As accountants, we are often asked for referrals but are you comfortable asking for them from your existing clients, and if you do, how often do you receive one?
Let’s face it, you work hard for your clients and most appreciate what you do. So how can you help them help you grow your practice?
This probably varies by firm and how many clients you have but the responsibility of referrals isn’t in the hands of your clients. If you want to have a growing practice, it is your responsibility (Yes, you!).
Let’s start with a couple of questions:
- When was the last time you asked any a good client for a referral?
- When was the last time one of your staff asked for a referral?
Like everyone at the sixth grade dance standing around the outside huddled in groups, let me state the obvious: You likely won’t get out on the dance floor if you don’t go ask someone to dance and make it happen.
If you do good work for your clients, you should not hesitate to ask for new client referrals from your best clients. Asking for a referral is not different than asking a prospect when they would like to start your service. If you don’t ask the question, then you probably won’t get the order or the referral.
Most of you just finished up another busy season, you saw your clients, you provided them with tax returns and maybe financial statements for their bank, they were thrilled with your service, you love working with them, and yet you failed to ask for a referral to their friends/associates like them, who are likely also desirable clients.
While you were busy and wanted to move on to your next client, and that moment face to face with your client when you could ask for the referral has passed - so what should you do in the future?
Here are Some Suggestions
Most of us think about referrals by word of mouth. You prepared Tim & Susan’s tax return and they told their friends about how great you are, and Tim’s golfing buddy Steve called you. While we expect unsolicited referrals, (and they still happen), with a little work every day, you can turn that trickle into a steady stream of new opportunities.
Let’s think and talk about how you can use social media to help grow your business with referrals.
Does your company have a LinkedIn or Facebook page? Do you have a personal one? I know when I am about to go visit a client or see a prospective one, I try to find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Why? Because I want to build rapport with the people I am meeting with, and learn about their business and personal interests. By doing my online homework before the meeting, I can find possible ways I can try to connect with the prospect – industry information, similar experiences, hobbies, children, etc.
It’s a known fact that people will buy from people who they not only like, but who also share their interests. By connecting with your clients via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it makes it very easy for someone to click and connect with you. Simple introductions like this can lead to not only some fantastic friendships but some great clients.
The problem that most CPA firms have is that they build a page for their firm and then leave it alone – it’s a “museum brochure” – it’s beautiful. You don’t update it, you don’t do any posts, it gets stale like your web site probably does – it’s the same conversation with everyone that visits your website. Social media gives us a way to is here to stay and it’s growing.
You should be using your pages to provide insight on what makes your firm different, what you’re reading, and what you have accomplished. You should also explain what sets you apart, and describe some of the ways you have helped clients solve problems.
Tell stories about your success with your clients. You’re basically sharing your knowledge and having a little bit of fun. Fun? Yes fun.
You can turn referrals into a contest for your clients. For example, for the month of June the client that refers the most referrals that become clients will be provided with a restaurant gift card or a Starbucks card, or a service provided by one of your clients (like maybe auto detailing).
This becomes a Win – Win for both you and your clients. Track your referrals, and only list first names on your tally board to keep specifics confidential.
Some clients don’t like to provide referrals, so how else can you possibly utilize them in sales efforts or marketing? Perhaps get a quote on how you came up with a great tax savings idea, or have them tell their friends how you informed them of the new tax law changes which they took advantage of.
How would you do this? Put it on your web site, share it to your Facebook page, send it to the local newspaper, or share it on Twitter or Instagram, but let them share what they want, and if you comment, be vague about identifying details so you don’t reveal anything confidential.
Another thing you can request your client to do is be interviewed for a case study – an article explaining a common (and profitable) client need, discusses very generally what you did, and explains how your firm saved the day.
A firm who does project-based work can prepare case studies of the outcomes of their “normal” projects (e.g. cost segregation studies, tax planning, or management letter comments from an audit) You can have your client interviewed by a marketing person and let them tell the story of how they got to your firm, what issues they had, how they were resolved, and what they like about you and your service.
Ask them what keeps them coming back year after year, and have them talk about your excellent knowledge of their business or industry. All of this is great, “referenceable” material that you can use when you need it for the prospective client that either you found on your own, or they found you.
One accountant I know started a niche practice 15 years ago, and in 2005, she started a blog. She tells me that she has articles written five and ten years ago on topics like auto mileage logs, business record keeping, details about using accounting software, and mileage rates, and each leads to a few new client opportunities every year. These general articles, which she periodically revises and republishes on social media, help people find her when searching for help on these issues.
One last thing, you should track your clients and prospects, and record how your referrals found you. This needs to take place into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program - and is priceless information.
When you close a new client from a referral, the best way to reinforce this behavior (and encourage them to repeat it) is to immediately write or call the person who referred them a hand-written thank you note and send them a Starbucks card or some other small gift as a token of your appreciation.
If you can’t (or don’t think it’s appropriate to send a thank you note), simple call thanking them for the referral goes a long way. While this doesn’t happen as often as it should in today’s world, showing common courtesy and praising your client for helping you can really make you stand out from your competition.
Jeff Brandeis ([email protected]) is a seasoned sales coach who started his career in KPMG Peat Marwick in tax in the early 1990’s. During his 25 year career, Jeff has trained, led, and developed salespeople at all size companies – from startups to global leaders like CCH...