Referrer Management – Capacity and Capability

This article is a summary of the conversation and key takeaways from a workshop in London for MBL.  Delegates included both partners and business development professionals (some with a banking background) from law firms (employment, criminal, disputes, offshore), accountancy practices (audit, forensic, insolvency and restructuring and financial services. Some were focused on specific sectors such as agriculture, sports and not-for-profit and others had a more international focus (particularly the Caribbean and Middle East). The fascinating discussion and exchange of ideas could be summarised as organisational capacity (rational activity) and individual capability (emotional and human aspects). This post adds to the learning resources from the session. Referrer Management – Capacity and Capability

Capacity – Rational elements of referrer management

Throughout the workshop we considered how leadership and organisation (rational activity) supports effective referrer management.

Expectations and business goals

The business case for devoting resources to this time-intensive activity has to be clear and compelling. “Generate more referrals” is insufficient to drive action.

Analysis and diagnostics are the starting point. Look at the significance of referrals in the past and consider its contribution to future success. Set goals. Set SMART goals. And show the links between what the firm, teams and individuals need to achieve.

Assessing the myriad of strategies and ideas is another task. Time is precious. Gaining the attention of busy professionals is challenging at the best of times. Encouraging them to devote time to a non-billable activity is even harder. Sidestep the slew of ideas and focus on a few, well-proven approaches to developing more referrals. And co-create a plan.

Why do you need a business plan? 10 reasons why (

Marketing planning in a nutshell – simple and complex plans (

Data and systems 

It was good to have a sprinkling of IT geeks (their label not mine!) amongst us. Most commented on the data challenges of referrer management – although accountants using PracticePortal were happy with their CRM. Sharing some CRM horror stories felt like much-needed therapy. This extended to complaints of kids’ school emails and homework app overload.

Sharing is caring? Some commented that their client and referrer data lived in teams’ closely-guarded team spreadsheets. Not ideal for mapping complex relationships across an organisation or co-ordinating integrated content and events programmes. Others commented that referrer knowledge was primarily implicit (in the heads of their fee-earners) rather than explicit in systems.

Others observed that too often there was a transactional rather than a relationship focus on the data. And the problem was compounded with extraordinarily long lead times for sales through complex decision-making processes in professional services.

There was advice for pragmatic solutions: from starting small (focus on a few key relationships, concentrate on “field of play”, Key Account Management (KAM) programmes), preparing relationship maps, scraping data from email threads and reverse engineering successful relationships. Some looked to LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator to drive data and process.

We also mentioned data cleaning systems such as Cirrom Marketing technology system review – Clean contact data with Cirrom ( to help with those daunting data cleansing tasks.

Key processes

Data is needed to drive key processes supporting referrer management.

A starting point was onboarding where data, preferences, potential and priority assessment took place.

Another was the area of planning – what strategies were to be adopted for whom and by whom. Some firms are “plan-light” so activity could be sporadic. Others indicated integrated planning linking firm and office plans directing individual efforts.

Another area for discussion was sales training and sales process management. Which was important for individual competencies (see below). We considered a few sales processes and RAIN (from Insight Selling – which is similar to Challenger selling) was appreciated. I made a note to have a look at six types of working genius (Patrick Lencioni) to support team working where natural talents can be harnessed for problem solving: Wonder, Discernment, Enablement, Invention, Galvanizing and Tenacity.

Sales processes and selling skills for targeting and meetings (

Four themes in the art of selling – Integrating marketing and sales (

Organisational skills and budget resources

Having the organisational skills (often from a marketing and business development team) and the budget provides platforms and opportunities for meeting referrers and intermediaries.

While the delegates had some exciting mountain climbing, sailing and diving adventures to report – they observed that often their people focused on digital events and tended to be “chained to desk”.  This had been exacerbated by Covid and working from home practices.

Referrer management activities were varied and sometimes creative. There were the staples of emails, webinars with external speakers, networking and team-on-team socials. Other events included “Pub and Paddle”, videos and podcasts, sailing days and guest speakers such as crime novel writers.

There also needs to be capacity and motivation for consistent efforts rather than one-off, ad-hoc, tried-it-once-ad-moved-on approaches. Some reported that fee-earners were scared of follow up  – whether this was fear of rejection, not knowing what to say or appearing too pushy (so build it in so it feels more natural).

Analyse the bright spots and collect best practice where engagement is high and relationships are productive.

Leadership: Authenticity, values and culture – an overview (

Referrer and Intermediary Management – Silos, Targets and Culture (

Capability – Emotional aspects of referrer management


 Mindset is a big contribution to referrer management success. The firm’s leadership can help build a culture where seeking and building relationships internally and externally is the norm. And where protectionism is banished and cross-team trust is nurtured to support cross-selling.

Those from outside professional services noted that the professions can be a little shy at asking for business (Fear of rejection? Reluctance to big yourself up? Dislike of selling?).

