The Wild West, Cher and Covid – Reflections from a Referrer Management workshop (June 2022)

The MBL workshop on Referrer and Intermediary Management  earlier this week combined those in front-line fee-earning roles (e.g. employment and family solicitors) with those from marketing and business development in legal, tax, wealth management and property firms. Alongside generating new business directly from clients and developing existing client relationships, referrer management was seen as vital to generate revenue and profit – particularly for those reliant on commercial transactions in B2B and consumer clients in B2C. This article focuses on the key themes that arose and contributes to the learning resources for delegates. The Wild West, Cher and Covid – Reflections from a Referrer Management workshop.

Business Development in the Wild West?

A key delegate challenge was how to promote the adoption of a client-focused (and referrer-focused) philosophy across the firm. Most delegates wanted to know how to promote better business development practices (and motivation) to forge and develop referrer relationships and embed this in their culture. This prompted a host of discussions on engagement, internal communication, stakeholder buy-in, organisational culture and changing behaviour.

We tried out various tools (e.g. referrer briefings and buyer profiles) to encourage people to undertake more research into both organisations and individuals before attempting to approach them as referrers.

Some delegates said they wanted to shift from a “cast your net wide” to a more targeted approach. And we explored different ways to help with targeting.

Other issues included a silo mentality (people remaining within their departments without sharing or collaborating with those in other teams) and fee-earners pursing their own targets and referrers without co-ordinating their activities with others.

Rather than the strategic, focused and co-ordinated approach that we’d like – it was felt more like the Wild West in professional service firms at times. “Ploughing their own furrows” – where it was every man (and women) for themselves. This old video of an advert from EDS combines the Wild West theme with another metaphor that is famous in professional services – that of herding cats!

Environmental, competitor, internal and referral analysis and plans help bring a more co-ordinated and focused approach to business development. Clarity over the themes for content that is to be shared – supporting different segments or referrers – was also seen as an important supportive action.

Cher’s Believe and cross-selling

Many will remember Cher’s famous 1998 “reinvention” song – Believe. Unbelievably, the YouTube video has over 220 million views – here’s the link if you’d like to reminisce Cher – Believe [Official Music Video] – YouTube

 There was an interesting debate about the need for fee-earners and others in the firm to truly believe in the merits of their firm, products and services before they could market them effectively. Our conversation about congruence and authenticity indicated that this was indeed so. Education, engagement and enthusiasm programmes were considered.

One delegate offered a great quote from Harry Winston about the impact on selling success between knowing and loving diamonds.

This linked into various conversations on promoting internal referrals (cross-selling) through a variety of internal communications, internal marketing, training and monitoring methods. Onboarding, lunch and learns, first points of contact directories and intranet tools were mentioned.

See also:

Internal communication – Why, how and what (

Referrals – The role of internal communications (

We also touched on the best time to ask clients and referrers for recommendations and referrals. So, as well as talking about NPS satisfaction ratings. I also mentioned asking at the time of greatest satisfaction – as shown in Foonberg’s client gratitude curve (as mentioned in this post by an experienced US patent attorney).

But the overwhelming view of the delegates was that it was important to have focused cross-selling initiatives – to concentrate people’s minds and attention to promoting particular services to particular clients or referrers. Sometimes through dedicated internal campaigns and sometimes through the use of Key Account Management. The constraints for those regulated by the FCA were acknowledged.

Get back out there after Covid

Delegates reflected that Covid meant many business development initiatives were forgotten and that it was now time to get back out there to re-establish former and develop new relationships.

Some delegates commented that younger professionals who had joined over the past few years had missed out on opportunities to see how their seniors attended networking and other events to form connections. So they were reluctant to try this and lacked the confidence and skills to do so.

So how do we get them back out there? Or out there for the first time?

A starting point – which we explored – was the need for analysis and planning. And with data and evidence to support decision-making, it is easier to make choices (i.e. be more strategic) about where to target the investment of time and resources in developing the most potentially fruitful referrer relationships. So this directs efforts at target organisations and individuals – and helps them work with others in the firm for a joint approach and moral support where necessary.

With a better understanding of what had happened in the past – and the opportunities in the external environment – it was also possible to set goals and objectives. These, in turn, managed expectations about what we hope to achieve with our referrer management efforts which can be time-intensive and take time to generate results.

A plan will set out what we expect individuals to do and will provide the context of other marketing and business development activities (e.g. content management, events etc) in which they should do so.

We also need to equip our fee-earners with sufficient data, information and insight into the individuals they are targeting. Delegates recognised that their current information on referrers was probably inadequate and we explored ways to establish and build better internal knowledge systems.

This information will help fee-earners to identify gaps in knowledge so they can direct conversations to filling in the blanks and expanding the firm’s knowledge. And hopefully it will also ignite their curiosity (see this explainer video on the curiosity in business relationships) to ask the right sorts of questions in the right way. The information also helps them start to develop empathy and prepare for conversations where they can add value and insight.

