Making the Most of Your Referral Relationships

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Making the Most of Your Referral Relationships
Presented by Karen Bergh
Founder and President, RainMaker Pro Training & Consulting
Contact Karen at [email protected]

June 26, 2001

Visit the AccountingWEB Workshop Calendar for upcoming sessions.


Do you have the referral relationships you need to attract clients? If you're new at referral-based marketing, or aren't satisfied with the referral network you have, "Making the Most of Your Referral Relationships" will provide information you can use. During this online workshop, participants explored:

  • Criteria for referral relationships
  • How to move the relationship to the next level
  • The "golden rules" of relationship marketing
  • How to sustain profitable connections
  • You can read the complete transcript of this workshop.

    June 26, 2001 Session Sponsored by: College for Financial Planning

    Workshop Transcript

    Session Moderator: Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us today! I'm happy to introduce Karen Bergh, Principal of Rainmaker Pro Training & Consulting. Karen Bergh is the founder and president of RainMaker Pro Training & Consulting, a Riverside, California-based firm that provides consulting services and learning resources to help client companies throughout the U.S. build and sustain strong sales and marketing organizations.

    At RainMaker Pro, Karen helps people capitalize on their strengths, overcome personal obstacles, maintain focus, and set realistic, attainable goals for peak performance. Through her on-site training workshops, consulting and one-on-one coaching, Karen helps professionals define and achieve personal and firm-wide goals for growth, marketing and business development.

    Welcome Karen, and thank you for joining us today!

    Karen Bergh: Thank you, happy to be here! And welcome all attendees!

    Today we're going to be looking at "Making the Most of Your Referral Relationships." If you are an accountant in private practice, or are responsible for marketing a practice, you no doubt depend heavily on networking and relationship marketing for generating leads. In the service professions, it is critical that you meet people and cultivate relationships with those who can help you grow your business-as you help them grow theirs.

    This requires "getting out of the office"-a lot. In fact, a disproportionate amount of Personal Marketing is just about "showing up."

    But how do you know whom you should be "showing up" to meet?
    Who should be in your "sphere of influence?"
    How do you find and cultivate those relationships?
    How do you know if you're spending your time wisely, or if you are "wasting" time, in terms of potential payoff?

    These are some of the questions we're going to be discussing today...but before we continue, does anyone have a comment or particular question?

    To help you determine whether you have the right referral network, or whether to move the relationship to the next level, I like to use a checklist based loosely on the work of business coach Ken Potalivo of ProGrowth, Inc. of Irvine, California.

    The basic formula for determining whether you're spending your time with the right people is to seek to find in each potential strategic relationship:

    • Great chemistry
    • Great communication
    • Personal relationship
    • Similar markets
    • Comparable talent levels
    • A strong, compatible network
    • Reliable and proactive people
    • Committed to success

    As you compare your relationships against this checklist, consider:

    Great chemistry - you know it when you encounter it; this has to be there before anything else can happen, or before there's even enough interest to get beyond a superficial first meeting. You just plain "like them!" (And they you!)

    Great communication - your communication styles are similar, they listen as well as share, and you learn from them as much as you teach them. You establish a rapport easily with them, as well as others, and they also possess this ability.

    Personal relationship - you share similar values, morals, ethics, maybe have some things in common outside of work (hobbies, interests, family, friends), you understand their passions. You truly begin to care for this person.

    Similar markets - in a broad sense, their business goals put them in alignment with yours simply because they want to reach similar markets, already operate in similar markets, or want to be in the markets you serve.

    Comparable talent levels- my co-author (we're writing a book on "Personal Marketing") likens this to the need you have when, say, you're a tennis player and you frequently choose to play with someone whose skills challenge you to improve. Comparable talent means they at least need to be in the same league you are in, and might even have a "higher batting average" so you can learn and stretch yourself because of their influence in your life.

    You may play this role for others as well-stretching them because of your strengths in an area they need to grow in.

    A strong, compatible network- within a market, they serve similar segments to yours or a client base compatible to yours and because you share this in common it makes sense for you to "stay close" to one another. A strong, compatible network-and one that is not competitive-means you are more likely to be in a position to share opportunities. The strength of their network extends yours naturally.

    Reliable and proactive - these should be "entrepreneurial" types, who don't "sit on" an opportunity or forget or neglect commitments; they keep their promises and are diligent about their follow-up. If you are this way, when you find this in another person it's like striking gold.

    Committed to success - generally speaking, if they are committed to their own success, you can help them succeed.
    Karen Bergh: Is this confusing? Does anyone have any questions or comments?

