The greatest referral source marketing fallacy among professionals is the thinking that you can't reciprocate to some referral sources because you don't serve the same type of clients as your referral source.
Guess what? You can ALWAYS reciprocate. You probably just aren't thinking broadly enough. I'll explain.
Depending on your specialty area(s) you may not be in front of the types of clients that someone who refers to you might want to be in front of, but that is no matter.
Fact is, you probably know other people who know the types of clients your referral sources seek. Right?
All you need to do is connect people. They will take it from there. Especially if they are bankers, insurance or financial advisor types, and others who appreciate and "get" networking. You don't even have to pitch them or for them, they'll do all that. Just put them together.
Simply making the thoughtful introduction to another potential referral source will genuinely please someone who's referred someone to you. Of course, it's best when you think about personality types and consider styles that will mesh well, but if you're not sure, try it anyway. If you do it with good intentions, you will likely receive appreciation from both parties no matter what the outcome.
So don't get stuck thinking your clients aren't right for someone who has been good to you, so there's nothing you can do. Think deeper to determine who else you know and whom they know.
And don't forget the power of introducing clients to other clients, either. Especially when it makes sense for them to do business together or benefit in some other way from knowing each other.
Clients are your primary referral source and they will both appreciate you thinking of them and will probably be happy to reciprocate.
When you connect people together, you have done something very valuable. This is the essence of social capital. Give it whirl!
"Find your five favorite clients. Take them to dinner. Don’t let them leave until they answer this question: What can I do to get more clients like you?"
This suggestion comes from Matt Homann's [non]billable hour blog.
Okay, about my posting this in "5-minute marketing," I know the dinner itself will take more than 5-minutes, but the invite and asking the question won't!
My company, Golden Marketing, helped a client out with some ideas for a special congratulatory gift. We thought we'd share our suggestions here, too, because sometimes it's hard to think creatively about a business gift or something for that special person who has everything.
We came across a nice list of potential presents that would work well for holiday or other gift-giving occasions. From traditional to contemporary and in every price range from $17 to $285. Hope we can help you shortcut your search for cool gifts! Enjoy...
From the Assoc for Accounting Administration conference the other day, I posted about consultant Gale Crosley's suggestion to conduct "research calls" instead of the ordinary lunch-with-the-referral-source approach.
For those unfamiliar with the research call approach, here's an article on Crosley's website recapping the method and offering a few sample questions.
I suggest taking it a couple steps deeper if you try this.
There is tremendous power in the art of the question if you desire a memorable conversation. Asking a thought-provoking question and being engaged in the answer such that you're able to construct equally thought-provoking follow-on questions is a skill just about anyone can learn.
I recommend the books or tapes of an excellent speaker (from the 1997 Assoc. for Accounting Marketing conference in New Orleans...a GREAT event for many reasons...) by the name of Charlie Brennan who teaches advanced listening skills and authored "Sales Questions That Close the Sale."
The fact that Brennan's methods heard in a 1-1/2 hour keynote have stuck with me (an admitted brain content purger) for nearly 10 years should say a lot. His instruction inspired active listening training I've presented several times so it's good "train the trainer" stuff. The best examples that he used were interview snips of top journalists asking deep comparative questions.
It was Brennan who first convinced me that a memorable conversation is created when a person is challenged (caringly) to a) think in a new way about something they perceived they already knew most everything about or b) see something more complex in that which they considered ordinary.
These are the sort of results to provoke with your questions. Those that even CEOs and intellectual types can appreciate and won't find insulting to their intelligence.
Also on questioning/listening, someone else (can't remember the source) taught me that if you let the other person do most of the talking (by asking questions and listening attentively) they will be more likely to remember you as a great conversationalist.
And then there is the genius (who coined the saying?) that came up with something to the effect of "We're given two ears and one mouth--we should use them proportionately."
Still at the Assoc. for Accounting Administration conference in Indy, today. Ran into Gale Crosley who just gave a well-received session on Turbo-Charging Lead Generation. In her session, she introduces the "research call" concept which, compares favorably to more commonly-used referral source techniques involving "asking for" referrals.
Her research call method is very different from the sometimes uncomfortable referral request. "Instead of asking for business," Gale says, "business is revealing itself." She says that it helps people "ramp up their book of business faster, in about one-third the time, as the old way."
This method sounds ideal for mid-level people who are perhaps on the partner path and need a solid book to be well-positioned for partnership. It also works for established practices, though changing ways of doing things is more difficult for people the longer they've done something another way. Either way, these are really good concepts to go back and teach your team!
Gale is giving this presentation again at the upcoming Virginia Society of CPAs 2006 National Practice Management Summit in beautiful Hot Springs, Virginia in August. Dates are Aug 23-25 at the Homestead Resort & Spa. Details at the VA Society site.
