7 Ways to Gather Referrals for Your Business to Make it More Valuable
An AccountingWEB Workshop
Presented by: Trent Kaeslin and Jennifer Dayce
Results Accountants' Systems
Session Moderator: Good afternoon everyone! I want to thank Trent and Jennifer for being here today from Results Accountants' Systems.
Referrals have historically been the way most CPAs have built their practices and I'm sure they can shed light on this for us.
The floor is yours Jennifer!
Jennifer Dayce: Hey guys! Great to have you all here today. My name is Jennifer Dayce with Results Accountants Systems. The topic for today is "7 Ways to Gather Referrals for Your Business."
The first way to gather referrals is by giving their friends a gift from you. You will offer something special. Has anyone done this before and what is the feedback?
Alfred Greenfield Jr: I have never done it before, however I have heard it as common practice.
Gina Pasyk: Are you giving gifts to the friends of your current referral sources?
Trent Kaeslin: We've found that referrals have the most impact on growing your business as you'll see with the referral spreadsheet that you'll receive.
Kimberly Jennings: I have used this tactic before with other professional service companies and have found it is one of the best ways to make it worth others' time
Trent Kaeslin: Has anyone done something specific that they can share with the group to get us started?
Michelle Golden: Yes. And it helps to make your existing client look good in their friend's eyes.
Trent Kaeslin: Kimberly - can you share with us exactly what you've done to give us some ideas.
Jennifer Dayce: Great Kimberly! How did this affect your referrals?
Kimberly Jennings: I have offered everything from 2 free movie tickets to Colorado Prime Steaks as an incentive and it has worked. People like incentives and it becomes almost a game to see if you will keep rewarding them.
Trent Kaeslin: What did the clients think of the gifts? Were they surprised and do they continue to refer people?
Kimberly Jennings: Yes, they are surprised many times and they keep referring. I haven't done a formal analysis on how much it increases referrals but I believe it does.
Wendy Willis: I was asked to offer a gift for a trade show event, and was stumped trying to think of something suitable. Do most people usually use tickets as gifts?
Trent Kaeslin: Wendy - Gifts don't need to be elaborate but they should be perceived as valuable, the client should be comfortable with the gift and you should ensure that the dollar value isn't to great.
Michelle Golden: I've seen it not work, too. Even a cash incentive. I believe if the service to the client wasn't PERFECT one shouldn't ask them to refer at all.
Trent Kaeslin: Does anyone have specific suggestions or ideas of what they have given in addition to Kimberly?
Robert Kosbie: WE have had great success sending a dozen cookies from a specialty cookie shop. They are promised to be delivered "hot out of the oven"
Session Moderator: Trent, each year, my firm would choose a "gift" to give our best referral sources - this was beyond the reciprocal referrals.
Michelle Golden: Coffee table books, gift baskets, bed & breakfast gift certificate (was a BIG referral) and other event tickets.
Session Moderator: One year, it was magnums of French wine. Last year, in honor of Y2K, it was champagne. Another year, it was steak dinner certificates. Of course, these are the big guns... so the value was relevant.
I found it very interesting that clients often said that "thanks" was enough... most of them were very wealthy and didn't "need" anything, but appreciated the acknowledgement.
Wendy Willis: I have used world-renowned chocolates from Rogers for my best clients, and they have sent referrals.
Trent Kaeslin: I agree that not everyone needs something of great value but the recognition encourages them to continue and is greatly appreciated. Even a simple letter if you aren’t able to talk with them in person.
Jennifer Dayce: Awesome! The second: Get an influential client ( or associate) to send a letter singing your praises.
Session Moderator: I find that giving referrals back is the greatest incentive to keeping the referrals coming. Well, my colleague and I used to refer reporters to people who had given us referrals when we didn't have reciprocal referrals.
Kimberly Jennings: I agree with referral swapping.
Michelle Golden: Referring back is good, but sometimes it isn't possible.
Robert Kosbie: Quid Pro Quo is not always feasible or practical. What do you suggest when a referral is not possible?
Trent Kaeslin: Robert - I think you make a valid point. If you are giving a client value and you agree prior to your engagement that they'll provide you with a referral, there shouldn't be any problem asking. I find it easier to ask for referrals if you preface the relationship by saying you would like them to refer clients after they see the work you can do and are impressed with it.
Session Moderator: What about free PR?
Robert Kosbie: What do you mean by FREE PR?
Session Moderator: Although people REALLY appreciated it, they ALWAYS told us they would rather have the business.
