It's no secret that the best marketing tool that ever existed is word of mouth. It costs nothing and spreads like wildfire. A successful, professional accounting practice often acquires most of their customers via referrals from their existing customer base. And it’s easy to understand why. For a small business, choosing the right financial partner is a big decision. As their advisor, you’ll have intimate knowledge about their company and often their personal financial goals also. So trust and an established reputation are key.
Consumer proof is one of the strongest tools to give new leads the reason to move their business to your firm. And it is way more powerful for someone else to sing your praises than if you try to convey this yourself.
In research by Hinge Marketing, 87% of participants said they ask friends or colleagues when they are looking for an accountant. And in Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Report 83% of the global respondents say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family. But building a network and getting more referral using the old methods of attending events or joining multiple business boards can be time-consuming and inefficient.
We look at new ways to simplify the process and up your referral business
1. First do great work
The better your service and delivery is for your existing clients, the more likely they will sing your praises to others. This might be as simple as improving your client communication and responding quickly to queries. Make sure you are also communicating with your clients about the work you are doing. Bringing your client into the process is empowering for them and may serve to highlight the issues you continue to solve for them, while they get on with the day to day management.
2. Are you ready for new business?
Assess your current capacity and work out whether you are ready to give the level of service that the new client is expecting. If your current systems and structures will suffice, it may be that all you need is an internal understanding on priorities, for when the workflow increases.
3. Identify the clients you would like to replicate
Good clients bring more good clients. Researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of Pennsylvania found that a German Bank’s referred customers were not only 18% less likely to leave the bank, but they also delivered 25% higher profit margin. The study concluded that because clients referred similar businesses who they thought would be a good fit, the bank was able to quickly understand and meet the needs for these new customers.
4. All you have to do is ask
According to Texas Tech, 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer a product or service but only 29% do. So it may be as simple as asking your clients to refer others to you.
Identify the best times to have this conversation. Perhaps when you have just successfully got them through year end. You may want to start the discussion with a comment about how much you enjoy working with them on their business and then ask if they know of similar businesses who are looking for your services. It may not be obvious to your client that the simple act of sharing your name with others would be hugely appreciated by you, so let them know and they are likely to be very happy to do so.
5. Say Thank You
From a simple phone call or handwritten note, to taking them out for lunch. Showing your appreciation for the referral (whether you end up with a new client or not) is great for your relationship and will also encourage them to refer you again.
6. Social proof
89% of customers begin their purchase with an internet search and this also includes your referred clients, who will check you out online before making contact. Make sure you provide evidence for the great recommendation you received. Add quotes from satisfied clients to your home page.
You can do this in a number of ways:
- When you thank your client for passing your details on, the opportunity exists to put that positive endorsement online. Ask for a testimonial, that you can include in the front page of your website. If they are not sure what to say or pushed for time, don’t write it for them but be prepared to have a couple of thoughts to help make the process easier.
- Offer a case study of their successful business in your blog – which gives them exposure and broadens your reach to their network.
- Ask them to add a review on your Google Business Listing and on your LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Send a link and step-by-step instructions in your ‘thank you’ email so they can post their comment easily. Your positive social proof will work wonders for your referrals as well as help with your search engine ranking.
7. Referral goes two ways
You are in a great position to bring your clients together so refer for your clients too. This is great for their business as well as your relationship and they’ll likely return the favour.
8. Build your brand for more referral business
In research by Hinge Marketing, 81.5% of firms said they receive referrals from people they have not worked with directly. These referrals are based purely on your reputation and brand.
Thought leadership dramatically improves your marketing efficiency – when you have started to build your reputation in an area, you’ll start to see your referrals business grow. Consider the following steps to build awareness of your expertise:
- Start a blog to share insights, useful information and opinion pieces
- Build your social media fans and followers through great content and commentary
- Find complementary partners to offer your clients something of value, e.g. collaborate on a seminar with a bank, or offer to speak as a guest at an industry event.
- Grow your network – share your articles and blogs on social media to grow fans followers and connections
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and responsive.
9. Incentivise with ‘friend get friend’
More commonly used in retail, friend get friend offers can work in professional services too. For example, you could send your top clients an offer of two hours free of charge to help them plan for the year ahead and include another free advisory session for them to give to a business they know. It’s a small investment that can lead to new revenue for your firm. Your client also feels good about handing the voucher on because it’s like a free gift from them.
Having a referral program can bring you high value clients who have higher potential for retention. Like any relationship, a mutual connection and some prior knowledge can help start you off on the right foot. Start by bringing some of the ideas above in to your day-to-day practise.