For many advisers and planners, attracting referrals from professional connections such as solicitors and accountants is equivalent to the holy grail.
After all, made by trusted advisers, such referrals usually have a very high conversion rate.
In our experience though, few advisers and planners have developed truly effective relationships with professional connections.
So, if you’re new to professional connections, or if you simply keen to reinvigorate existing relationships, here are our top 10 tips to build better relationships:
1) Choose carefully
Identify the type of professional connections you want to work with. We recommend creating detailed personas for the type of clients you want to work with, and the same applies to professional connections.
This will help you understand their motivations too; you know what you want, but what do they want? Understanding and delivering this will exponentially increase your chances of success.
Decide how many you can feasibly work with too. Developing relationships is time-consuming and hard work. It’s better to have a handful of well-connected referrers than multiple casual acquaintances who only give you the occasional poor quality referral.
All relationships start somewhere. Targeted networking is crucial to making that initial contact, as well as maintaining existing relationships.
Ideally, you will network both online and offline. We aren’t asking you to go to tedious networking events, sip cheap wine and make small talk with people whose only interest is to sell you something.
We are, however, suggesting you hang out where your target professional connections do. Offline, that might be a local business group, online it might be a specific social media channel, forum or group.
By networking, you will develop connections which you can then nurture into relationships on a one-to-one basis.
Our profession has moved on considerably over the past few years. Consequently, many solicitors or accountants won’t understand how you now work and the benefits you deliver to clients.
We recommend producing what we call a ‘proof and proposition’ document. This explains what you do and who you do it for (the proposition) and the benefits of working with you (the proof).
It should be used to educate professional connections, with copies left for them to pass to their clients. It’s so much more effective than a business card, which at best is all they will hand over right now.
Feel free to get in touch if you would like to see an example.
4) Add value
You should always look for ways to add value to professional connections and their clients.
One way of doing this is to educate the accountant or solicitor, helping them, in turn, to add value to their clients. By doing so you will deepen the relationship with that professional connection and be rewarded with an increased flow of referrals.
- Running seminars or workshops in their office on topics which you know are important to accountants or solicitors. You will pick up extra bonus points here if the content counts towards their CPD requirement
- Bring training to their desk by running webinars
- Producing a regular newsletter specifically for professional connections. Separate to your normal client communications, this should focus on the topics which you know affect solicitors, accountants and their clients.
You could also consider running joint events where you both invite clients, allowing them to meet the people you advise and vice versa.
5) Tell stories
Describe the work you do by telling stories.
Talking about your clients will help professional connections recognise the value you offer and understand when they should be referring clients to you. It's worth mentioning here when when we say talk about your clients we mean in general terms, beware of breaching confidentiality.
Asking questions such as: “We’ve just helped a client who had an issue with XYZ – do you ever come across clients with a similar issue?” can reveal opportunities for referrals or help you understand the issues their clients are facing.
6) Refer back
Everyone is selling something. In the case of accountants or solicitors, it’s professional advice.
They will probably have new business targets, so referring your clients to them will be welcomed. There are other benefits too:
- Your client will get the professional advice they need
- You will have an excuse for staying in touch with the accountant or solicitor to check on the progress they're making
- They will get to see first-hand the planning work you’ve already done
- The client is bound to say positive things about you.
7 ) Make your business easy to refer
Some solicitors and accountants will carry out detailed due diligence on the firms they refer to. It’s therefore sensible to build a detailed due diligence pack answering all the questions they are likely to have.
That box ticked, you can move on to impressing them and their clients.
The proof and proposition document we discussed earlier is more effective than a business card.
You might also need to work on your online presence. After all, even those people referred by a trusted adviser are likely to Google you before getting in touch.
Ensuring you can be found easily online after a brand search, that the information is positive and your website is impressive, are all essential.
8) Build the relationship
You’ve probably had relationships with accountants and solicitors which haven’t delivered as you hoped.
Despite the initial enthusiasm to work closely together, life gets in the way and the relationship has cooled through no one’s fault.
That’s why it’s important to focus on a small number of high value connections and develop truly deep relationships. There are many ways to do this, but until something clicks, and they start to refer on a regular basis, you will need to take the lead:
- Consider running the events we’ve mentioned above
- Refer clients to the solicitor or accountant
- Turn occasional coffees into regular meet-ups (a regular, diarised meeting at their office is better)
- Using social media to stay in touch by liking, commenting, sharing their content, or by direct messaging
- Send occasional ‘I saw this and thought of you emails’ sharing useful information or content.
Using a basic CRM system (PipeDrive is one example) can be helpful for ensuring you maintain the appropriate amount of contact with each professional connection. However, a spreadsheet which is regularly reviewed and updated can work just as well.
9) Don’t be afraid to ask
This is absolutely key and it’s surprising how many advisers don’t do it.
Don’t be shy; you’ve demonstrated your credentials, invested in the relationship and added value, they should now be ready to refer clients to you.
If it’s not happening as a matter of course, then it’s time to ask. If the referrals are not forthcoming, then it’s time to…
10) Move on
As the relationship develops, you’ll need to continually assess whether it’s heading in the right direction – your CRM system or spreadsheet will come in handy here.
- Is the trust building on both sides?
- Is this a person I want to work with?
- Is this relationship purely based on cross-referrals, or do they understand other ways that I can bring value?
- Are their clients the right fit for me?
If the answer to all of these is ‘yes’ but the referrals are not coming through, even after you’ve asked for them, then you are better off investing your time and energy elsewhere.
After all, you’ve only got so much time and there are limited numbers of professional connections you can work with.
So, there it is. Developing relationships with professional connections won’t happen overnight, but by developing and implementing a strategy, they can be a highly lucrative source of new business.