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7 Steps for Building Strong Partnerships


The majority of people are much more likely to trust a company that has been recommended to them. That's why it's so important to build and sustain strong referral partnerships to grow your firm. Here, Arianna Campbell of Boomer Consulting talks about the key steps to expand your practice through referrals

Oct 20th 2021
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Word-of-mouth marketing has long been an important source of new business leads, and it’s easy to understand why. According to SaaS platform Semrush, 90 percent of people are much more likely to trust a recommended company, even if the recommendation comes from a stranger.

Furthermore, 88 percent of people have the highest level of trust in a company when a friend or family member recommends it. Clearly, for continued growth, building strong referral partnerships is essential. It allows you to reach potential clients that your firm might not have been able to reach otherwise. But sustaining a strong referral partnership can be a daunting task. Here are seven tips for finding and nurturing a great referral partner.

Identify Your Ideal Client

Cultivating referrals starts not with your referral partner but with your clients. Who is your ideal client? Which industries, service lines or types of clients do you want to target? If you don’t know, it will be hard to find a referral partner. Or, the referral partners you select will struggle to send you valuable and appropriate leads.

Select Your Referral Channels

Once you’ve identified your ideal client, you can figure out where they “hang out” — both in person and virtually. This will help you identify the right referral channels to pursue. Is there a local networking organization you should target or an online community? How about a peer network or industry association? Think about your ideal client and the communities they’re likely to participate in and trust, and then identify potential referral sources from there. Many accounting firms think of financial advisors, attorneys and other professionals as referral channels, but it depends on the type of client you’re pursuing. In some cases, your clients (or your clients’ clients) can be an excellent source of referrals.

Decide What Your Partnership Will Look Like

Be willing to commit to your referral partnership on paper and document what you expect and what they expect. Formalizing this agreement provides a stable foundation for your relationship and strengthens trust. It ensures you’re on the same page and won’t spend time and money nurturing a relationship that isn’t mutually beneficial.

Explain the Value You Provide

Many accountants have a hard time asking for and receiving quality referrals because they shy away from the idea of “selling” their services. But your referral partners need to know what you do to feel comfortable referring you. The more you can educate them on what you do and the value you provide for clients, the easier it will be for them to help you grow. Simply telling a potential referral partner that you are a “full service” accounting firm doesn’t help others understand what you do. Be specific, since outside of the profession, few people understand what “advisory services” entails. For example, you might say, “I provide accounting and advisory services for startups that help them project startup and operating costs, access necessary funding and remain profitable through the growth stage.” That’s much more likely to help you land quality referrals.

Likewise, it’s helpful to tell referral partners about the types of clients that aren’t ideal referrals. People tend to think about taxes when they meet a CPA. If you’re not interested in getting referrals for individual tax return preparation with no related businesses, let people know (in a polite way). This will help you avoid fielding calls for people shopping around for the best price on a 1040. Remember, in many cases, your referral partner is your first salesperson. Therefore, they need a clear understanding of the value you provide and the problems you solve.

Create a Process for Handing Off Referrals

A great referral goes beyond just sending over a name and email address, so decide how the potential client will link up with you. You may want your referral partner to send the lead to a specific person to schedule an in-person meeting, collect certain information ahead of time or even attend the first meeting to make introductions. Your actual process will depend on the relationship with your referral partner and the type of clients you pursue. Whatever your ideal hand-off looks like, establish a consistent and easy way for your referral partner to provide accurate and relevant information to you promptly.

Communicate Regularly

Maintaining a strong partnership is never a “set it and forget it” endeavor. It’s crucial to maintain an open dialog. Consider setting a recurring meeting to talk about how the relationship is working for both partners and discuss any issues that may arise. Even if your referral partners don’t start referring right away, having these meetings gives you a chance to find out what’s getting in the way —whether they don’t have the right connections, don’t fully understand the value you provide or are having another issue. This is also a good opportunity to ask about potential conversations that didn’t make it to a referral, so you can identify where you might need to make changes.

Follow Up

When you do receive a referral, it’s important to follow up with your partner. Whether you give them a simple “thank you” or a referral fee, make sure you deliver it timely and let them know you acted on the referral and how it went. Once you establish your referral relationship, be a good partner in return. A partnership is about give and take, so don’t only take referrals. Send potential clients their way as well. If you do that, you’ll position yourself as a sought-after partner and see your firm grow through quality referrals.

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