom is to build a strong foundation for deeper relationships. The best way to accomplish this is to spend more quality time with your key clients, learn more about your key clients and their families, get feedback from them on how well you're doing, and identify potential problems and challenges they may face in the next few years.

Call each of your top 25 clients and explain that you're embarking on an initiative to improve service. Ideally you will take them out to their favorite restaurants for lunch and conduct a comprehensive client survey to capture all of the pertinent information. You mail part of the survey to them before the lunch meeting. It's a two-page worksheet, on one side you have them check off significant life changes that may affect their families in the future. As they check off these choices, they are providing you with subjects for rich conversations that will help you engage the client in life planning.

Tell your clients you are developing a professional services network of experts in their fields. The second side of the survey lists all the relevant professions in your region and asks the client who they know in these fields and to recommend them but only if they think they are exceptional at what they do. The survey prompts the reader to give three to five names. These are people your clients are already advocates for, the next question is what makes them exceptional?

This will provide you with plenty of names for your professional services network.

The next step is making contact with these suggested local professionals. The call can go something like this: "Hi, Alice. This is John Smith with Paragon Wealth Management. I got your name from a mutual client of ours, Ralph Crandon. Ralph tells me you designed that magnificent house up on Silver Oak Terrace for him a few years ago [pause for proud response].

"Well, Alice, I don't know much about you, but from what Ralph tells me, you are one of the finest architects in town. It's not often a key client of mine like Ralph endorses someone as strongly as he endorsed you [pause for embarrassingly proud response].

"Listen, I know you must be extremely busy, but I would really appreciate the opportunity to come out to your shop and learn more about what you do. I'm interested in meeting you because I'm forming a network of exceptional businesspeople in town and am looking for an architect like you to include in my network.

With a client who is substantial, nine times out of 10, the expert will gladly see you, especially since you're coming with the implicit promise that you can refer other substantial clients to them (and vice versa).

Then interview them. If you ask good questions, they should open up to you. A good start is: "What inspired you to become an architect?" This is a fun call to make and it works like a charm because you've been served up on a silver platter by the client.

Here are some tips to make this meeting more productive:

Most advisors walk in with arms stretched out, palms face up, and that doesn't make a good impression.

Reiterate that you are trying to build a network of exceptional businesspeople because you want to be a stronger advocate for your clients and the best way you know how to do that is to solve more problems for them.

Keep the focus on the expert. Approach the meeting as if you were conducting an interview. Learn as much about their business as possible. Ask them how they manage to keep a client like Ralph so happy through the long process of whatever they do.

Ask them what their challenges and frustrations are, and how they are dealing with these. Ask them what you can do to help, if appropriate.

Ask them for several copies of their marketing brochure. Give them several copies of yours.

Following these suggestions should allow you to make an incredible impact on the person you're meeting for several reasons. Since you were referred by a key client, you will be perceived as an advisor who works with affluent clients, and perception is everything in marketing.

Second, by positioning yourself as an advocate for your clients, you're letting them know that you are also an exceptional business person, and third, by keeping the focus on them and your hands in your pockets, you will probably differentiate yourself from every other investment advisor they have ever met.

Steve Saenz is founder and managing partner of Advisor Solutions Network, a sales coach and consultant in Atlanta. For more information, email him at steve@asn360.com.