Intermediary and referrer management was the topic for a full day session at a recent MBL training event in London and also a recent conference session for international accountants in the CPAAI network in Amsterdam.

Referrer and intermediary management is one of my key themes this year and I have presented a number of public and in-house sessions on the topic to support some research.

Whilst the audiences were quite different at these two events – equal numbers of lawyers and accountants amongst the dozen or so delegates in London at an interactive day for MBL and over 130 accountants from around the world at the CPAAI event – the issues were similar.

A discussion with the Chinese translators and delegates provided an interesting perspective – there is no word for “referrer” in Chinese so we agreed on “introducer”.

Love the ones you’re with – Improve cross-selling

Internal marketing needs to be tackled with the same vigour and sustained activity as external marketing campaigns.

The starting point is information and research and we discussed the challenges of client databases and internal systems to promote, identify and monitor cross-referrals.

Understanding the needs of colleagues in different departments and offices – and even countries – was the next step. This extended to understanding their different attitudes towards the rewards and risks of referring their valued clients to other professionals.

Sector approaches – particularly where global teams for organisations with operations in multiple countries – were explored and deemed a success where the relevant expertise and experience existed.

Building understanding and trust between teams is an important activity. Then focusing efforts to identify ways in which professionals can help their colleagues add value and help their clients. The need for a clear value proposition was explored so we considered an example internal campaign to increase awareness and referrals for tax advice for technology companies and their owners.

Beyond joint seminars – Manage face-to-face contact for international referrals

We talked about the power of proximity. And the need for research and profiling.

Even though technology helps – with tools such as Skype and Google+ – there is no replacement for face-to-face contact which is an important but expensive strategy. There were some good examples of the use of video clips to overcome geographical distance.

Campaigns that allocate adequate time in the months before an international visit and the months after for follow up were considered. Ideas for shadows, swaps and secondments were shared.

More than a feeling – Understand the psychology of relationships

Whilst there are some obvious differences in referrer relationships, the underlying psychological principles of the creation and development of all human relationships are similar.

The importance of tackling both rational and emotional elements in choosing referrers was a major element of the discussions.

We looked at differences in personality, non-verbal communication and culture as well as international business practices. And techniques for storytelling, persuasion and influence which are similar across all cultures – adding value at every interaction struck a chord.

Where reciprocal referrals are not possible, we looked at alternative ways to repay and encourage referrals. Being available for free advice and second opinions were favourite approaches. Whilst merchandising is only a peripheral strategy, I really liked the successful use of branded mobile phone chargers by one firm (can I have one now please?).

 Have a cunning plan – Sustain relationship management activities

Establishing and maintaining relationships with new and existing referrers takes sustained effort. There also needs to be clear, measureable goals for what is hoped to be achieved so that effectiveness can be measured.

Different strategies are required for:

1. Those who are a high priority – where you need a planned approach for regular contact, mutual benefits and broadening and deepening the relationship between two organisations

2. Those who are potential or infrequent referrers – where you need time and cost effective methods for staying on the radar and promoting collaboration

Segmentation and targeting strategies were explored to see which might be relevant for referrer management situations – and we all developed our understanding of how law firms, accountancy practice, property practices, IFAs/wealth managers and charities operated.

The latest approaches to supplement consultative and collaborative selling techniques were considered for the first group and social media (especially “brandme” techniques bridging content and channel strategies) for the latter. We also touched on Key Account Management (KAM) strategies for critical relationships.

It was interesting that some delegates went away with intentions to develop three core plans:

1. Developing work from existing clients

2. Developing work from internal colleagues

3. Developing work from external third parties

Some of the more interesting activities included Sevens, skittles, start-ups and Swedish!

The need to assess return on investment – or return on engagement as most referrer relationships require significant time from professional staff – was tackled. We identified various ways to address this even though the sales cycle can be prolonged.

Feedback from sessions

Feedback from the MBL session included:

“Energetic, clear, inspiring”

“Very helpful content”

“Size of group was great, intimate and interactive”

“Energetic, enthusiastic, clearly top of her trade”

Further details and future dates for MBL events in the UK are here:

I am also grateful to the partner from an accountancy practice in New Jersey, United States for sharing his succinct referrer management strategy:

1. Create a plan

2. Focus on the most productive sources

3. Increase the frequency of “touches”

4. Co-ordinate outbound referrals

Further details about CPAAI