The development of talent will differentiate your firm. The firm takes cares of talent, talent takes care of the client, and the client takes care of the firm. Talent development is a core element of widely referred firms. This all begins with the training of daily processes required to complete ordinary engagements (onboarding) and everything associated with the firm's marketing and growth strategy. This includes market strategy, positioning, messaging and focusing on the profile of the ideal client.
Does your firm take this approach, or do you wait until the employee has been with the firm for several years before expecting them to generate referrals and new business? Smart firms teach every new employee how to spot an ideal client, how to properly tell the firm's story, and how to identify clues as to when a potential client is ready to buy. This basic training should be started immediately and continually reinforced.
Firms that get referred place focus on exceeding client expectations, especially as it relates to the experience. Most clients assume that the technical aspects will be handled correctly. What they don't expect is an exceptional experience. The focus must be on the outcome (results) and not on the effort.
THEY'LL PAY FOR IT
A firm focused on referrals asks, "How can we serve?" rather than, "What can we sell? Exceptional firms ask for referrals, not simply as a way to acquire new business, but as a way to help people get the results they desire. Referred prospects can factor value into the buying equation due to the fact that there is less risk for them based upon their relationship with the person referring the firm.
In fact, prospects often anticipate paying a premium due to the fact that a highly referred firm is positioned at the upper end of the pricing continuum. With referred business, you don't have to compete on price. Too often accountants relate a referral to a discount, while the client thinks just the opposite. Referrals eliminate or reduce the risk for the prospect while generally shortening the sales cycle for the firm. In other words, referrals reduce your acquisition investment.
FROM P TO C
Firms that focus on referrals are generally more system-oriented and deliver consistent experiences. They build trust, empower employees and create paths for successful growth. A referral strategy is designed to satisfy the emotional and logical needs of every client and prospect. In the past, most marketers referred to the "Four Ps" - products, pricing, place and promotion. Today the "Four Cs" are just as important - content, context, connection and community.
Content that educates or is seen as valuable to the client is the new currency of marketing. This can be in the form of white papers, blogs and "how-to" information.
Context is important due to the vast amount of information that exists on the Internet. The ability to aggregate and filter provides the context, especially when applied to the prospect's personal situation.
Connection involves the human touch. Social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn are great examples of how the Internet easily provides connections. It also provides community that no longer is limited by geography. Purpose-driven communities provide both context and connection.
Firms that focus on all four Cs tend to blend high-tech and personal relationships into creating a firm with a referral engine. This approach creates trust, shortens the sales cycle, demands premium pricing and expects referrals from every relationship.
BE WORTH IT
The first questions to ask are: "Is our firm referable?" and, "On what basis are we referable?" The keys to referability are basic and are determined by the client's value system.
1. Are you timely, in terms of both keeping appointments and delivery of services?
2. Are you responsive to client phone calls and e-mails?
3. Do you discuss scope and fees with clients in advance?
4. Do you treat the client with respect?
5. Do you express gratitude?
Finally, many firms must think differently in order to act differently. If you have valuable services, it is professional to ask for referrals. Likewise, providing referrals is the fastest way to develop your own referral network.
Your referral engine will be much like a flywheel - once you get it started, the momentum will become your friend.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
The New School
In the past, marketers often focused on the "Four Ps:"
Now they need to add the "Four Cs:"
Content: Content that educates - whether it's white papers, blogs or articles - is the new currency of marketing, while old-fashioned "promotional materials" are seen as offering less value.
Context: With so much information available, prospects will respond to those who can aggregate and filter it into a form that the prospects can understand.
Connection: The Internet and social media offer opportunities for firms to interact with clients and prospects on a much more regular basic, creating connections that foster and facilitate referrals.
Community: New tools make it easier to create the sorts of communities in which referrals can thrive, and which aren't limited by geography.
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