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How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Coaching Clients to Refer Business

Sep 6th 2017
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Your best clients could be a referral bonanza once they feel confident enough to approach their friends, but the problem is getting them prepared. 

You may need to coach them. You’ve likely played sports, but what does a coach do? They guide the player’s natural talents to achieve a greater height. Olympic coaches are a good example.

First, you need the right client. Some are natural salesman, while others are more reserved, viewing accounting as a pay for service transaction. Avoid the latter. 

The ideal referral source is a client what wants to help you grow your business, one that says:  “Just tell me what I can do to help you.” That’s a good clue.

Second, you need to have a conversation. This can be delicate.  You’ve heard “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but thanks to technology it has become “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook forever.” 

In other words, no e-mails, letters or texts. You’ve seen what it’s done to political figures. Even the most innocent comments can be taken out of context. You want this to be an across the table conversation.

Third, your client needs to understand your objective. That’s a 1:1 meeting between you and the prospect. You need to check each other out. It’s completely confidential and the referring client isn’t there.

So Who Makes a Good Potential Client?

Not everyone the client knows is a prospect. Some people file their own taxes, while others love their accountant. Assuming most accountants do a good job, your client should be looking for people on the margins.

  • Does anyone complain about their accountant?
  • Has someone outgrown their accountant?
  • The client’s profession is your niche market.  Does someone in their professional association need your specialized skills?
  • Is a fellow professional just entering the business on their way to a long career?

Another approach is for the client to find someone with a problem. They must be careful that problem is one where you can help find a solution. 

  • Do you know a business owner in trouble with the IRS?
  • Has a couple recently been divorced?
  • Has a friend experienced the death of a spouse? (We’ll use this as an example later.)

Do Clients Know How You Help Them?

“You should use my accountant, she is really great!” Although sincere, that’s unlikely to change minds. They not only need to understand how you help them, they need to explain it to another person.

  • How long have you been working together?  Longevity implies satisfaction.
  • Simplify what you do in easy to understand soundbites.  Soundbites are memorable.
  • Don’t overpromise, especially when the client’s business is an unfamiliar territory.
  • Accounting is usually done in billable hours, but as you know that is changing. Don’t quote fees because their situation might be more complicated.
  • Bear in mind the prospect’s location. Neighbors have a different relationship that friends on another coast. (or overseas)

Most important, your client is not being compensated for finding you a new client. Their logic is:  “I’m happy with my accountant. You seem to have a problem they have solved for me. I’m doing a friend a favor.”

How Might the Conversation Sound?

The key is:  Problem – Solution – Action.  In this case, you have used the client-prospect dinner approach to initially introduce the prospect.  The example is: What happens if the client handling the family finances predeceases their spouse?

The conversation may go like this:

“You are probably aware I’m significantly older than my wife. I’m concerned what will happen to her if I die first. Who will help her with budgeting or see that bills are paid on time?”  “Fortunately for you I have a good CPA. We have worked together for 20 years and she knows this is important to me. My wife likes her and she likes my wife. I feel if anything happened to me, she would be in good hands. I know you feel the same way about your wife.  My wife is taking us out to dinner next Thursday and said we could bring guests. Why don’t you come along?  I think you would enjoy meeting our CPA.”  Problem – Solution – Action.

Clients can help with their comfort zone. Try to make this as easy as possible.

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