At recent referrer and intermediary management training sessions the topic of information systems to was discussed. Whilst there is a host of excellent technology solutions available to larger firms, some within integrated accounts systems and others in standalone CRM systems, many professionals prefer to get the relevant behaviours established and the required information assembled before looking at technology systems.

So we went back to basics. And I was asked to summarise the key points in a blog.

There are two main types of information required:

  1. To manage each referrer you need a profile of each organisation and all the individual contacts and an understanding of where the relationship started, how it has developed in the past and the hopes for the future relationship and
  2. To manage the co-ordination and measure the effectiveness of referrer relationships across the practice you need to know about the volume, type and value of referrals received from and sent to all referrers and intermediaries.

Information about referrers and intermediaries

We addressed the issue of analysing all of the referrers and intermediaries across the practice, offices and practice groups and developing a way in which to focus on the most important ones – there are other blogs on this subject. For example, some firms identify ten per team and others concentrate on a few which blend established and target relationships.

I usually suggest that internal information about referrers and intermediaries is organised into two parts – one refers to the past and the other to the future plans. These are best summarised – for briefing purposes – into a one page/screen summary.

Profile – Static organisational information

Much of the information about referrer and intermediaries is in the heads or personal systems of the individual lawyers, accountants and surveyors (I’ll use the term fee-earners from now on). So the first step is to document the relatively static information about the referring organisation from public sources so that the fee-earners can then add any information that they have to the draft – which saves them time.

The sort of information you might track in the profile about the referring organisation includes:

  • Name of organisation
  • Importance to the firm (many firms operate a grading system to show the strategic strength of the relationship)
  • Size (fee income, profitability, number of people and growth)
  • Reach (location and contact details for the head office, other offices in the domestic and international network)
  • Scope of operations, range of services and key areas of expertise
  • Internal structure – divisional, departmental and management
  • Sector and market position (Is it a major player in its market or a niche player? What are the key trends and issues facing their sector?)
  • Business objectives and mission
  • Nature of clients (identifying where there are mutual clients)
  • Other professional advisers used or associated with
  • General comments – for example, recent major developments, whether it is acquisitive
  • Web site and social media accounts

It sometimes becomes apparent that the fee-earners have a somewhat limited view of the referring organisation – having in-depth material about perhaps one part of it or one or two individuals. This hopefully will prompt them to taker a broader and more commercial look at the referrer organisation.

Profile – Dynamic relationship information

The other part of the profile is the more dynamic information relating to the relationship. This will include information such as:

  • Source and history of the relationship
  • Main events in the past (for example, if there were joint events or other collaborative ventures)
  • Recent major developments (this is where news monitoring systems becomes valuable)
  • Key contacts (along with titles, seniority and function) at the referring organisation
  • Key contacts at the firm (some firms may allocate one partner or two partners with overall responsibility for co-ordinating the relationship)
  • Perception and level of satisfaction (you may wish to track the referring organisation’s attitudes towards the firm or critical incidents in the relationship)
  • Summary of past work referred – perhaps an annual summary for the past three years showing number of referrals and their value
  • Recent referrals – a more detailed list showing perhaps the last years’ referrals with more details about the clients, work and transactions referred
  • Recent relationship activities (effectively a log of recent contact)

Sometimes people find it helpful to annotate an organisation chart or to create a separate relationship map showing – perhaps using a green, amber and red notation – the strength of relationships with different individuals across the referring organisation. Other firms adopt a table approach – showing the matrix of relationships between their own people and those of the referring organisation.

Plan – Future aspirations for the referrer relationship

Once the profile information has been collected, it is likely that some or all of those fee-earners with links with the referring organisation will get together to discuss and agree a future plan of action for the relationship. This is a similar process to that used in Key Account Management (KAM) programmes (there are other blogs on this topic) and the focus is on how to add value to the referrer organisation rather than just how to extract further referrals.

Plans should be simple – and the major value is going through the process. A simple structure might be:

  • Where are we now?
    • Summary from the profile information about what has happened in the past
    • Summary of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the referrer relationship
  • Where do we want to be?
    • Short and long term goals for the referrer relationship
  • How will we get there?
    • The main strategies and activities planned (these were discussed at length during the training)
    • The process through which implementation and progress will be monitored and measured

Summary briefing sheets

Whilst it is important to maintain detailed information on the profile to guide those who are co-ordinating and monitoring the relationship, it is often valuable to have a single page/screen summary of the most relevant information that others can read quickly before attending a meeting or event where individuals from the referring organisation are likely to attend.

Information about referrals

It may be that your accounts system can be used to produce reports showing all referrals received into the firm. The accuracy of the data will depend on both the codes used to record this when new clients or instructions are opened and also on the fee-earners interest in recording the information. However, many firms operate a separate system to do this – and obtaining the information, particularly where the culture is very individualistic, can be difficult.

Inbound referral overview

This is a list showing all of the referrals received into the firm – with information addressing:

  • Date
  • Individual and the organisation referring the work
  • Individual to whom they referred the work
  • Client referred
  • Nature and value of the work referred

Outbound referral overview

This is similar information as the inbound referral in summary except that it records what clients and instructions have been referred out of the firm to referrer and intermediary organisations. Often, the people in the firm who refer work out are not the same as those who benefit when work is referred in. As some firms have a policy of offering clients a choice of two or three options, the system must accommodate this.

Related blogs on referrer and intermediary management:

Referrer and intermediary management training sessions for professional fee-earners:

Referrer and intermediary management training sessions for marketing and business development staff: