Do you properly acknowledge referrals? Indeed, do you have a standard process for doing this? If someone once referred a job to you and has never done so since, do you know why, have you asked?
1. Determine the Source of the Referral.
If the referrer contacts you, then this is usually easy, though the initial referrer may be someone else known to your contact. If it is the potential client, then careful questioning is required. Supposing an existing client asked for a new service, this may still have occurred as a result of a suggestion from someone else (a referrer). So ask about that.
I recall being cross because an accountant did not thank me for a referral. I asked and found out when the client called with the request for work on the extra entity, the accountant just assumed the client had made the decision. Well he had, but first I had been asked where to take the work on the extra entity. I had said to go to the existing accountant, whom I knew.
2. Make Initial Contact with Referrer to Say Thanks and to Ask about the Potential Client
Don’t omit or delay this discussion. Some referrers may want to suggest you approach a job or client in a particular way. Use their knowledge of the potential client and industry. I recall many years ago a referrer telling me to make sure “with this guy you bill and collect your cash up front, if you don’t, he won’t pay and will feel he has to teach you a good business lesson”. Amazing.
3. Arrange to go and meet the Potential Client
Clearly this must be done as soon as possible. At this stage you have not decided to take on the client or work, first you need to ask your new matter questions and go through your new client reference process. Take your standard firm/service promotional kit, so you have something to leave with the client. If you don’t want to use paper, hand across a USB stick with links and maybe a PowerPoint on it.
4. Report back to Referrer
At all times keep the referrer in the loop on developments. This is an important courtesy. Do this, whilst not breaching the confidentiality of the potential client’s information. Depending on the association and how well you know the referrer, you may either meet or call the referrer.
Indeed, does the referrer have a copy of the latest version of your promotional materials? They may have handed across their only copy.
5. Further Meetings with Prospective Client and Engagement Letter
Usually it is necessary to meet again with the prospective client to obtain further information, especially the objective of the work. You can explain the way in which your firm conducts assignments. If possible, suggest possible fees at this stage, maybe different fees, based on the likely level of service.
It is critical to clarify expectations. It is usually appropriate to ask how the client wants you to communicate with them. Are emails preferred, to the business email address? If telephone calls are required, what time of day is best? After that there will have to be the Engagement Letter and a signed copy returned.
6. Select an Appropriate Gift for the Referrer
Some accountants send thank you emails or notes. I was impressed with the firm I knew which had a special post card printed with their logo. This was used for hand written thank you notes in many situations. Others favour a lunch or coffee.
I feel in most cases, especially a referral of a large job, a gift is best. People remember gifts. If you cannot think of an appropriate gift, boxes of good wine will work. If you don’t want to purchase a wine, buy a voucher from a department store.
7. Arrange to Visit Referrer and Present the Gift
It is important to create some ceremony around the appreciation of the introduction, even if it does not end up in a job.
Also, at this time it is appropriate to ask how you may assist the referrer. One accountant I know says “thanks very much Thea, now how may I assist you?”
8. When Undertaking the Work
Do from time to time mention the referrer. You may be in a position to help build a better connection between your new client and the referrer. Search for ways you may refer the new client to others know to you and who may be of assistance to the client. At the end of the job, ask if the client is happy with the work, so you can advise the referrer.
9. At the End of the Assignment, Another Meeting With the Referrer
Report on the completion of the project, without breaching confidentiality, let them know the results of the engagement. Especially if you believe the client is very happy with your work, mention this to the referrer.
Again, ask how you may assist the referrer. If you consider it is appropriate, ask for more referrals.
Most accountants will say referrals are the easiest and most successful way to grow a practice. Courtesy and good manners require referrals to be well managed with appropriate recognition and ongoing communication. When someone recommends us they are taking a risk with our behaviour, if we do not perform as expected, it can permanently damage our relationship.
(c) Thea Foster – Added Value Corporation.
Thea has been providing professional practice management and marketing facilitating, presentations, and consulting for over 20 years. Thea’s clients are mainly accounting firms or suppliers of products and services to accounting firms. Please visit www.addedvalue.com.au for further information.
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