If you’re like most accounting professionals, you don’t want to ask clients for referrals because you worry it makes you sound desperate for business. However, it’s also likely people have, at one point or another, asked you the question: “Who do you know…?” And when this question concerns CPAs or bookkeepers, it’s better for your bottom line if you’re the person recommended.
Here are six strategies for prompting friends to connect you with their friends (without putting them in an awkward position):
Ask: “How’s business?” Friends ask all the time. Suppose you heard “How have you helped someone recently” instead? That could lead into a short, anonymous anecdote. Someone had a problem, and you provided a solution.
Rationale: By “dripping on them,” friends start to learn the extent of the services you offer. They will put two and two together, spotting opportunities.
Ask: “Who’s a complainer?” Everyone files taxes and has either an accountant, a tax preparer or a software program. That’s one reason a client’s mind goes blank when asked for a referral: They’re all covered. So instead, try asking: “Who do you know who complains about their accountant?” Most people know someone who isn’t current happy with their accounting services provider, and, if prompted, they would likely introduce you.
Rationale: When someone has a problem, it’s human nature to want to help. They see introducing you as assisting their friend.
Look for RFPs. Businesses don’t behave like people. They don’t say, “I just met a guy I like. I’m outsourcing all our accounting and payroll functions to him.” They usually review contracts and relationships periodically. It’s due diligence to consider other providers, but here’s the problem: It’s not front-page news when they do.
Rationale: Ask clients who work at small firms when they review their outside accounting relationship or put out Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Is this announced in a publication somewhere, or are firms personally invited to submit? Will they consider yours next time?
Acknowledge the risk to the friendship. You don’t want to ask friends for business because it puts them in an awkward position. Let them know that’s why you never asked. You respect the friendship and have assumed they’ve got their tax filing covered anyway. They may know some people who aren’t in the same position. You might be a resource, someone who could help. You would like to spend a few minutes talking about what you do in case they come across someone who needs your services.
Rationale: You’ve taken it away from the “I want your business” conversation into a discussion about how you can help an unnamed third party. That puts people at ease.
Actively offer to help. This is an old one, but a good one. People with a problem are rarely alone. Think back to past friends or clients who came to you with an issue and received a successful solution. Ask them if anyone else is dealing with the same problem and if you can help.
Rationale: As mentioned earlier, it’s human nature to want to help someone in distress.
Find out who wants to learn. You are in a knowledge-based profession, and people pay to benefit from stuff you know. Like doctors and lawyers at parties, people want free advice if they can get it. The implications of the new tax laws are dawning on many clients. They call, wanting to learn how these changes apply to their situation. After you provide answers, ask if they know anyone who would also like to learn about the implications of the new tax laws.
Rationale: Before seeking professional help, many people question their friends first. Apparently they didn’t get a satisfactory answer, because they came to you. Those bewildered friends need an answer too. They are prime candidates for learning from you.
All six situations prompt introductions or opportunities. Your client or friend can either see the benefit of making the connection or feel introducing you doesn’t pose a great risk to them. It’s the soft sell in action.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.