Bart (name changed to protect identity) called me and started with, “No disrespect, but…”

Now, you know when someone says “No disrespect but…” that either you or your profession are about to be disrespected (in the most respectful way).

“I don’t like the idea of selling myself and frankly until recently we had enough work that we never needed to.”

He continued, “I do not particularly like sales people and I certainly don’t want to be seen as selling my services – selling feels unprofessional.”

Given that I train professionals to sell, I was wondering where this conversation was going.

What Bart said next was something I have heard many, many times.

“We need more clients right now, but the bigger problem is we actually need BETTER quality clients. I hate to say it, but we need to learn how to market ourselves to get better quality clients WITHOUT looking like we’re selling ourselves. Now, how the hell do we do that without looking desperate?”

The Challenge

So here’s the challenge: Winning clients, without looking like you’re selling.

Make no mistake…the big accountancy firms ARE selling. The star accountants are definitely selling. Lawyers and Architects are all selling as well.

I was speaking with a well known accountant recently whose name you would probably know.

I asked him, “How much selling do you need to do, or do leads just come in the door?”

He replied, “Are you kidding me – I feel like a duck on the water, all calm on the surface but underneath my sales legs are paddling like crazy.”

If you’re a firm owner or principal with a staff you need to sell like crazy just to keep the mouths fed.

Ok – so we agree, if you’re a firm owner then you’re selling.

We need to get past this little mind block before we can go any further.

“So what is the best way to attract clients without looking salesy – where do we advertise?” asks Bart.

I hand Bart a piece of paper and say, “Write down where all your clients come from now.”

Bart starts to ponder then writes and then stares into the distance,er then writes again and then his pen stops.

Bart had drawn a chart on his paper that in short, read:

Bart’s Client Sources
•    Referrals 80%
•    Everything else 20%

“Done,” says Bart sheepishly. “We only really get clients from referrals. Clearly we need better ways to win clients.

We’ve tried a few other things but got nothing.”

“So we could separate your client-getting into two categories, (1) referrals and word of mouth … and (2) everything else?” I ask.

“Right” confirms Bart. “We get 80% of our clients from referrals and word of mouth and 20% from everything else.”

“How much money do you spend on each of these?” I ask.

“Ahhhhh (pause), we spend about $7,000 a year on everything” he confesses.

“How much do you spend to get referrals?” I ask.

“Nothing” Bart replies. He’s starting to see where we are going with this.

“Ok let’s summarize here Bart – You spend $7,000 on everything to get 20% of your clients and then spend $0 to get 80% of your clients – does that sound about right?” I ask.

“It sounds accurate but doesn’t sound right!” laughs Bart. “So what are you saying here?”

“Bart I am not saying anything yet – just trying to find the facts before we prescribe your medication. But there is something very interesting going on here.”

We look at each others eyes as if Bart realizes he is about to make a breakthrough …but still not sure what it is yet.

“Are you saying we need to spend more on ‘everything else‘ to get our clients up?” asks Bart.

“No, not at all Bart. But I have a question. It seems one approach ‘everything else’ is almost useless for you and the other approach ‘referrals and word of mouth’ is an absolute winner even though you invest nothing into it.”

“What would you prefer to do this year – double your clients from referrals or double your clients coming from ‘everything else‘?

Bart was starting to realize that marketing to get more referrals was actually a marketing strategy.

“What do you think might happen if we split your marketing budget into 2 buckets – $3,500 for everything else and $3,500 to get more referrals?”

“Seems to me if you double clients from ‘everything else’ you’ll still get nothing, but if you double referrals then all your problems are solved.”

Bart is a bit perplexed. “You’re saying I should be targeting more referrals and not more clients from advertising. This isn’t what I was expecting. Are you saying that because hiring an Accountant is largely based on referrals we should look to get more clients from referrals?”

“Why do you like referrals so much?”

I then told Bart a story.

What I Learned From Uncle Ted

Imagine you have a bad back.

It has been plaguing you for years and it really cuts down on what you can do.

One day you climb out of bed and head off to the family picnic.

At the picnic, you run into uncle Ted, who also has a bad back.

You share ‘pain stories’ and watch as everyone else plays football.

Neither of you can roll off the blanket.

Next month there’s another family BBQ. As you arrive you look out with amazement – there is uncle Ted running around playing football with the kids!

What do you do?

You go up to uncle Ted and ask – “How’d you fix your back??”

Uncle Ted tells you about his wonderful acupuncturist and what a genius he was by fixing his back in a week.

Uncle Ted has never felt better, and you can see the proof.

What do you do first thing Monday?

You ask for uncle Ted’s back healer and book an appointment without delay.

On the other hand, what happens when you hire a professional based on an ad or a website?

You might check out five options, you might check prices, you might ask for testimonials or references, you might take your time making a decision.

Notice what happened in our story with uncle Ted:
•    No checking
•    No asking about price
•    No long sales cycle

Uncle Ted has done all the selling required BEFORE you ever call to make the appointment.

Uncle Ted is trustworthy, and his agenda is never questioned.

There’s no selling required by the acupuncturist when you call.

Why Getting Referrals is the Best Marketing You Can Do

Referrals typically hire faster, are easier to work with, pay higher fees and refer more people.

“I get it,” says Bart. “People hire Accountants largely based on word of mouth and yet we as a profession try to offer our services by selling ourselves … and that’s why ‘selling’ feels so wrong.”

“That’s right Bart, you need to align your marketing with the way you get your best clients. Based on what you told us, generating more referrals should be your #1 marketing strategy,” we tell him.

“That is such a relief to hear,” says Bart. “I’ve never thought about getting more word-of-mouth referrals as a marketing strategy. It’s so obvious now! AND it’s how I’d prefer to win clients,” he adds with a smile.

Bart looks relieved.

Ok Bart, if you’re happy with the idea that before we do any fancy Facebook or SEO stuff we need a platform of referrals flowing then we can get started.

Getting A Referral Shouldn’t Be A Random Act

Generating a consistent flow of grade “A” clients doesn’t happen by accident.

The most highly referred professionals typically use a system.

They remove the random nature of referrals and use strategies to help them get referred more often, and to better clients.

In a webinar that I run a couple of times a year, attendees discover an actual referral system that makes so much common sense they often wonder why they had never thought of it before.

This strategy will allow you to eliminate the worn out salesman techniques that make you cringe and replace them with a purposeful well-designed referral strategy instead.

Happy Referring

Richard Petrie

Ps. If you are keen to learn more about how this same strategy could work for you, I will be presenting the next webinar on 10th November at 2pm Auckland time (Midday Sydney time for all Aussie colleagues)! Register Here