The Best Referral Source to Obtain New Accounting Clients – Part 2
Last week’s post focused upon referrals, which are the gold standard for CPA marketing. Several of the most common referral sources were explored – your present clients, commercial bankers, consultants, social friends and acquaintances and, finally, the best source of all: attorneys.
This Part 2 is about how to effectively cultivate attorneys as referral sources.
Classically, most of the accountants who have recognized the value of attorney referrals have adopted the “familiarity” method as their means to cultivate a relationship. That is to say, they engage in activities, join groups, etc. where they have the opportunity to be around the attorney(s) and then, over a period of time, the relationship deepens, trust and familiarity is established and eventually the referrals begin to trickle in.
This strategy can clearly work, but it takes a long time and suffers from the detriment that – especially if the setting is a group such as the “Downtown Merchants Association” – you may be competing with several other accountants with the same goal in mind.
Here’s an alternate approach I designed that suffers neither of these problems (time, competition) and has been very effective for several of my clients. What follows is exactly the sequence Maureen – who practices in the Dallas area – took in 2010 …
Step One was to review every client file she could remember where an attorney appeared. Examples include where, for example, there was a will drawn, a piece of property sold, a business incorporated or dissolved, or a law suit. Maureen created a list which totaled (as I recall) 22 attorneys.
Step Two was to look at each attorney individually by checking their web site bio, Yellow Page ad, Martindale Hubbell listing, etc. to determine their experience and practice area(s). Maureen prioritized the list by looking for three criteria:
- Experience and status (she wanted partners and/or practice owners)
- Clientele (she wanted attorneys who served the same client base as she did)
- Timing (she wanted the attorney’s involvement to be as recent as possible)
Sifting through the data, she identified five “prime” candidates.
Step Three was to contact each of the five. We worked out a telephone approach she was comfortable with, which is illustrated by the following exchanges:
“Hello, Bob?” [affirmative reply] “This is Maureen Johns. I’m a CPA here in town with Bailey & Riskins and we share a client – Bill McNaughton at Bill’s Medical Supply. The reason I’m calling is to ask if I could run something technical by you. I’m specifically interested in how you approached the Section 1031 exchange in light of the trust provisions. From an accounting and tax perspective, it’s somewhat of a gray area and it would help me as I devise a tax strategy for Bill if I could better understand how you see it from your legal viewpoint. In fact, if you’re agreeable, I would be very pleased to spring for lunch if that would persuade you to meet with me.”
Or, if the attorney’s involvement on the file is ongoing, the conversation might go like this: “Hello, Bob?” [affirmative reply] “This is Maureen Jones. I’m a CPA here in town with Bailey & Riskins and we share a client – Bill McNaughton at Bill’s Medical Supply. The reason I’m calling is to ask if I could run something technical by you. We’ve been talking about how we want to approach Bill’s accounting and tax issues presented by the interplay of the Section 1031 exchange and the trust language. I believe it would be helpful if we could gain a better understanding of how you look at the problem from a legal viewpoint. In fact, if you’re agreeable, I would be very pleased to spring for lunch if that would persuade you to meet with me.”
Result: All five met with Maureen and in the subsequent three years she has received referrals from three. Two of them have become steady referral sources and the payoff for Maureen is already into six figures.
Why does this methodology work? The answer is that in a single stroke it satisfies all three of the things an attorney is looking for before they will refer anyone to you, which are:
• That you are a reasonably pleasant person (Therefore, whomever they refer will find you to be friendly and easy to work with. When Bob has lunch with Maureen he finds her to be so and is thereby assured this is the case.)
• That you are technically competent (The last thing an attorney wants is for you to do a poor job for one of their clients. By Maureen making the essence of her approach to Bob technical in nature, Bob’s fears are alleviated.)
• That you will provide good client service (They want to be confident you won’t overcharge, not return phone calls, treat their client’s issues as unimportant, etc. Maureen overcomes this when she emphasizes that it is her concern for doing a good job for her client that prompts her call to Bob in the first place.)
It takes a bit of creativity on your part to make this process work. By that I mean you have to come up with a relevant technical “gray” area to broach to each attorney you approach. With the CCH Federal Tax Reporter now saying the 2013 IRS Code has 73,954 pages; surely you can find something in there to work with!
This process really will kick start a stream of very high quality referrals to your practice. Give it a try. Then, in the future, whenever a new attorney appears with whatever client work you are doing, find a technical excuse to meet with them. This is simply one of the most powerful techniques I have ever developed to help my clients market accounting services.
Telephone shy? One client was reluctant to make the initial approach to the attorney(s) on the telephone. She wanted to email. I helped her craft an email that I thought would be persuasive. Of course, the response was lessened and I don’t remember the exact numbers, but roughly half of the attorneys didn’t respond. (Was it something I said?) Ultimately though, for the process to work, it requires your personal involvement. You have to meet with the attorney or you can’t satisfy the three criteria that must be in place before they will send you any referrals.
As always, I want to hear your experiences. What techniques have you devised to successfully generate referrals?
On a personal note, I am going in for reconstructive shoulder surgery next week and won’t be able to type for about six weeks. My plan is to send out my next blog in mid-October; probably right after most of you complete your labors to meet the deadline on the 15th.