    Jackie O'Reilly: If someone is committed to their own success, how does that help with a reciprocal relationship? Will they be committed enough to your success?

    Karen Bergh: As you are determining whether someone is a, let's call it "A" relationship, then they likely will meet most of the criteria above...personal friendship is key. They should WANT to help you? Does anyone else agree? Had experience with this? The "law of reciprocity" according to marketing guru Jay Abrahamson, makes it possible, probable, and profitable for them to return the favor.

    Richard Stinson: I have had referral sources that were personal friends and others who were not. The reciprocal concept is right on target.

    Karen Bergh: Thanks, Richard, for your comment.

    The key to a successful referral "friendship" is you should be willing to give without regard for what is returned for a period of time. So how do you know whether you're investing in a relationship that has a high probability for "payoff?"

    I'm suggesting you start with this checklist. If a referral source doesn't meet all of these criteria, then he or she is probably still just a network acquaintance. In fact, I encourage my clients to define their business relationships according to where they stand in their "spheres of influence."

    By going through the simple process of ranking your relationships, you see where you stand. By applying criteria to your business relationships, and by putting your relationships in categories, you help define the value of these relationships in terms of building your business.

    Karen Bergh: The key categories I use are:

    1. Network-really just an acquaintance
    2. Referral Source-you've agreed you can help one another
    3. Prospect-would-be client has asked you for a proposal
    4. Client-proposal for work has been approved, and work is scheduled to begin

    Karen Bergh: We rank them in this way because it's really important to know how to spend your time.

    Donny Kipliscious: yes that makes sense

    Karen Bergh: I go further, in my FanMakerSM workshops, by helping clients not only define the value of their relationships, but also to learn how to move the relationships to the next level.
    Karen Bergh: We examine how well we know our contacts, and periodically make notes about the person and relationship.

    Donny Kipliscious: We should share some experiences we have had with this sort of thing.

    Michael Horrocks: Is your Referral Source your "A" category.

    Karen Bergh: Michael, good question. Donny, good suggestion.

    Michael, first: yes, I see Referral sources as "A" business friends. They've moved to that anointed slot because they can, and want to, help you--and vice versa.

    John Rodgers: Karen, I have a referral source that I cannot return the favor because he works with very large clients only. What do you suggest I do to further the relationship?

    Karen Bergh: If your referral source is kind enough to send you referrals without expecting a quid pro quo, I ask you (as I would in my face-to-face workshops):

    "What else can you do, that would add value to his business, his life, his goals...?" Any ideas?

    There are many ways, for example...

    • Request advice (flatters)
    • Congratulate on an achievement (shows respect)
    • Refer possible job candidate (solves a problem)
    • Provide information about a potential client or company (you're committed to their success even if you don't run in their circles, exactly)
    • Take them to lunch, just because...

    If your referral source is kind enough to send you referrals without expecting a quid pro quo, I ask you (as I would in my face-to-face workshops):

    Donny Kipliscious: we could ask to buy them a drink after work.

    Session Moderator: Think of them when you're reading the paper or industry publications - send a clipping that might be meaningful.

    Donny Kipliscious: or send internet greeting cards for birthdays and such

    Karen Bergh: It's not exactly "keeping score..." although I know there are those who would disagree I'm sure!

    Karen Bergh: John, you still there? Like any of these ideas?

    John Rodgers: Good advice...thanks!

    Donny Kipliscious: I am going to start doing some of these things for my co-workers

    Karen Bergh: It comes down to basic "golden rule" behavior...treat others as you would like to be treated...remember too, "Personal Marketing is a contact sport."

    Donny Kipliscious: and put the feelings of others before your own

    Karen Bergh: Donny, great idea! Business referral relationships can also be internal. Why don't we continue...

    Questions such as the following help you understand how well you know your "fans", and what you need to do to either improve or let go of the relationship.

    1. List one of more personal of professional goals that the contact would like to achieve before the year is over.
    2. What accomplishment within the last year is this person most proud of?
    3. List one of more of your contact's hobbies. What is his or her passion?
    4. What are some of the personal and professional organizations he or she serves as a member?
    5. What are your fan's greatest skills?
    6. List at least 5 things you share in common with your fan.
    7. Within the last 12 months, how many times have you interacted with this individual?
    8. Within the last 12 months, how have you contributed or provided value to your fan?
    9. Within the last 12 months, what value you have you derived from the relationship?

