Referrals are a great source of new business. In fact, other than getting more work from existing clients, they are the best source of new business.
Referrals are such an effective business development strategy because they make it easier to build the trust that is so critical in selling an intangible like legal services. You gain a measure of "reflected trust" when you are referred. The prospective client transfers their good feelings about the person who recommended you onto you. This makes the sales process smoother and more efficient and the early stages of the relationship more rewarding.
When you learn to ask for referrals in the right way, you'll be rewarded with both an increase in new business and better client relationships.
And yet, most lawyers don't actively seek referrals, leaving them with a vast, untapped marketing goldmine. Most lawyers assume that if a satisfied client or good friend hears of someone who needs their services, the client or friend will mention them. This happens less often than you would like.
Problems with the Typical "Ask"
Even for those who do ask for referrals, the typical request goes something like this: "If you hear of anyone who needs my services, I hope you'll keep me in mind."
There are at least two problems with this "ask":
- The person being "asked" is probably a busy professional with lots on their plate. Keeping someone in mind for a referral is likely not very high on their "to do" list.
- The person being "asked" probably doesn't have a clear idea of what a great referral would look like even if he or she were inclined to help.
A More Effective "Ask"
Instead of using a vague "ask," try an "ask" which creates a clear picture of the person you would like referred to you and exactly what you are asking the referral source to do on your behalf.
An effective "ask" has two elements:
- A clear statement describing who you are looking for as clients. How do potential referral sources know if they know or meet someone who you would like to have referred to you?
- The more specific, the better: "The head of regulatory affairs at a medical device company" is much clearer than asking to be referred to "someone who needs FDA expertise."
For example, one of my clients, an ESOP lawyer, developed a clear "picture" of who would be a great referral for her: "A family owned business transferring the business to the next generation, looking for a way to pay the founder or another family member a fair price for their stock without having to sell the company to a third party."
With this description, she didn't have to go into arcane details about ESOPs in order for a listener to know if he or she knew someone who would be a good referral for her.
- A clear statement of the help you are asking for. Again, the clearer you are about what you're looking for, the more likely it is that you'll get what you want.
- Do you want to be introduced to a specific person? Would you like the referral source to set up a lunch with the three of you? Do you want her OK to use her name when you call the prospect? Do you want to know who else she knows within a particular professional organization who might need your services?
For example, a client who exclusively represents lawyers and law firms asked members of her Roundtable group to forward an invitation for a seminar her firm was sponsoring on to their managing partners. Virtually everyone agreed to do it.
One way to construct your "ask" (and my favorite) is to say something like: "If you were in my shoes and were interested in growing your practice among real estate developers in Boston, how would you go about doing it?"
This "ask" is effective because it's easy for you to deliver and it's comfortable for the person being asked. If they're not interested in helping, you can gracefully change the subject when they answer, "I have no idea." If they *are* interested in helping, however, not only will they give you great ideas, but they will also often help by giving you specific names or making a call on your behalf.
Referrals can be the keystone for growing your practice, if only you ask!