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How and when to ask a client for a referral

A new client should be a planned event, not an accident.

And the most productive way to get a continuing stream of planned events is to follow an established process for generating referrals.

Referrals are the highest producing form of marketing. In fact studies have shown that as many as seven out of 10 referrals turn into new clients. By contrast, cold calls for professional services produce business only one time out of 10.

The art of requesting referrals is short and direct. Here is what to do.

Don’t ask just anybody

Begin by identifying whether the client is somebody the firm should ask for referrals in the first place.

That’s essential because it is not appropriate to ask for referrals from every client. Some are not satisfied with the work; others are not the type the firm wants to see again; some simply aren’t interested in making referrals.

It is not productive to ask for referrals from every client.

To distinguish the will-asks from the won’t-asks, look at three points:

1 Is this client satisfied with our services?

Those people are easy to identify. The attorneys know who they are. Or the firm can look at its client surveys.

2 Is this the type of client we want to continue to serve?

In other words, that person has to be someone that the firm likes to work with. That point often gets overlooked, but client bring in referrals like themselves, and not every client is one the firm wants to repeat. Someone who doesn’t co-operate with the attorneys or who repeatedly tries to get the bill reduced will most likely refer people who do the same annoying things.

3 Is this client a helper type?

A helper is someone who actually enjoys making people connections. And there is an easy way to find out which clients fit into that category. Simply ask for advice on something unrelated to legal services. So as “I’m looking for a really good French restaurant. Do you have any suggestions?” or “My car lease is about up. Can you recommend any dealerships in the area?”

Most people will say no more than “I don’t know what to tell you.” Those people are takers, not givers, and they won’t be open to making referrals. But about one in three will respond with a thoughtful list of restaurants or car dealerships and even an added “when you’re there, mention my name.” Those are the helpers. They are the referral makers.

The firm can identify its helpers at any point. Even as a new client, the person will answer in the same way.

Now to pop the question

Now it is time to ask for the referral. The right approach is simple and direct.

It is a matter of telling the client that “we focus our attention on our clients matters and grow our business exclusively by word of mouth. So if you are satisfied with our services, I would like you to consider telling your friends and associates about us.”

That’s a low pressure way to say the firm is looking for referrals. And it’s appealing to clients, because the request is conditional on the firm’s providing good service.

Say thank you

Then, when a referral does come in, there needs to be follow-up. The attorney should immediately call and thank the client.

But go beyond saying thank you. Tell the client that the person will benefit as a result, perhaps “thanks for putting us together. I think we will be able to help your friend with his legal matter.”

The word “help” says the client has made a right move. The firm becomes the instrument in helping the friend. After that, send a note saying, “Just wanted you to know that we are working with Prospect A and we feel good about our ability to help him. Thank you for sending him to us.” The note is most effective if it is handwritten.

Plus a once-a-year reminder

Extend the referral request further by repeating the message in greeting cards. Put in a note such as, “As you know, our business grows by word of mouth, so we want to give special thanks to our dear clients who have sent us their friends and associates so that we can help them with the legal needs. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday.”

That message says two things: “Thanks” and “Send us more business.”

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