Highlights from a referrer management workshop (2020)

It was great to see so many people on the December digital presentation of the popular MBL “Developing more work from referrers and intermediaries” workshop – there were representatives from law, accountancy, insolvency and engineering firms. Here are the highlights from a referrer management workshop.
Amongst the aims of the delegates were:

  • To develop a more structured approach to referrer management
  • To improve cross-selling within the firm
  • To learn ways to maintain regular engagement with referrers
  • To generate new clients and new work
  • To increase the number and quality of referrals received
  • To manage and monitor the referrals process

Promote cross-selling

Many of the delegates already organised internal lunch time seminars to help promote better internal communication and cross-selling. A few were already producing internal mini-campaigns to do the same.
Some believed that financial and other incentives were required – like those at Keystone Law.  Others felt that cross-selling would always be hard as most fee-earners were not trained in sales techniques and/or were uncomfortable with the idea of selling.
Protectionism, personality, anxiety, risk aversion, individual fee targets, lack of trust in colleagues and fear of upsetting the existing relationship were also perceived as barriers to cross-selling. A poll revealed the delegates felt the top barriers to cross-selling were: silos (50%), too busy (40%) and no incentives (40%).
One delegate mentioned that they already spent time introducing other team members to referrer relationships – to increase the number of touchpoints and relationships – demonstrating the bowties and diamonds concept.

Improve referrer management

A poll revealed that 30% of the delegates had no systems for managing referrals and 50% felt their systems were only average. However, there was some debate that regardless of the data and systems available, the key challenge was in embedding appropriate behaviours.
There was also the need to avoid “Brief Encounter” syndrome where fee-earners met with potential referrers just once and failed to develop a relationship. A poll revealed that the most annoying behaviours of those who wanted referrals were:

  • Failing to do the necessary research and preparation before meeting
  • Expecting to be awarded work at the first meeting without investing in a long term relationship (“Don’t propose on the first date”)

One breakout session generated lots of ideas for improving referrer management:

  • Develop a plan, strategy and priorities
  • Conduct research and preparation before contact
  • Capture all data regarding inbound and outbound referrals
  • Provide an easy-to-use system for everyone to use to see the relationship history and most recent contact
  • Listen carefully to the interests and aims of referrers (a video on active listening skills)
  • Keep referrers in the loop once they have referred a client to you

A poll revealed that the most popular methods for developing referrer relationships during Covid were:

  • Zoom or Teams meetings (82%)
  • Telephone calls (36%)
  • Webinars and online networking events (36%)
  • Collaborative or joint marketing (27%)
  • Social media (18%)
  • Emails and newsletters (9%)
  • Something else (9%)

Prioritise relationships

There was debate about how long you should invest time in developing a referrer relationship when there was a dearth of results – especially when the opportunity to refer transactions and work were rare. We discussed the concept of continuances and progressions and explored ways to move relationships forwards.
The role of marketing systems to generate regular, relevant information so that your firm stayed “front of mind” was discussed. Especially as most observed that when they were referring work out it was often to the last firm that had been in touch. Social media was also considered valuable for a cost-effective and low-key way to stay on the radar of a large number of referrers.
There’s a video about prioritising existing clients and referrers using dinosaurs
There’s a video about the rabbits, deer and elephants targeting method

Develop selling skills

The afternoon was devoted to developing selling skills. The idea of reframing selling to “Be More Detective”  was suggested for those who are uncomfortable with the idea of selling.
There was also a focus on the importance of active listening skills in order to develop empathy.
We talked about recognising and adapting to different personalities and did a poll to determine which of us were dogs, cats and bears (see the personality video). One of the delegates recommended the book It’s a zoo around here”
It was interesting to hear that several delegates were using LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator system successfully to identify, target and connect with suitable referrers.
I recommended two books that help professionals with their networking skills:

Be memorable (with storytelling)

Whilst traditional networking methods were limited during the Covid crisis, there were many examples of meeting new referrers in the digital space.
The importance of a strong value proposition and a memorable introduction was discussed. We experimented with the Shrek model. You might like to read this article on the power of three in introductions  (and here is a video on the power of three in communication generally).
One of the delegates offered their firm’s positioning statements for review.
Storytelling was another way to ensure that you stuck in people’s minds – both internally and externally. It was possible to convey difference, energy, enthusiasm and passion with stories of client success. Client stories shared at a breakout were felt to be genuinely uplifting. Stories about fee-earners’ mental health battles felt authentic. Everyone laughed at my axolotl story.
There were examples of the different approaches in different cultures – there’s further information on cross cultural communication  and how BDO accountants manage global relationships.

Are accountants boring?

Some of the delegates made repeated references to the idea that accountants were boring and so it was hard to engage and connect with people. I disagreed. However, you should be careful because if you attach a “boring” label to something – it is likely that you will project and perceive things according to the label – a self-fulfilling prophesy!
There are plenty of examples of exciting accountants – sometimes through their energy and enthusiasm, sometimes the sheer force of their personality, sometimes through the stories they tell (and how they tell them) and often because they focus on an unusual aspect of their work or a specific niche.

Manage key relationships

When talking about responsibility for key referrer accounts, it was interesting to hear of the different roles at a global practice: Senior Relationship Partner (global responsibility for firm-to-firm communications), Managing Relationship Partner (tactical responsibility within a particular territory) and Relationship Managers (client-facing people who gather intelligence and interact with people internally and externally on a weekly basis).
Everyone felt that it was important that the expectations and responsibilities of those in account management roles should be made explicit – along with their targets for activity levels and results.
Although there were some reports that significant investment had been made into key accounts but no real value was added and recoveries were too small. Training – in techniques such as relationship mapping – and good team management as well as post-matter reviews – helped to ensure effectiveness.

Develop processes, policies and systems

One of the key takeaways was recognition of the need to establish processes, policies and systems for things such as: referrer and referrals information, who knows who, targets, internal referral protocols, inbound and outbound referrals, incentives and rewards, key account management (KAM), monitoring and measurement.

My full day in-person and digital training sessions for fee-earners at MBL are shown here and I would like to thank Lauren Brown at MBL for being such a brilliant technical assistant at the Live Learn events.
Here’s the link to half day referrer management training sessions for marketing and business development professionals through the PM Forum.

Related articles on referrer management

Six themes on cross-selling and referrer management workshop highlights | Kim Tasso (September 2020)
pragmatic steps to improved referrer management 2019 | Kim Tasso (December 2019)
Structured programmes for Referrer Relationships (kimtasso.com) (July 2019)
Referrer and intermediary management | Kim Tasso (May 2018)
Relationship and referrer management – Piggybacks, Ghosting, Ridealongs, Swapsies and Orange Crates (kimtasso.com) (December 2017)
Cross-selling and referrer management – The view from marketing and BD (kimtasso.com) (June 2016)
Top ten tips on referrer management (2016 Birmingham) – Kim Tasso | Kim Tasso (April 2016)
Seven referrer management strategies – from a property perspective (kimtasso.com) (March 2016)
Referrer management strategies: Plan, target, focus, research, relationship, add value and let go (Manchester, 2016) (kimtasso.com) (March 2016)
Referrer management – Back to basics and the role of social media (kimtasso.com) (March 2016)
Referrer and intermediary management – Internal information systems (kimtasso.com) (December 2015)
Referrer management – what do you do when you can’t reciprocate work referrals? (kimtasso.com) (December 2015)
referrer management – highlights from London and Amsterdam | Kim Tasso (June 2015)
Use the 6Rs to generate more referrals – Referrer management (kimtasso.com) (March 2013)