    When I deliver this topic as a "stand-up" workshop, this is always my favorite part. Participants are usually amazed at how little they really know about their referral sources. That's my point, exactly. If you're expecting reciprocity, you should take a personal interest in their success...all the things I've mentioned above.

    Karen Bergh: This 9-point list, if you filled it out every time you have contact with an "A" list person, would tell you where you need to work on the relationship.

    Donny Kipliscious: I don't like all the people in my office though, I only want to get to know some of them, is that okay?

    Karen Bergh: What do you think? LOL

    Donny, I'd say that's ok; you're really looking for the Criteria as outlined in the first part of the workshop (see above or see transcript later).

    Donny Kipliscious: thanks

    Session Moderator: Does anyone have any other ideas for how to improve your relationship with potential referral sources?

    Richard Stinson: Karen how about: joint seminars, referral to speaking engagements, coauthoring a newspaper/magazine article

    Karen Bergh: Richard, those are all GREAT fact, if you help market your referral sources, they love you!

    When I started my practice, I conducted a survey of accounting firms...I asked for their permission to use the information, and they all wanted reprints to use on their own. Then, it provided me a non-salesly way to get to know them, and begin the relationship, and establish trust and a good rapport. It was a great tool. There are many such ideas...thanks for adding to the list. I've also taken referral sources (who have same market or want it) on "joint" sales calls.

    John Rodgers: Seminars has worked really well for me.

    Donny Kipliscious: what do you think , max? what works for you?

    Karen Bergh: Has anyone else tried this? Has anyone else had good success with co-marketing seminars? A nice arrangement sometimes is that one may supply the key target list, and the other the content. Bring different things to the table...

    I have a client, for example, who thinks my services would be of value to a select number of his clients, who he is willing to share with me. He does the marketing, sets up the event, invites his people. And I provide the "value" (read: added value for his firm, because he will of course still be primary contact for the account and will also share fees)

    Many accounting firms have similar arrangements with their outside partners for Financial Planning. This of course, raises the level of the relationship. You're really into more than a referral relationship; at this level you're almost more of a partner provider. Agree?

    Donny Kipliscious: yes

    Karen Bergh: Has anyone tried this angle? Talk about strengthening your referral relationships for results!!

    Richard Stinson: Co-marketing seems to work better because of the potential for a larger and more qualified prospects. For example, estate planning seminars with a panel consisting of accountant/tax expert, attorney, insurance professional, and banker. This way you provide the "team approach" to the prospect(s).

    Karen Bergh: Richard, agree completely...stronger together than any one firm would be alone!

    How do you find the right business relationships? I help clients go through a "Personal Marketing" process identifying their strengths and positioning, markets served, target markets, marketing activities, training needed and other details. It's not rocket science, but you need to go through this process to know where, how and with whom to spend your time.

    How do you improve those relationships you've identified as valuable to your success? There are many ways (and many books written about how) to cultivate the relationships you believe will be of value to your business. The general rule is to apply the "golden rule" treating the person as you would like to be treated.

    Some marketers just do this naturally. In our workshops, we teach more reluctant marketers how to seek opportunities for contact and exchange where they might otherwise avoid them.

    Session Moderator: Karen - can you recommend any books on the subject?

    Donny Kipliscious: are any of them on your page?

    Karen Bergh: Harding Ford: RainMaking (see AccountingWEB home page) is great.

    Also: Power Up Your Profits, Troy Waugh, a CPA turned marketing guru, you can purchase his book at

    My book, when it's published (please send me email at [email protected] to get on the mailing list)

    Session Moderator: You can find these books described at
    Donny Kipliscious: thanks, Gail

    Karen Bergh: Donny, books not there right now, but articles on might be of use/interest

    Donny Kipliscious: Okay thanks

    John Rodgers: A bit off the subject (sorry) does anyone know of a place where accounting / finance professionals can exchange ideas or get solutions? i.e. chat rooms or forums, I don't mean late night chat rooms filled with weird hackers.

    Donny Kipliscious: yeah, hackers are a big problem

    Session Moderator: I don't at the moment - we've been talking about launching a discussion area on AccountingWEB - look for this in the future.

    Karen Bergh: I think Gail meant creating an online accounting/finance community

    Funny, Donny, appreciate the chuckles this afternoon! In our workshops we also encourage reluctant marketers to learn to enjoy their referral contacts. Accountants tend to be shy people-until you get to know them.

    So how do you sustain profitable connections? Generally speaking, if you are committed to your business friends' success, they will reciprocate. Jay Abrahamson calls it the "law of reciprocity." People can't help but help other people. Very often your success in business relationships-besides helping others-is just being willing to ASK.