Amy Dawson: What is the best time in the relationship to ask for referrals?
Kimberly Jennings: The best time to ask for a referral is just after the client has complimented your company or your services.
Trent Kaeslin: Hi Amy - At the beginning let them know that if they are delighted with your work you would appreciate them referring clients to you.
Michelle Golden: At the MINIMUM, a personal hand written note should be sent immediately (even if you don't obtain business from the person referred).
Jennifer Dayce: That brings me to the third idea: Identify businesses that have the same kind of ideal potential clients as yours and have them promote your business.
Robert Kosbie: Great Idea :) How do you establish a reporter relationship to provide such a referral?
Session Moderator: Robert - that takes time and energy - it's something that you develop and can use as one of the toys in your toy box.
Robert Kosbie: I realize that it takes time, where would you suggest starting?
Session Moderator: Robert - I would suggest calling the financial reporter at your local biz journal and asking them out to lunch/breakfast. Ask them what you can do to help them do their job - cover their beat.
Jennifer Dayce: Has anyone had success by gaining referrals by having an "invitation-only event"?
Dwain Speese: Recently, I was asked to provide a free consultative session to anyone that this source referred to me. I agreed of course because in order for me to even begin putting together a proposal, I would need information and the best way to get it is in a consultative session.
Trent Kaeslin: Invitation-only events are a great way to show your current clients or selected potential clients that they are valued. A good way to encourage referrals would be to ask your current clients to come and bring a guest or let you know whom else they should invite so they do not miss out.
Does anyone else have insight into a invitation only event?
Michelle Golden: The beauty of it is you have prospects surrounded by people who can vouch for your quality.
Joseph Matherne: I normally follow up with clients after the engagement is complete. During this meeting, I ask for feedback and if the client seems pleased with our work. I'll explain the type of client we are looking for and ask for any referrals.
Trent Kaeslin: Joseph - great point regarding the client selection.
Jennifer Dayce: Another way to gather referrals is to piggyback your mailing pieces. For example, when an associate (or a client's) business sends out monthly invoices or a letter, they enclose a newsletter, flyer or some sort of endorsement. This keeps postage or delivery costs down.
Has anyone attempted the piggyback mailing?
Jennifer Dayce: One way to get the team involved in having a great time with the clients and potential clients is to throw a party for the customers and have them invite at least two friends.
Jennifer Dayce: How does that sound? Has anyone thought of doing that?
Session Moderator: Sounds like a good plan.
Jennifer Dayce: What do you think some benefits would be if you did this for some of your clients?
Session Moderator: I've heard, though, that when working with clients you have to be careful if you can't invite all of them
Depending on how well you know your clients, you could help them develop business with other clients. For instance, you could mention that one client was looking for "X" services, etc.
Jodi Harless: We do luncheons for groups that we see as referral sources such as bankers or attorneys and offer them time to tell us about what they do and then we do the same and discuss the services that our firm provides. Does anyone else do anything similar?
Michelle Golden: Jodi, I've set up events where our accounting firm held small seminars in conjunction with a bank, an attorney and a psychologist to discuss the many aspects of succession planning. Each speaker had to invite 10 key clients from their firm. Great cross-marketing, and we presented well as a "team.”
Jodi Harless: Michelle-that's a great idea. Has it been successful?
Michelle Golden: Yes, very. The attendees could see the mix of professionals already had good rapport.
Jennifer Dayce: Michelle, how often did you have the events with your clients to set up the cross marketing? And did you have it like an invitation only setting?
Michelle Golden: We didn't do them as often as I would have liked to. They were held in a large training room of the bank (a community bank that happened to be our biggest client). It was by invitation only.
Jennifer Dayce: Michelle, did your clients feel valued and did their referrals feel as though they too would be appreciated?
Michelle Golden: Jennifer, we were very careful to make sure the session was information packed! It was not a sales pitch at all and it really didn't need to be. I think the attendees got a lot of value out of it and that speaks volumes because if we had wasted their time, no one would have appreciated it.
Trent Kaeslin: It is important that if you want referrals, which I'm assuming we all do, that you get referrals that will benefit your business not a client that will drain your resources.
Joseph Matherne: We've written down the characteristics of the types of clients we are seeking and we give a copy of this to our best clients and ask for as many referrals as possible. I explain that by getting them involved in my marketing plan I have more time to devote to their needs.
Jennifer Dayce: Good idea Joseph! How has this impacted your firm since implementation?
