Mark your calendars. On Feb. 2, 2014 football fans will have a new Super Bowl champion. While that may not seem relevant to advisors, you actually can learn a lot from these athletes if you apply their strategies to your referral process.

Indeed, if advisors put their minds to it, they can become champions of referrals, the biggest tool at their disposal to acquire new clients.

Back in the early 1980s, I had the opportunity to try out for the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. The amount of preparation is daunting in the NFL. Before the first snap, committed pros are spending every day improving and tracking their strength, flexibility and speed.

They are also memorizing their playbooks followed by practices based on their opponent's formations and player personnel. This all occurs before they meet their first opponent.

Are you a "referral champion?" Professional athletes practice 95% of their week and perform 5% — or less than two hours on game day.

So what are you doing as a corporate athlete to improve and generate more referrals?

Consider your "game day" as the first conversation with a prospect. It is imperative that you have a plan for each of your three referral sources: branch and program managers and other internal sources at your bank or credit union; attorneys, accountants, real estate agents, and other external centers of influence; and your clients.

Are you winging it when it comes to your No. 1 client acquisition strategy? It is critical to have a plan with specific steps. Let's identify what I call "upstream referral activities"- those that precede an initial conversation with a potential client-that you can build into your referral business plan.

For your internal sources, be sure you have established relationships with people at all levels of your bank. Start at the top and garner management, executive and board of directors support. Periodically (monthly or quarterly) provide branch training.

As you develop these relationships, don't forget to describe your services. Once these relationships are established, develop a system to track organizational, departmental and individual referral goals.

And remember, it's critical to communicate referral quality and status to your referral team.

While internal referrals from your bank or credit union are important, professional advisors know that to win in the big leagues they need to cultivate sources externally from their centers of influence.

In order to draft the right members to your COI team, take the time to interview professionals for the right fit. In addition, you should consider taking the following actions to make the most of your COI team:

• Construct an "alliance agreement" with the end goals in mind. Ask yourself, "In a perfect alliance, what needs to happen?" Draft your agreement so that everyone understands the purpose of the alliance and the expected outcomes.

• Incorporate a referral software application to communicate, measure, track and report referrals. With this application in place everyone can be in the loop and no one can hide. Without it, you will be hard-pressed to kick a COI teammate off the island for not playing well with others.

• Finally, nurture your alliance. Get to know your team members personally and professionally.

Your clients are great sources for referrals, but don't expect them to automatically start giving them to you. You need to give them an easy method to innocuously send referrals to you. Think drip method versus the water cannon method of asking for the referral at the end of your scheduled meeting.

At your meeting, ask your clients to introduce you to individuals who fall within your "ideal client" criteria. In fact, identify people that they would probably know; tell them that you are in the process of reaching out to them and ask them if they would assist you in the introduction process.

You should seriously consider the ease of access, use and communication through the web. Start by providing a hyperlink in your signature block that takes the prospect to your personalized referral landing page. Then, identify, describe and solicit "ideal clients" to your client base through demographically segmented emails to this hyperlink.

Next, provide this same hyperlink in your web site for potential clients to gather topic-specific financial information or seek a complimentary consultation.

For more traditional ways of getting referrals from clients, consider coordinating client events, such as wine tastings, master gardening workshops and golf swing coaching, but make sure that you distribute information that will bring them to your portal.

What do you do if all your efforts pay off and you get an introduction? The "downstream" referral activities have to do with tracking and measuring the success of your referrals, a process akin to what football coaches go through with their players.

After every football game, the coaches pour over the statistics and videos to provide coaching opportunities. Do you have the critical statistics to coach your referral team?

These downstream referral activities often tell us where the referral process can be improved or where it is breaking down.

Start by setting referral goals based on the size of your bank. A good guideline is 20 referrals per month for each $100 million your institution has in deposits. If your bank has $500 million in deposits, you should aim to have 100 referrals per month. Strive to turn 75% of your referrals into appointments, 80% of your appointments into presentations, and 80% of your presentations into sales.

These conversion ratios will help you identify your team's strengths and weaknesses. If one of these ratios is off but the others are strong, should the advisor work to improve just one of these ratios? Absolutely!

Suppose the referral-to-appointment ratio is just 25%. By identifying this, you may be able to get to the source of the problem. It might be the quality of the referral, for example, or the timeliness of the follow through. If we assume that the problem is the quality of the referral, the solution is likely to be a staff training issue.

If you do not know your critical ratios, start tracking them. Set a daily alarm and track four to seven critical activities.

Remember, if you are not measuring, you are not effectively managing your business. By understanding what drives your business, you can focus your activities versus having activities run you.

If you do not have a referral strategy around each of your referral sources, it should be your primary strategy this year.

Referrals are your No. 1 client acquisition strategy and possibly your best strategy to lift your practice to the next level.

Nathan Bergeland is the CEO of USAdvisors Network, USAdvisors Wealth Management and SuccessQuest International.

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