Over at Duct Tape Marketing, John Jantsch had a good post on How to Frame a Referral Request.
First addressing the barrier of why more referrals aren't requested, Jantsch says:
...I often find people are reluctant to ask straight up for referrals out of a fear of looking needy or infringing in some manner upon the relationship with the client. I think the reason that this fear exists is because of the improper way most people have learned to ask for referrals.
I agree and would like to add that there is also another very major reason professionals are reluctant to ask a customer to refer them: they know the customer realizes they're not presently getting optimal service.
Little slips such as late deliveries, less than desired communication, unexpected billings, etc. add up and without openly addressing and correcting these problems, we know in our hearts that it's not the right time to ask that customer to point a friend our way.
First, face and fix these problems. Though one instance may seem small to you and you might think the client understands or forgives without your asking for it, that isn't necessarily so.
Second, never hesitate to build on the moment a customer offers an unsolicited compliment. "Great work! We really appreciate the way you handled that." to which a perfectly acceptable response might be: "Well, thank you. It's our pleasure. We're glad that you're pleased and hope you will tell others about your positive experience."
Third, employ Jantsch's advice about how to frame an out-of-the-blue referral request (but only if you know the client is very happy with your services!). Here's what he says:
Most business owners position the asking of referrals as a favor to the asker. Kind of like, we need your help. As much as people like to help, there's really no benefit in that kind of ask.
Here's what I mean:
Many businesses try to rationalize asking for referrals by suggesting that they need more clients just like you - this is how I work or if you provide me with referrals I can spend more time working with you. The problem with both of these ways to frame referrals is that they are all about you. I need your help. I work like this.
One of the keys to becoming a referral magnet (actually the key to any marketing message) is to frame it as a benefit. When you are talking to an existing client the benefit of a referral is the opportunity to help that person help a friend or raise their value with a colleague.
So, how could referring you make your client's life better? That's the proper way to start thinking about referrals. Do that, and you will never be afraid to ask a client again.
Now you are not asking your clients for help - you are offering to help them get more of what they want. Use your expertise to make them look good, add value and enhance their status - now that's a winning proposition.
Fly on the Wall is a really good description for a consultant sometimes. I think that is my favorite part of my job. A lawyer at a firm I've worked with for years suggested the term today when I shared an anecdote with him.
"Anecdote" per Wikipedia: A brief tale narrating an interesting or amusing...incident...to reveal a truth more general than the brief tale itself, or to delineate a character trait or the workings of an institution in such a light that it strikes in a flash of insight to their very essence.
I love that: strikes, in a flash of insight, to their very essence.
As someone privileged to observe numerous firms, I'm going to offer periodic "Fly on the Wall" postings to share anecdotes in their original context or their expanded context. Tonight's is this:
Referral Sources Within Your Own Firm: Cross-selling Killers
As this lawyer (experienced, but new to this firm) embarks on his first, formal Individual Marketing Plan, I advised as to the importance of starting off on the right foot "marketing" internally--to make sure his plans include creating positive impressions with the other professionals in his firm.
In his area of practice, Estate Planning, his success can be tremendously enhanced through referrals from other lawyers in the firm. Conversely, his success can be greatly impeded if few or no referrals come from his colleagues.
I recently observed (though certainly not for the first time) a scenario in which a particular firm partner is rather socially challenged and exudes negativity. As one would imagine, she is not very good at developing business. In fact, because she is ineffective at selling, she's highly dependent upon referrals.
She receives a lower than normal number of client referrals because of her attitude. And though a couple people in the firm do send some work her way--she is very proficient, after all--most would rather not have her directly interact with their clients. Those partners would rather refer that work to another firm before sending it to her.
Meanwhile, her small client-base is shrinking and her charge hours are much lower than her goal. The firm beats up on her for billing too few hours and spending too long doing the work she does. She is annoyed that nobody is fixing the "firm's marketing problem." She thinks she'd benefit from a direct mail campaign or other formal marketing efforts for her services.
A professional in another firm often complains openly to partners and team members about how much he dislikes his work. He comments about what a bother clients are when they call him. And he expresses, in a way that doesn't suggest he has the initiative to change it, that he doesn't really know how to do some of the tasks he is charged with.
The firm has written initiatives to develop the practice area in which this professional is a key player. The plan relies on other partners cross-selling this partner's services to their client-base. The firm hasn't had much success, though. Can you guess why?
Both of the above scenarios are classic examples of really bad internal marketing.
I've long believed the biggest barrier to cross-selling was "trust" lacking on the part of the potentially referring partner because of his or her perfectionist traits. But I now see that the introduction and trust both come easily if the receiving party merits it and does a good job demonstrating, internally, they are the best person for the job.
