Handling Uncomfortable Referrals

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

We have a renewed focused on growing our business. As a woman-owned firm, with two male advisors, we serve a population of women who benefit from our help. We are doing a much better job of talking to our clients and asking them to introduce us to their friends and family members, where appropriate.

Recently, when seeking referrals, I had an uncomfortable situation arise. One of my clients, I’ll call her “Sally,” is a lawyer in our town. Sally told me about a friend of hers who is going through a very difficult divorce and is struggling with a number of financial matters. She said her husband, who is quite wealthy, cheated on her and it is difficult for her emotionally and financially. She asked me to reach out. Sally said she told her friend, “My financial advisor who can help you will be calling.” Sally confirmed she never said my name but that I would reference Sally when I called.

When I got this information from Sally I was floored. This is a woman I know well. She is the mother of one of my daughter’s friends. My daughter and this girl have played soccer together for seven years and they are close. I’m not that friendly with the mother but I certainly know who she is.

Dilemma: Do I approach her on the soccer field? Send her an intro email and reference that we know each other? Let someone else in my firm follow up? Go back to Sally and tell her I can’t follow through on this?

The person she wants me to call hasn’t shared anything about the divorce. I tried to bring it up to my daughter in a roundabout way, and she responded that she “loves” the dad and she didn’t indicate anything was awry with the family. I’m uncomfortable being a salesperson but this situation has me troubled. I want to help someone who is in need, and who I know tangentially but I don’t want to be a gossip or be intrusive.