    People are naturally supportive of each other, naturally sympathetic, and willing to do whatever it takes to help someone who asks for and needs help. And while it is important to focus on the steps involved in nurturing your business relationships, it is more important to enjoy them along the way.

    Every step of your journey is important to your success, and the people you share that with are part of your singular "divine plan." I'm not suggesting you are "using" people to get where and what you want. I'm suggesting that you help them obtain their goals-as they support you in the attainment of yours. This formula for creating "fans" (and being one yourself) really works.

    In the past year, I have brought a half-dozen colleagues into proposals of mine. Just recently, a "fan" brought me into a relationship with his client and now we are co-proposing consulting, training and coaching for his client.

    Donny Kipliscious: Believing in yourself and others helps me a lot when I start a new project.

    Karen Bergh: I agree, Donny, because you're really talking about establishing trust.

    Michael Horrocks: Its a bit like the "OLD BOYS" network I suppose.

    Karen Bergh: Michael, sort of except it's not about "you owe me" so much as "how can I help" and oh, "I'd really love to work with you on building our businesses" and really mean it.

    I had a managing partner at Ernst & Young years ago who was very big on the arm-twisting style. He would sort of keep "chits" (and if fact I heard him often refer to "favors owed" as these) and then "call them in" when he needed them, oftentimes without much relationship cultivation in between.

    It is critical to maintain and nurture (boy do I sound like a woman or what) these important relationships before you need them.

    Donny Kipliscious: so they will help you when you need it, right?

    Karen Bergh: Donny, exactumundo!

    Donny Kipliscious: THANKS!!!

    Michael Horrocks: or help you before you need it

    Karen Bergh: Right, Michael. They should be looking out for your best interests...proactively!

    They will have you "top of mind" just like you want from your marketing/advertising/promotion/pr

    This concept, by the way, is explored in detail and in a great style by Harvey MacKay (a man who does it very well) in his book, Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty...also a must-read if you are interested in furthering your knowledge and experience about this topic!

    Session Moderator: We're almost out of time - and before we wrap this up today I want to take a minute to thank our sponsor - The College for Financial Planning. To learn more about the online course offerings and certification programs offered through the College of Financial Planning, click on the banner above.

    Are there any final questions for Karen?

    Donny Kipliscious: With all these tips, making great relationships in the workplace should be a breeze!

    Karen Bergh: Hope so, Donny. If you need help, I have classes, will travel! :)

    Donny Kipliscious: okay, thanks

    Session Moderator: Thank you so much, Karen - thank you so for a GREAT workshop!

    Donny Kipliscious: Thank you so much Karen!! You're the best!!!!!!!!

    Session Moderator: Thank you all for joining us today!

    Karen Bergh: Thank you, Gail, and Donny et al! Thanks, John for your comments as well!

    Donny Kipliscious: Max, hope to see you next time, and maybe be more active?!

    John Rodgers: You are welcome.....I look forward to the online community.....Great Workshop!

    Donny Kipliscious: Yeah, excellent!

    Karen Bergh: Thanks!


    Karen Bergh is the founder and president of RainMaker Pro Training & Consulting, a Riverside, California-based firm that provides consulting services and learning resources to help client companies throughout the U.S. build and sustain strong sales and marketing organizations.

    Karen and her team train and coach professionals who want to sell more. Early in her career, her creative copy for ad agencies appeared in national campaigns, and helped sell products ranging from gas grills to banking services. While working for Ernst & Young, her local business development team claimed victory to closing an additional $1.5 million in new business in just over a year. She has more than 17 years' experience as a corporate communications manager, serving the healthcare, real estate, software manufacturing, and business-to-business telemarketing industries.

    At RainMaker Pro, Karen helps people capitalize on their strengths, overcome personal obstacles, maintain focus, and set realistic, attainable goals for peak performance. Through her on-site training workshops, consulting and one-on-one coaching, Karen helps professionals define and achieve personal and firm-wide goals for growth, marketing and business development.

    Karen is a member of the Professional Women's Roundtable/National Association of Female Executives, the Association for Accounting Marketing, and the American Society for Training and Development. She is active as a fundraising/marketing committee volunteer in several community organizations, publishes a monthly marketing column for a local business journal, and speaks at conferences. She teaches classes on "Personal Marketing" for Riverside Community College and Cal State San Bernardino.

    E-mail: [email protected]
    Web site:

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