Joseph Matherne: Our results have been outstanding. It has allowed us to really identify those clients that we are able to serve best at a profit and to eliminate those hard cases. Although we're not there yet. We are seeking to be 100% referral within the next 5.
Dwain Speese: 100% referral seems to be a lofty goal but I can see that as very advantageous.
Trent Kaeslin: Joseph - that's great. Have you found, or maybe at this point do you think you'll find that your advertising and marketing expenses will be decreased and redirected?
I've seen firms that spend thousands on yellow page ads and marketing and realize that they are not getting the dividends. They get 80% of there business from referrals and now market to them solely. Just like Joseph is planning to do.
Joseph Matherne: Exactly, we have reduced our marketing expenses and I feel that we are receiving more value for each dollar spent by redirecting our efforts toward 100% referrals.
Trent Kaeslin: Joseph - would you mind sharing some more details about your referral system. I'm interested to know about some of the % that you've improved revenues or reduced expenses.
Joseph Matherne: I haven't really crunched the number but I’d say our marketing expenses are down by about 20%. After we receive the referral, I have the client send the referral a letter describing our firm. This letter is completed by our staff. After we make initial contact with the client letter, I generally wait about two weeks and begin a process of mail outs. These mailouts are mainly articles that I feel my ideal clients would be interested in. I mail a new article every other week. After 6 mailouts or 12 weeks, I make initial contact. Normally, a phone interview which if all goes well I move into a formal meeting.
Michelle Golden: Joseph, you say you've written the criteria to share with clients. How do you present it?
Joseph Matherne: After an engagement, I normally sit down with the client to get a critique of our performance and to probe for any additional value I can provide. I then explain to the client that marketing takes up a lot of my time and prevents me from adding any value to our relationship. If they could assist me by providing a few referrals, I would be able to work more efficiently for them.
Jacolyn Fellin: I have gotten involved in the Non Profit community and gained many referrals from those associations.
Jennifer Dayce: The last way we have seen success in gathering referrals is by purchasing leads by offering a 'spotters fee.' This becomes more of a commercial relationship. In this instance, depending on the lifetime value of your customer ( that is, if it's financially worth it!), you could do this for your client for introducing potential clients to your business.
Trent Kaeslin: Would anyone else like to share shat they have done to encourage referrals?
Robert Kosbie: One thing we do is call and thank the referrer and immediately ask for another referral.
Trent Kaeslin: I've talked with clients who I feel are A clients or top clients and have asked for referrals. A lot of times I've found that off the top of their head maybe they can't think of anyone but I'll follow up with them at a later date and ask again. It is amazing what happens with a little persistence. Even if they can't think of someone, you’re on their mind and eventually it will pay dividends.
Michelle Golden: Trent, you're right and it is so important to simply let your clients know you aren't too busy to accept new work.
Trent Kaeslin: Very good point Michelle. I think clients may also get the wrong impression if they feel you are always busy when they call or appear to not have time for them . They may feel that you can't handle more work and not refer anyone.
Jennifer Dayce: That is awesome Michelle! Whose clientele was greatly increased by referrals? Joseph has dedicated a great portion of time and effort to realizing this is a great potential for growth.
Trent Kaeslin: It is important that systems are in place to prevent this. Phone scripts, time frames for getting back to clients, etc.
Michelle Golden: Very true, Trent. Any ideas on breaking down resistance to setting up such systems?
Trent Kaeslin: Good question - with any system I would test it first and ask the client for feedback. Open and honest. I think the phone system is one of the most important first steps. It gives a first impression.
Jennifer Dayce: Do you offer the client that has given a referral anything to continue having them refer businesses to you?
Has anyone ever monitored which clients came as referrals and why they were referred to you?
Joseph Matherne: Jennifer - I do this with referrals that I've solicited from clients to see what kind of response rate I'm getting.
Jennifer Dayce: Great job Joseph! This is also a way to monitor that what your clients want is being done in your business. We are coming to a close on this topic, but evidently everyone has conveyed that it is essential to have referrals to increase your business and get the clientele you want. Thank you all for participating.
Session Moderator: I am so impressed by all of you. It sounds like most of you are on the right track to building business and referrals. We have just a few minutes left. Are there any questions for Jennifer and Trent?
I want to thank Trent and Jennifer again for being here today. What a great session! Thanks, too, to all of you who interacted and shared your experiences.
Trent Kaeslin: Thank you for all the participation today. Keep implementing and don't forget to ask for those referrals.
Session Moderator: Don't forget to email us and let us know if there are any topics of interest we can cover in our workshop series for you!