Referrals for Professional Services Firms

There is a reason that I named my company Beyond Referrals. Over a decade ago when I first started I asked a lot of consultants how they got new clients – was it through advertising, speaking, writing, RFPs, or was it through networking for referrals for professional services firms.

The least honest of the bunch would claim with great confidence that virtually all of their business came from referrals. I know they weren’t being forthcoming because my question typically came after listening to them complain about the effort of responding to RFPs.

The honest would admit that RFPs were their most significant source of new business and then ask me about how they might change that. Although they were grateful for the RFP business they did win they regretted the time required to write a proposal, the low win rate, the emphasis on price for most of the opportunities, and the frustration of unclear or inappropriate evaluation criteria.

Whatever their reality, many firms believed that referrals for professional services firms generated from satisfied clients or through traditional networking were the antidote to the RFP.

To that end they invested heavily in memberships, attending events, and joining leads clubs. Although they are all proven and effective methods, they are also time consuming and expensive methods of gaining referrals for professional services firms.

However in 2014 the most obvious and most easily scaled source of new referrals for professional services firms still seems neglected. Of course I am referring to the Internet and when I speak at events I still sense a reluctance for professional services firms to invest in things like marketing automation, content creation, online lead generation, or skills in those areas.

I also still hear that the web is only for B2C sales and not a marketing tool used to generate referrals for professional services firms. It would be more accurate to say that the web has been conquered by the B2C marketers while the professional services marketers are still talking about an attack but have not yet pulled the trigger on a full scale assault. A few renegade professional services firms are successfully pulling off well-executed guerilla campaigns but they are the exception and not the rule.

There are many reasons and benefits for allocating some (possibly all) of the sales efforts (not marketing efforts) of a professional services firm to the Internet but in this article I will address only one. Referrals.

Adopting A New Perspective on Sources of Referrals for Professional Services Firms

Mark O’Brien the President of Newfangled likes to say that your website has a target audience of one – Google.

This is interesting because we tend to think of the Google as representing millions of potential clients. Instead Mark would encourage us to think of Google as just one person that could introduce us to millions of potential clients.

However just like any other referral, the referral can only happen if a few things are in place.

First the referrer must be willing to invite you into their network. Google has obviously committed to that.

The second is that you must be able to provide the necessary elements to a referrer, so that they can in fact refer you.

The Google website states that “Larry Page, our co-founder and CEO, once described the “perfect search engine” as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”

Your job is to make sure Google understands “exactly what you mean” when you describe the perfect referral.

Which statement do you think would help Google deliver “exactly what you want” when it comes to introducing you to a potential new client?

The generic:

We are a management consulting firm with over two decades of experience in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

Or the specific:

We provide sales and marketing advice to professional services firms.

Beware The Rookie Positioning Advice That Kills Referrals for Professional Services Firms

I recently tweeted that it still boggles my mind how much marketing advice still fails at the basics of developing a clear positioning statement which is the fundamental requirement required to tell Google “exactly what you mean” so that Larry and Sergey and their minions can deliver “exactly what you want”.

The most basic mistake remains the blending of positioning statement with benefit statements and sometimes throwing in the elements of a slogan as well.

In order to move Beyond Referrals from traditional sources and start getting referrals from your new best friend Google, you need to ensure your professional services firm is positioned based on what your clients actually buy from you because that is what they search for. And that will always be your expertise.

Your functional expertise combined with your sector expertise, and usually also your geographic expertise are the essential and only elements you should use to define your market position.

When you get this statement right you will find it easier to increase referrals from traditional sources as well as through online lead generation efforts.

Want to read more about positioning a professional services firm? It’s all here in The Consultant with Pink Hair.

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The Consultant with Pink Hair

"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching

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