By, Allan Boress
The economic slowdown is affecting the top line of many firms across the country as client companies cut back on purchasing noncompliance services and become increasingly concerned about fees. In response, as business slows, firms tend to cut expenses and attempt to become more efficient. Eventually, a serious effort has to be made to improve revenues immediately, as competition for the limited dollars being spent becomes more aggressive than ever before.
Here’s an idea that has generated increases of 12 percent to 20 percent in revenues for many of my clients over the years: "It’s payback time."
The shoemaker's kids go barefoot
In our sales training programs, we have attracted retail salespeople in addition to professionals. After years of training salespeople, it dawned on me that the most successful salespeople possessed traits that we CPAs take for granted, such as being organized and systematic. Your firm can be much more successful at boosting revenues by being better accountants—when it comes to managing the top line of your business.
It is simply a matter of applying organizational and systemizing skills to tracking referrals. Unfortunately, most firms do not apply their skills in this way, as they have not thought of it or they think it requires too much effort. No one wants additional paperwork; however, business may slip through your fingers, and you may lose future referrals because of this. Because we often do not track the referrals we give out, we lose many in return.
Immediate Business Now
Gather partners and managers together and hand them a blank piece of paper. Have them title the page, "Who Owes Me?"
Have everyone list the referrals they have given out over the past two years, to the best of their recollection, with the referral sources, the name of the client or company referred, and the amount of the estimated fees involved in the referred business.
It is especially vital to recognize those referral sources that owe you return referral business but for whatever reason have not paid you back.
We, as CPAs, are often very good referral sources for other professionals and businesses. Typically, we have more contact with the client’s business than do others and the client often sees us as a center of information to the marketplace.
Many CPAs give referrals to—
- Computer consultants
- Insurance people
- Securities brokers
- Financial planners
- Other CPAs
- Real estate agents
- Other business consultants.
But often, due to shyness or weak control over the situation, you do not get your share back.
Putting together a payback list is a good brainstorming exercise in a group setting because you may forget what was given to a referral source, but others may remember. And if non-partners in the exercise are involved, it gives them buy-in to the business development process and drives the message home about how important new business is.
Once this list is constructed, everyone needs to contact those people on their list for a meeting. It’s absolutely amazing, but CPAs all over the country tell me how often it is that when they meet face-to-face with a referral source, a referral to them occurs soon after that—it is almost a direct relationship.
How do you set up such a meeting? I’m a strong believer that referral relationships are a lot like dating—there has to be frequent social contact for the relationship to go anywhere. The place to discuss referrals is never in the referral source or client’s office—this is a personal matter. Of course, many CPAs do not like leaving their offices, and the thought of buying lunch chills their very souls—but it works.
Try this: Call up someone on the list and say: "Joe! Hi! It’s Jane Smith—how are you? I’ve been looking through my calendar and I realized you’re one person I don’t want to lose contact with. We haven’t seen each other in a while. When are you available for lunch?"
Keys to referrals
There are certain ingredients to successfully obtaining referrals. Violate these at your own risk:
- Location. Where you ask does make a difference. Of course, getting together in any type of social setting—ball games, theater, golf courses, and at mixers with other professional firms—is also a good idea as it acts as a trigger mechanism for referrals.
- Specifics. Telling the referral sources specifically what type of business you are looking for, and where, helps narrow down their thought processes, and aids in their identifying prospects for you.
- Previous experience. Obviously, if you have done lousy work in the past, you are not going to get too many referrals.
- Future reciprocation. Referrals are a two-way street.
- Affability. If they like you as a person, they will go out of their way to help you.
- Asking. People cannot read minds. You cannot expect others to help you if you do not let them know what you want.
At lunch —
- Discuss the referrals you have given the referral source.
- Tell them how much you appreciate the fine work they have done for the people referred.
- Indicate that you are looking to welcome new clients and boost your business this time of year.
- Then tell them what you are looking for.
- Suggest that if they run across someone with those specifications, you would certainly appreciate it if they would refer the business to you.
The preparation is done, it is time to act, and now the doubts begin. "Oh—but I am afraid that they will think poorly of me if I come right out and ask. After all, I’m not starving and I’m not going out of business tomorrow." But there is a lot of business out there going to someone else in the marketplace because you have not asked for it.
Change that now!
I’ve found that other professionals and clients respect you more when you ask for business. All of a sudden, you are a real businessperson in their eyes. Many have said to me and other CPAs, "What were you waiting for? I didn’t know you wanted it. Every time I talk to you, you’re so busy."
If, after spending the time, you see that some people do not help you out with referrals, you have to keep that in mind for the future. Do not invest your referrals in those who will not reciprocate in kind.
Different kinds of referrals
There are many ways a referral source can help you build your business now even without the direct referral to a new client:
- They can refer you to another referral source. Your contacts have other contacts and relationships you do not have. Tap into them now and expand your horizons.
- They can hand-carry you into organizations. Most CPAs join the wrong organizations and then wonder why it does not work. There are groups out there you may not even know about! It is best to be introduced into an organization by someone, as you walk into a group of already existing relationships from the referred party.
- They can make contacts for speaking engagements and/or articles. It is harder to do this kind of marketing as a stranger. I tried for six years to get my own state society to sponsor one of my sales training courses as a mere member. It happened overnight, however, when I asked one of my CPA clients to help—he personally knew the CPE director.
Build your practice now by meeting with people who owe you. If nobody owes you, and you owe him or her, it’s a good idea to get together anyway. Remember—you can help them even without the direct client referral.
By Allan Boress, CPA, CFE, a speaker and trainer on the subject of personal marketing, systematic selling, and client retention Phone: (954)345–4666. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of the I-Hate-Selling tapes, which are available on his Web site, www.ihateselling.com.