We also need to equip them with valuable ideas – such as those developed within thought leadership, other research and case studies/stories – so that they have something of interest and value to share with referrers. It can increase their confidence knowing that there is some structure and substance to referrer meetings. This can also be provided through training, templates, checklists and support in advance.

We learned a lot about communicating and connecting virtually during Covid. So now was time to glean the best lessons and incorporate them into plans that used more face-to-face and in person interactions again.

Whilst digital and virtual communications are efficient and inexpensive, when building relationships there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. So there may need to be some action to break people out of their digital comfort zones. We looked at training and other methods to help do this.

There was also an observation that many in the younger generation seem reluctant to either pick up the phone (see better business relationships with telephones ( or meet with people in real life rather than digitally (see Does Zoom/Teams replace telephone calls? Telephone skills workshop ( In these cases, they need training, support (e.g. shadowing or coaching) or motivation to have more face-to-face meetings. Note that the 2021 book Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan ( provides insight into generational differences in communication and provides guidance on how to develop relationships better through digital/written channels.

Some firms – those that are not so restricted by regulatory bodies – can motivate action with introduction fees and commissions. Others invest in networking groups which – with sustained effort – generate good referrer relationships that result in significant new business for their firms.

Key takeaways from delegates

  • Establishing trust is the priority – before trying to encourage referrals
  • Develop more “diamonds” (see a short explainer video on bow-tie and diamond relationships) and have less Wild West – to better manage relationships in other parts of the business
  • Pool knowledge from the various people who have connections with each referrer
  • Avoid leaving us or the intermediary exposed to one-on-one silo relationships
  • Reassuring that as a firm we are on the right track – though we can be far more meticulous and structured in our approach
  • Silo working seems to be a common thread
  • Five-a-side events are good to ensure a joined-up approach to a particular referrer and also ease the path for more junior people to join the referrer relationships
  • Have a structured plan, rather than scatter gun approach
  • I really enjoyed hearing how others were doing things – it has given me some ideas
  • Relieved that what I am doing is along the right lines

Delegate Poll Results

Throughout the session, there were delegate polls and here are some highlights:

Primary nature of your role? 75% marketing and business development, 25% fee-earners

Sector represented? 50% legal, 25% financial services and 25% other

Which of the six topics is of most interest? 33% strategy and planning 33% working with external referrers 17% cross-selling to existing clients and 17% other

Is your firm’s approach: 17% cast the net wide, 17% targeted and 67% a combination

How much of your work is generated by internal and external referrals: 50% said 20%-50%, 40% said 50% – 80%

Which CRM system do you use: 25% Hubspot, 25% OnePlace and 50% other

Amongst the other CRM systems mentioned were: Peppermint (good integration within a legal financial and work management suite but not very user-friendly), Deltek (good but can be expensive to bespoke) and Goldvision (not recommended). The need to capture people’s preferences – for example, which communication channel they prefer and the best time of day to interact – was mentioned. One delegate reminded us that CRM “bespoking” is a form of research and development (R&D) and can therefore be claimed back from HMRC.

The systems and information for referral management at your firm are:

  • 0% Excellent
  • 20% Very good
  • 60% Average
  • 0% Inadequate
  • 20% Non-existant

The three main reasons that cross-selling doesn’t occur at your firm?

  • 100% Everyone is too busy/has no time
  • 60% No incentive
  • 60% We are in silos
  • 20% Client resistance

The most irritating or frustrating things that people do when approaching you for referrals?

  • Jumping straight into a selling conversation before building a relationship – it takes time to build up referrer knowledge and trust
  • Individuals who know nothing about our business or client base and simply ask for referrals because they have targets for calls and connections
  • Pushiness – really puts me off (we talked about “Telling isn’t selling”)
  • Persistent and almost daily emails
  • I had one last week who sent me FIVE LinkedIn messages and the last was something along lines of “it is scary that you haven’t realised what you could be missing out on”

Which activities do you find most effective for building relationships in our Covid world?

  • 25% telephone calls
  • 25% webinars and online networking/socials
  • 25% emails and newsletters
  • 25% collaborative/joint marketing

Extent to which you use social media activities for referrer relationships?

  • 100% Connecting (after meeting)
  • 75% Researching individuals and organisations
  • 75% Liking and sharing their content
  • 75% Sharing our content
  • 50% Sharing joint content
  • 50% Endorsements, recommendations and linking to their accounts and posts
  •  25% Monitoring/listening to their accounts
  • 25% Approaching referrers in groups

(See also influencer marketing Influencer marketing in professional services (

How do you feel about selling?

  • 0% Very uncomfortable
  • 40% Uncomfortable
  • 20% Neither uncomfortable or comfortable
  • 0% Comfortable
  • 40% Very comfortable

How much of your time do you spend selling?

  • 17% spent 1-10% of their time selling
  • 49% spent 10-49% of their time selling
  • 17% spent about 50% of their time selling
  • 17% spent 50% to 80% of their time selling

Recent articles on referrer management

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