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Are You Sabotaging Your Referrals?

Mar 16th 2018
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All too often, professional services providers, accounting firms included, unintentionally shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to referral marketing. Why is that, you ask?

Most of us in the professional services business have had this happen to us at some point: someone tells you that they referred your firm to a potential new client. But then you never hear from the prospect they referred.

Perhaps you place a call to the prospect that is never returned. Before you have a chance to make your case -- “poof” -- they just disappear. What happened?

There’s a good chance that it wasn’t them – it was you. Many firms do not realize that buyers actively pre-screen firms to save time and effort. They are trying to rule out as many poor options as possible so they can concentrate on a few firms who fit well with their needs.

Our research has revealed that less than 20 percent of referrals actually come from someone who has had direct experience with the firm being recommended. So that means a whopping 81.5 percent of referrals come from sources that don’t have first-hand knowledge of the firm they’re recommending.

Instead, those referrals are made based on reputation or perceived expertise. Yet, our research shows that almost 52 percent of companies referred to service providers ruled out those referrals before even speaking to them.

What’s Going on Here?

The short answer is that the recommended firms were simply not prepared to present a positive face to the referred buyers. We surveyed over 500 buyers of professional services to shed some light on the reasons why referrals are ruled out. Some of the top reasons are:

  • I couldn’t understand how they could help me or my firm
  • Their material seemed more focused on selling than helping my firm
  • They didn’t seem to be a good cultural fit with my firm
  • Their website was unimpressive
  • Poor quality content
  • They looked like they weren’t in our league
  • I’ve never heard of them before
  • They didn’t show up when I searched online

Overall, the top reason for ruled-out referrals, cited by 43.6 percent of respondents, was a lack of clarity about the service provider’s services, expertise, or capabilities. Ouch!

Getting a Handle on How to Self-Promote

This data suggests that many service firms self-sabotage their referral marketing efforts in various ways. They are trying to be everything to everyone so their message is very broad and very vague.

They lack clarity and specifics in their messaging, and don’t spend enough time or effort educating prospects instead of trying to sell them. Prospects do not understand how you can help them or why you are different.

A simple place to start is with your website. Our past research has shown that over 80 percent of buyers look at a firm’s website as a major source of information about them.

It stands to reason, then, that your website should:

  • be easy to use
  • contain clear and concise information about your firm’s services, expertise and competitive advantages
  • provide high-quality content that is useful, valuable and addresses prospects’ needs

Showcasing your specific expertise and thought leadership as part of a comprehensive referral marketing strategy will go a long way in convincing buyers to engage with your firm further. Becoming what we call a Visible Expert will help boost your visibility and reputation across multiple communications channels, including partner websites, social media, blogs, published articles, speaking engagements, and other activities and events that will draw positive attention to your firm.

Final Thoughts

There is no question that referrals are essential for developing new business for accounting firms. But generating referrals requires more than just keeping your current clients happy. It requires being clear and transparent about how you can help clients. Being vague and general does not help you capture new engagements.

So if you’ve been unintentionally self-sabotaging your referral marketing, take a long, hard look at what prospective buyers see when they are referred to your firm. If your website, content, and online presence are lackluster, you can expect the same kind of response from potential new clients.

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