We considered the different mindsets and the transition from “expert mode” to “relationship manager mode” and the attitudes and skillsets of each. Recognition and reward systems should encourage business development from fee-earners – too often they focus on billing hours only. Some delegates resolved to capture time spent in referrer management activities in future.

Some noted that often – for both internal and external referrals – they were called in too late. And that expectations (on complexity and fees) were often set too low which meant there was a tougher sale than necessary.

Book review: The Management Shift by Vlatka Hlupic (

Change management book – Switch (Chip & Dan Heath) (

Education and internal communications

People experience anxiety and fear when they are uncertain. So strong (relevant, short, compelling and regular) internal communication programmes will help everyone understand the vision and their role in achieving it.

Encourage everyone to attend internal “lunch and learn” events – so they can appreciate the skills and services of their colleagues in other teams and ease cross-selling. Bribe them with offers of free food, other incentives or evoke their competitive spirit if necessary. Getting people together prompts “proximity marketing” – the more they know about and like their colleagues, the more likely they are to refer people to them.

Arrange for your learning and development team to offer assessments – in essential selling competencies such as emotional intelligence (EQ) or cultural intelligence if you serve an international client base. Developing self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and personal style drives the appetite for further training.

Education and training programmes will provide the skills and confidence for fee-earners to know how and when to approach potential and existing referrers. Make training opportunities attractive – generate demand for places on training academies.

Some people will believe that they are experts at selling. They may avoid or decline attending training and development programmes. So request that they assist in the training of others – and expose them to the latest thinking and data on what leads to success. Ask them to provide coaching and mentoring support to the next generation. Encourage them to take newer members of the team on shadowing and “ride-along” events.

Book review: Influential Internal Communication by Jenni Field (

Neuroscience for learning and development by Stella Collins (

Team approach

There were a number of aspects to consider here. The first is to allow team members to play to their strengths. Allocating tasks across a team means that the load is spread and fee-earners can focus on activities they like and are good at. So some will prepare content, others will develop talks and others will concentrate on meeting referrers and developing relationships.

The team needs guidance – and resources such as relevant content and market/prospect alerts – to enable them to nurture relationships over time – to stay on the radar with “drip drip” strategies. And to know when to cut their losses and move onto other potential referrer relationships.

Working as part of a team helps people develop their relationship competencies which they can then transfer to client relationships.

Emotional contagion, delegation, coaching and team meetings (

Team management issues – Managing up, boundaries and broken relationships (

Role models

Leaders are powerful role models. If people see leaders behaving in the way they advocate then they are more likely to follow suit and emulate those behaviours themselves.

Book review: Neuroscience for organizational change by Hilary Scarlett (

Nurture a change management movement – From “Let it go” (

Top takeaways 

  • Processes
    • Review onboarding process
    • Back to basics – analyse trends and gaps
    • Adapt to specialisation on the sales journey
    • Follow up on lost tenders – determine reason and adjust messaging
    • Consider service levels and programmes (using rabbits, deer and elephant model)
    • Matching personalities on inbound enquires
  • Data and research
      • Produce client/referrer profiles
      • Understand referrers’ businesses and needs better
      • Indepth research into referrers
      • Use the referrer profiling exercise – identify relevant channels
      • Join the dots
  • Culture and mindset
    • Importance of mindset and psychology
    • Be more detective (reframe selling and reduce pressure to sell to focus on developing empathy and relationship)
    • Provide BD training
    • Guard against saying “busy” to people outside the organisation
  • Strategies
    • One team focus for cross-selling
    • Build the internal team
    • Produce content to influence and persuade referrers
    • Relationship strategies: Cast the net wide vs. spearfishing
    • Develop KAM plans for critical referrers
    • Identify Top 5 referrer relationships for each fee-earner
    • Organise a series of referrer roundtables
    • Explore use of Groups on LinkedIn
    • Scale up events
    • Team based approach – allow people to play to their strengths
    • Provide a key strategy for each person
    • Thank you notes and gestures

Related posts on referrer management

Employee Communications and Alumni Programmes ( August 2023

Referrer management – Grading, Research, Discipline, Storytelling ( April 2023

Referrer and Intermediary Management – Silos, Targets and Culture ( February 2023

Referrer Management Strategies – Rationale and Challenges ( January 2023

Referrer Management workshop (June 2022) ( June 2022

Cross-selling and referrer management – Expectations, Data and Focus ( March 2022

Three referrer management themes – Plans, Relationships ( July 2021

Referrer Management and Cross-Selling Insights (March 2021) ( March 2021

Highlights from a referrer management workshop (2020) ( December 2020

Six themes on cross-selling and referrer management workshop highlights ( September 2020

pragmatic steps to improved referrer management 2019 ( December 2019

Structured programmes for Referrer Relationships – workshop ( July 2019