Recently in Manchester, I was joined by accountants, lawyers and insolvency practitioners for the MBL  referrer management training workshop on “Developing more work from referrers and intermediaries”. Here are the delegates’ views of the highlights.

Plan – Back to basics 

Most firms have referrer management programmes and activities – but often these are managed by individual partners and fee-earners and there are no strategic aims, firm-wide systems or co-ordination.

A key takeaway for some delegates was the need to analyse what is currently happening, establish goals for what results or performance improvements are required (and these may differ across sectors, service teams and offices) and develop a focused plan to achieve the desired results.

Target – Focus efforts

While networking activities may generate a wide contact base of referrers and potential referrers, it is impossible to devote the same level of attention to all of them. Furthermore, you are likely to need a more proactive approach to identifying and making contact with the referrers likely to be of most value – rather than simply hoping you will connect with them at events or online.

This requires analysis of where the best referrals are likely to come from, a comparison with what is happening at present and some research to identify the most suitable referrers for the future. We explored the various criteria that firms employ to select and assess the most suitable referrer organisations and individuals for targeting.

I discussed the sorts of information systems needed to manage referrer relationships in a previous blog:

Further ideas on targeting and developing referrer relationships are shown here:

Research – Understand referrer aims

Different ways to research referrers’ needs and interests were explored. Some of the exercises revealed that there were too many gaps in knowledge about referrer organisations – how they are structured, the appropriate people to target, their core and target markets, their particular strengths, potential conflicts and their aims and strategies. Such research also provides input into referrer segmentation, grading and prioritisation strategies.

Explore – Reveal perceptions and preferences

An important takeaway for some delegates was the need to ask referrers why they refer some clients and work to other firms and also the reasons why they referred the clients and work that they do. Understanding how referrers think and feel about your firm can uncover incorrect perceptions about your firm – and the perceptions of its strengths and target clients and gaps in the knowledge of referrers. We also talked about how some referrers may incorrectly “pigeon hole” firms for particular types of clients and services.

Develop – Add value

Without sales training, fee-earners may be tempted to approach referrers with a “We’re good at this so please refer work to us” approach – on their agenda. We talked about the need for empathy and to focus on understanding the needs of and benefits to the referrer.

A key technique discussed was preparing so that you can add value to the referrer at every interaction – whether on the phone or at meetings. Ideas included: providing snippets of information, offering insights into clients or competitors, facilitating introductions, suggesting leads and opportunities and sharing their knowledge or details in valued communities etc.

Other ideas are included in the post “What to do when you can’t reciprocate work” as well as general tips on developing referrer relationships using the 6R model here:

Let it go – Sunk costs

Whilst it is impossible to identify which referrers may refer the best clients and work in the future, there is a tendency for people to continue to invest in potential referrer relationships over a long period of time without receiving any referrals.

We talked about the notion of “sunk costs” – where people have invested a lot of time and effort in a relationship in the past and are then reluctant to cease activity as this means that effort is written off. So instead they continue to maintain the relationship hoping that some work will emerge in the future. Hope is not a strategy!

We considered different ways to gently investigate whether the relationship is likely to generate results in the future and different ways to drive the conversation and progress the relationship – for example, by requesting introductions to other people in the referrer organisation. And also elegant and professional ways to take a back seat where the prospects are poor.

Further details of future dates and locations for this course:

Other referrer management insights

Top tips on referrals and referrer management from the 2016 Birmingham presentation of this course can be seen here:

Insights into international referrals are shared here:

Referrer management tips for property and surveying practices are here:

The use of social media in referrer management is included in this blog: