The right kind of referral and how to get more of them for your accounting firm

getting more referrals for your firm
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One of the best ways for accountants to get more business is by referral, and many of you are confident in your ability to gain these.  You have a good history of getting referrals, and when your client’s friend or brother or sister or neighbour comes round for a meeting, nine times out of ten you close the deal.

The next stage – the one that you may either forget to go to, or have never considered in the first place – is systemising your recommendation and referral process so that you get more of these all the time.  (We’ll talk about that in a minute.)

Referrals are one of the best ways for any kind of company to get more business, because they have the highest chance of success, being infused with trust.  If we stop to think about it, though, there are a few levels of referral, and your efforts to gain more, or your response when they come in, can and should be weighted based on which level(s) apply:

1. The casual mention

Although this may result in more business for you from time to time, this is not the best type of referral by any means.  One of your clients is talking about some work you have done for them recently, and in the course of conversation it comes out that they were glad to have that issue sorted out, and perhaps they mention your name (or not).  Similarly, they may be in conversation with someone who may need an accountant in the future, and they say something like, “You should talk to my accountant, he’s really good.”  The friend says, “Sure, send me the details later,” or, “I will give you a call.”  Whilst in one way this is helpful (your client has made an unsolicited effort on your behalf), you have no way of knowing whether this results in anything, because more often than not your client’s friend forgets all about their need until a few weeks or months or even years later, and by then the thought is gone.

2. The blanket share

This is increasingly happening over social media.  Someone shares on Twitter that they are thrilled with the help they got from their accountant during tax season this year.  Or they mention on Facebook that they’re off to se the accountants again.  Whatever level it is, this can benefit you even more because you have a better chance of coming across this comment and adding yours, or just being part of the conversation.  (This is one of the reasons social media is so powerful – not only are people talking about you, but it’s in an open forum.)

3. The multiple option

This can happen when someone does need help with their accounts, or taxes, or something specific, and the need is fairly urgent.  They will ask around to everyone they know, and will get so many suggestions they may be swamped.  And when they ask someone who knows you, they might throw out your name along with a few others, just to make sure this person has plenty of options to choose from.  They will most likely contact all of those options, and will hurry to make a decision based on instinct or how they feel that day.

4. The true personal recommendation

This is what you want, the gold, what you need more of.  This happens when someone is in need of accounting services, and one of your clients or contacts recognises it and takes specific action.  They mention you, send email or phone number or website or all three, and in the best possible world they either copy you in or tag you, or else they alert you to the fact that this person might be contacting you.  This kind of referral has the greatest chance of success because there are three parties actively involved, and because you can monitor the whole process.

Regardless of how someone came to you (although number four does, as mentioned, have the highest possible chance of success), getting referrals and turning them round into business is not a matter of sitting back and doing good work and waiting for the magic to happen.  You have a responsibility to take good care of these referrals, and make sure that they do not slip through the cracks whilst you are busy doing other things.

So here are a few tips for managing your referrals so you get more of them.  And not just more, but the right kind, the gold, the ‘number four’.

Have a systemised process for enquiries.  I cannot stress this enough.  When someone asks about working with you – in any way, for the smallest level of service – they should immediately go into a system so clever that it will never lose track of this person even if they go into a witness protection program, and even if you close down your business.  ….Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating a little.  Just a little.  But seriously, it actually horrifies me how many amazing accountants out there – really nice people, talented, skilled, clever, able, and willing – lose a lot of business because they phone a prospect once, or send a few emails, and then the person disappears.  That should never happen.  Even if the answer is no, you should know it.  If they go somewhere else, you should know that they did, and who they went to, and if possible why.   Naturally many accountants fear this, but there is no need.  You are really, really good at what you do.  The people who connect with you like you as a person.  If they don’t want to do business with you, or they are too cheap, or you are too cheap, or they had a bad day, let it go.  But at least know about it.   I think I’ll write a whole marketing tip on systemising your referral process – there really isn’t enough room here.

Respond immediately.  It does matter what you say, but it matters more that you are fast.  If they tweet you, get on Twitter right away.  If they send an email, reply.  If they ring you and you’ll be tied up the rest of the day, get someone in the office to ring them and say, “Hey, thanks for the call, we really appreciate it, he’ll give you a call tomorrow but in the meantime can I get you anything?”  Gold.  I’m telling you.

Track referrals and keep a list.  Back to our system I mentioned above.  Use your CRM system if you have one, but even if it’s in Excel, or on your phone, or on a piece of paper on your desk, keep a list.  Every single time someone refers someone else, make a note of it.  You’ll begin to see patterns.  I was talking to a client today who gets major referrals from a client who pays him less than £500 a year.  She’s a small client who doesn’t need much work done, but she knows people of high net worth, and she recommends them.  Having discovered she is one of the best referrers, this accountant wisely rewards her every single time she refers someone.  The other benefit of keeping a list is that you are constantly reminded to chase them up.  If someone has gone to the effort to personally recommend your firm, the person they have spoken to is likely ready to work with you fairly soon.  Stay on top of your list, or else this person may go elsewhere.

Know what the best referrals are for you.  Do not under any circumstances tell your clients that you’d like them to recommend “anyone in business”. That’s not even true.  (Do you really want them to recommend a drug dealer? Of course not.)  And don’t say you work with “all types of businesses”.  (Are you genuinely staffed to work with Apple or Coca-Cola?)  Get your head round the types of clients that are the absolute best for you – the ones that are the most profitable, that you like doing business with the most, that you have gotten the greatest results for.  You will always surprise yourself with the ‘niches’ that you already have.

Know who your best referrers are.  As I mentioned above, if you’re tracking your referrals, you will see patterns.  You will realise that two or three clients are referring just about everyone they know.  And if you know this, you will….

Regularly ask your best referrers for your best referrals.  If they love to refer people to you, make sure they know the kinds of business (or people) you want.  Tell them that you just won another consulting project with an interior design company, and it went great, and if they know any interior designers you’d love to talk.  Keep them updated so they can keep doing the footwork for you.  These people are half of your marketing department – don’t let them get away!

Reward your referrers.  Yes, they’re going to do it anyway because you’re such nice people and they love your work.  But they should get a reward, too.  Some accountancy firms have a three-tier system – a Marks & Spencers voucher, a spa pass, a hotel stay.  Whatever it is, plan it out ahead of time so they know what they’re getting and are excited about it.  (And always give the option of ‘something else that suits better’ on the off chance they hate M&S or never go to spas or already own a hotel.)  And every once in a while, go above and beyond even that.  For your absolute best referrers, surprise them every once in a while with a gift that is unique to them.  They will tell you, “You didn’t have to do that!”, but they will be thrilled all the same.

Review, adapt, and change.  Even if your referral system is brilliant, keep tabs on it.  Check to make sure it’s working well.  Review your niche areas to see if any new ones have appeared.  Ask your team for ideas about how you can improve the whole process.  Ask the people who were referred to you how the whole experience was for them.  Keep making little adjustments until it’s just right – and then keep checking in on it every once in a while.  You’ll be glad you did.

And if you know any accountants you think would love to get these marketing tips, forward this on to them.  Thanks. 🙂