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Why You Shouldn't Postpone Following Up with Referred Clients


If you're trying to grow your accounting firm through referrals, it's important to follow up with them right away, rather than putting it off. Financial guru Bryce Sanders explains why in his latest column.

Aug 10th 2020
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We are living through unprecedented times. The coronavirus numbers were down, but now they are back up. The government has given out money and loans, and some of the tax laws have been modified to make accessing retirement savings easier. When people need advice about money, they often look to accountants. If they don’t have one, they ask friends for recommendations.  

Let’s look at this situation from the accountant’s perspective. The most logical way to grow your practice is by asking clients to send their friends in your direction. It’s a passive, reactive process. Asking the same client repeatedly is a disincentive. Even the thought of paying clients to refer business means massive problems. You need to wait patiently, hoping they act.

One day, they act. They tell you about a friend of theirs. They know little about their situation, except they have a need. You can’t tell if it will be a good fit. When you are busy helping current clients and getting filings done in a timely manner, it may be tempting to say:  “I’ll call this guy later.”

Wrong. You must act immediately, even if all you do is get in touch and tell them you will talk in detail later. Here’s why:

1. Waiting Makes Your Client Look Bad: Your client may have expended social capital in getting this referral.  They have talked you up, explaining why their friend should do business with you instead of another accountant. If you don’t call, the friend can go back to your client and say: “You told me about your great accountant. She never called. I’ll find another on my own.” Your client is left with egg on their face.

2. You Want More Referrals: You ask for referrals and make a compelling case. Your client sends one. You don’t follow up. If they went out of their way to do something for you and you drop the ball, they may conclude you aren’t seriously interested in growing your business. You must have all the clients you can handle. No more referrals for you.

3. Referrals are Often Time Sensitive: Your client sends someone in your direction. You mentally put this aside until later. When you call, however, you learn the client needed immediate help. Their deadline has passed. The damage is done. The friend might have incurred penalties or liability. They thought they had a solution, but you didn’t step in quickly enough. They tell your client their loss is your fault.

4. You Want Good Reviews: Here’s an unlikely but scary scenario. Some magazines identify a few businesses providing the same service.  They contact each one with an identical scenario. They score each business on what happened once they called, whether they reached a professional, if the advice was appropriate and what happened afterwards. The result is an article recounting each experience point by point. You see this happening on social media or comparison shopping websites where people post reviews.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to follow up on a referral. Many of us are still working from home. Assuming it’s not violating any of the Do Not Call laws, leaving a voicemail message or sending a text acknowledges you are aware of their request. E-mail works, too.

The next logical step is to schedule an introductory conversation to learn about their situation. Approach with the mindset you either can help or direct them to someone who can, a person specializing in their situation. For example, the client’s friend might need a business valuation. Your client didn’t know that’s not your expertise.

Now, what should you do if you called but never heard back? You need to protect your reputation and yourself relative to your client relationship. After you’ve reached out to the friend, let your client know. Details aren’t necessary. “You suggested I connect with (friend). I called and left a message this morning.” This lets your client know you have a follow-up procedure and gives them the real story.

This is also a good opportunity to thank your client. If you ask people to do something and they comply, thanking them should encourage similar future behavior. If you helped their friend, your client feels they did something good for both of you.

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