Having a referral process can get you the best clients in a short time frame, with minimal effort—it is arguably your most important client acquisition strategy, and not one worth leaving to chance or ‘word of mouth’.
You can easily implement a process to effectively gain referrals, and in doing so, acquire more clients who have a higher potential for retention, loyalty and profitability.
Here are 5 steps you can take today to dramatically increase the number of referrals your firm is currently getting.
Identify who your best advocates are
Those who you enjoy working with most and are the most profitable (hopefully these are the same clients) are your best bet for new referrals. These are the clients that you want more of, that you have strong relationships with, and that have good reason to refer your services. It’s yet another reason why building great relationships with your clients is so vital to the success of an accounting firm.
But don’t miss out on less obvious potential advocates. If you send out a client survey, include the question: How likely would you be to recommend us to your family and friends? Those who answer ‘very likely’ obviously make sense to approach about referrals!
Identifying who the right clients are to speak to will give you a more targeted strategy and a better chance of those referrals leads converting.
Learn to notice referral opportunities
Every client interaction can be a referral opportunity, but there are certain scenarios that can prove more fruitful than others. At the completion of work that your client is happy with, or at the close of a great face-to-face meeting, you must take advantage of a clients’ satisfaction.
Remember it isn’t always obvious to your clients that they can do something simple to help you immensely. You may only have to mention how important referrals are for your firm for them to become a more outspoken advocate—they may even be happy to make introductions.
Asking for a referral will not threaten a client relationship and if you ask in the right way, won't come across pushy. Keep it natural and unobtrusive—as simple as a quick ask at the end of a client meeting:
“Do you know any other business that may want or need our services?”
If the answer is yes, dig deeper—get the name of the business and their contact, then reach out. Remember it’s not a cold call, it’s a warm lead. Mentioning the referral source will open the door, and then you need only show them what your referring client sees in you.
Show them your professionalism and perhaps offer a complimentary on-site review. Show them that you understand every company is different, and it’s important to find the right match between financial service providers and the specific goals of their business.
If some of your team are hesitant to ask their clients, bring in some coaching or do some internal roleplaying. Not everyone will feel comfortable with asking clients for referrals straight away, and every bit of practice will help.
Have some social proof, and make it foolproof
When a referred client jumps online to investigate you further, you want your firm’s best reviews to be front and center. You want them to see that your clients think you’re great.
Many clients would happily write a review but don’t know how to go about it. Social media platforms are a great asset to your referral process—use as many online channels as you are comfortable with. Do you have reviews on your Google My Business listing? These are what show up first if someone Googles you, so they are a big deal!
Ask your best clients to review your firm and send them a link and instructions on how to post it. Add Social Share buttons on your website for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Build a permanent published list of referrals and your firm will show up favorably in search engine results.
You may ask a client to write a referral and get the response—“what should I say?” Don’t write it for them (people can tell fake reviews from genuine ones in a heartbeat) but have a story in mind in case this happens—remind them of specific benefits that have come out of engaging with your services.
Even with all the strategies in the world, some accountants will still hold off from mentioning the ‘R word’ to their clients. Don’t feel that you need to offer cash-based incentives (which can devalue the referral) but focus on adding value in the same way you already do for your ideal clients. Make it not about the money, but about showing that you care and want to invest in an ongoing relationship. Such behavior speaks volumes.
Be proud to ask, knowing that it’s a completely valid and highly effective way to drive business growth. The effectiveness of your referral process depends on you developing those sources consistently over time. Start encouraging your network to become active in referring you to others today, and before too long they'll have turned into members of your marketing team without even realizing.