[IMGCAP(1)]While I’m not in the business to take issue with great minds like Newton’s (or even my wife’s and kids’), since I don’t have a great mind to go to battle with, Newton’s third law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction probably does not cut it too well when referral opportunities are given out.

I give you a referral opportunity so I can get one back, which according to Uncle Isaac should be the case using his third law. In reality, when dealing with centers of influence, I give you a referral opportunity and it sure would be nice if you in turn would give me an immediate referral opportunity. But that probably doesn’t happen as often as we would like it to happen.

You have a good client. The client needs a new bank. You call the banker who you think, I repeat, you think will do the best possible job for your client. You are endorsing this banker. You are entrusting the bank with your client. Your goal is to set up your client with a banker that even if they can’t help your client, you know from experience that the banker will act quickly, professionally, follow up and will be in communications with your client throughout the process. And keep you in the loop too. There is value in what the banker is doing on your behalf for your client, even if the banker ultimately cannot help your client.

You could almost look at it as somewhat of a referral back to you. The banker did a good job. While it’s not as good as a real live referral opportunity coming back to you, it’s better than the alternative. It’s better than giving your client to a banker who doesn’t follow up with your client at all and basically makes you look bad in the eyes of your client. Now you have a client who is ticked off at you for giving out the name of such a bad banker in the first place. We probably don’t need to put ourselves in that position. Why ask for trouble, given the increased competition by highly qualified professionals from firms of various sizes?

Even when you receive a referral opportunity, you probably only have a one in three chance that the opportunity will convert somewhat quickly if you are keeping score at home.  However as we are wearing our marketing hats more and more these days, all referral opportunities are appreciated:

• Stage 1—Immediate Referral Opportunity: You receive a call from a banker that their client is going in front of the bank’s credit committee in two weeks and the client needs a new accountant. The committee is no longer accepting the financials provided by the business owner’s brother-in-law, who just happens to be a dentist. They want a real accounting firm providing numbers they can rely on without the financials smelling like fluoride toothpaste. With not much time to shop around and a credit committee becoming meaner by the day, congratulations: In less than two weeks, you have won the business. Nice referral.

• Stage 2—Let Me Get to Know You Better Referral Opportunity: You receive a call from a banker inviting you to lunch to meet one of their clients. Nice lunch. Good conversation. No real urgent, immediate needs, but the referral—your new prospect—has said in so many words that they haven’t been all that pleased with their incumbent accountant.  A few too many extensions. Changing people each year. Only hear from them when we call them. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  The key will be your follow-up. With a little work, communication, and attention to the prospect, and added value brought to the table of the prospect, you’ll soon be calling the banker informing them that you have a new client thanks to their introduction. The banker will be pleased and additional referral opportunities potentially could be coming your way because of the way you handled the referral opportunity.

• Stage 3—Discovery Referral Opportunity: You receive a call from a banker (boy, this banker has been busy) asking to meet with one of their clients. During the meeting the conversation is more strategic than tactical about the business. While the meeting does not really address accounting issues, yet you uncover something that was not previously discovered or discussed by the current accounting firm or identified even by the business owner. You request to bring in a few experts from your shop to continue the discussion on this newly discovered issue. One thing leads to another and a new direction or plan begins to take shape as a result of your discovery. Confidence grows with the business owner. The relationship is taking shape, not overnight, but over time, while the project works converts into a full engagement.

I have heard bankers, accountants and lawyers say something that mystifies me every time I hear it: “I don’t have referrals to give, so I’m not sure if I need to meet new COI’s.” In other words, if a client asks to be introduced to a banker, for example, will they refuse? Given the current business climate, we all need to be doing as much as we can not only for our own clients, but for prospects and centers of influence too. Being viewed as someone whom others can trust for advice does not come easy or overnight, and it’s the badge of honor we should all strive for.  

We have to give to get and in the case of Sir Isaac Newton, giving is the action before you get the equal and opposite getting reaction. Hard to believe I was sleeping in that class … well, maybe not.

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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