If you fairly are new to the professions, and haven't developed bad habits yet, take heed! Or, if you've been around awhile and want to increase cross-selling referrals in your specialty area, here is some advice that may help:
1. Recognize that whether or not you convey confidence and competence to your colleagues in the office (basically your attitude and approach toward work) dramatically impacts the future likelihood of those colleagues entrusting their clients or friends to you. (Even what you say in a partner meeting matters!)
2. Know that social skills are every bit as important as technical skills. If you could benefit from some enhancement in this area, a place to start might be amazon.com under "business social skills"...
3. Don't complain to peers or managers/partners about doing work, clients, your direct reports, insufficient skill level on your part or on the part of your team, or anything else over which you should, under normal circumstances, have the ability to improve or influence. Increase your skill, build or trim your team, and if you need to, pick another more stimulating practice area.
4. Be as positive and confident around your co-workers as you should be around an external referral source or client.
5. Be sure to do all of these things outside the firm as well!
In both of the troublesome scenarios I described above, isn't it a shame the owners won't be forthright with each other about the real causes of the problems?
Instead, they try to throw money and time at the problem, investing in marketing efforts and plans that won't succeed without the major behavioral changes that go undiscussed.
A great book about corporate honesty (and a very quick read) is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni.
It's a good reminder that it's more than great manners to say "thank you" even when you are not selected--it's smart business. Take the opportunity to show you're a quality business-person by exhibiting a classy reaction. Jantsch says:
"Here's the philosophy behind that strategy. At the moment your prospect is telling you sorry - they are never more receptive to a positive marketing reaction from you. Your ability to say thank you to the no is the start of your next pitch to that client. I guarantee you that they will remember how you reacted, particularly if you demonstrated in the moment when you seemingly had nothing to gain that you had their best interest at heart."
Great points and I have a little more advice to add.
If the feedback was good about your presentation and all, then that conversation is also a good time to make the simple request, "We hope you'll consider us next time around." and even a suggestion, "Perhaps when your acquaintances are looking for options, you might mention they consider us, too."
And don't take the prospect off your "people to stay in touch with" list. Don't harass them or anything, but sending them information of relevance and value from time to time will be appreciated. Even introduce someone to that could do business with them or would be a good referral source for them. They won't forget it.
Don't forget referral source thank yous too.
You never want referral sources to think you only appreciate them IF you can close the deal. A verbal or written "thank you" to your referral source should be delivered as soon as you learn of the referral.
And if you're going to do a big thank you gesture, the timing is important.
If that referred party meets with you, right after the meeting, but BEFORE you learn the outcome of the meeting, thank the referral source--as appropriate--by sending the wine, a plant, a gift basket or gift certificate, or other show of appreciation. Then the referrer knows you genuinely appreciate the referral itself, and not just the newly closed deal. Another side benefit is that the referrer may put in an extra good word for you before the final decision gets made...
Forget the marketing objective of developing "relationships." You know what? Just completely scratch that off your list. It's far too vague and it's not adequate, anyway.
Replace it with something far, far more potent.
Have lots of them. With clients. With people you just meet. With referral sources. With people you buy from. Everyone.
Have frequent, sincere conversations and your business will improve.
And when you're having these conversations, don't forget to smile. There's a wise, old Jewish proverb: "Don't open a shop unless you know how to smile." It's amazing how many business people forget to smile. Especially while they're having a conversation.
Last week at Association for Accounting Marketing's Annual Summit in Orlando, Mike Platt moderated a panel of CEOs of companies that most small, medium or large regional CPA firms would be delighted to call clients.
CEO panelists were: Ron Kaplan of Action Products International Inc. in FL, Karen Hough of ImprovEdge in OH, Dorthea Wynn of the Orlando Heart Center, and Tony Wood of The Leadership Coalition of FL & NY. They each provided responses to Platt's questions and to a few questions from the audience. Here is a collection, by general topic, of some of their remarks:
How Marketers Can Help Solidify Our Relationship With the Firm
Michelle Golden: Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms: The Guide to Establishing Credibility and Accelerating Relationships (Wiley Professional Advisory Services)
A timeless guide to modern marketing strategies: online and off.
"The most comprehensive guide that I have seen so far."―Joe Bailey, CPA
"How to execute social-media strategies and the reasons why they work, written at a higher than most level; a must read if you are serious about social networking." —Anthony Provinzino, Farmers Insurance
"So much more than a run down of the tools....helps you to think strategically about social media by putting in its proper perspective."―Colette Gonsalves, CPA firm marketing director
"Extremely well organized ... winning ideas for ... firms to develop and maintain non-cookie-cutter marketing programs that are firm-specific and purposeful."―Richard Weltman, Business & bankruptcy lawyer