By Jack LaRue
What's your most powerful new business tool? For almost every accountant I talk to, it's word of mouth – existing clients referring new clients. But when I ask them what they're doing to grow their referrals, I'm often met with an uncomfortable silence.
This is understandable. Nobody wants to look desperate for new business, and it's not your clients' job to be your sales force. But I think it's important to nurture your most lucrative new business channel. There are plenty of easy things you can do to remind clients and others that you value their referrals. Here are just a few:
1. Let clients know you're open to referrals. Simply mention that you'd appreciate a heads-up on anyone who might be interested in your services. Don't ask for an immediate response, just plant the seed and move on.
2. Provide referrals to colleagues in other professions. If a colleague doesn't reciprocate by referring his or her clients to you, try a different colleague.
3. Use passive communication. For example, put a line in your e-mail signature or on your business card that states, "The highest compliment we can receive is your referral."
4. Make it part of your elevator speech .
"Business is great, but we're always looking for more."
5. Follow up quickly on every referral. Remember, the person who referred you has placed trust in you.
6. Thank the people who refer you.
When a referral turns into a new client, I think it's nice to send a small gift
to the person who made the original referral. But a simple and sincere thank-you also goes a long way.
7. Make it easy to provide referrals. You could put a button on your website that links to an e-mail form, or you could just provide simple instructions for referrals. "If you know of anyone who might benefit from our services, please e-mail us at . . ."
8. Keep your website inviting and informative. When somebody is referred to you, the person's next step is usually to visit your website. So it's important to make sure you're putting your best foot forward.
9. Make sure existing clients see the value of your services. The more they see you as instrumental to their success, the more likely they are to refer you.
10. Participate in co-marketing events. Whether it's a speaking engagement, seminar, webinar, or simply a marketing campaign, team up with a colleague in a complementary business and market to both client and prospect bases. Just make sure you can each provide value to the other's base.
Referrals will always be one of your most effective (and least expensive) ways to find new clients. Don't leave this important sales channel to chance. With just a little attention, you can increase your referrals and client satisfaction.
How do you drive client referrals? Please share your comments below.