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The 8-Step Process for Building Strong Partnerships

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Word-of-mouth marketing has always been a crucial source of new business leads, and it’s easy to see why. According to Semrush, 90% of people are much more likely to trust a recommended company, even if the recommendation comes from a stranger. Additionally, 88% of people place the highest level of trust in a company when a friend or family member recommends it. 


To sustain growth, building strong referral partnerships is essential. These partnerships allow you to reach potential clients that your firm might not have been able to connect with otherwise. However, maintaining a strong referral partnership can be challenging. Here is an 8-step process for finding and nurturing a great referral partner. 


1. Define Your Target Client Profile 

Cultivating referrals starts not with your referral partner but with your clients. Who is your ideal client? What industries, service lines, or types of clients do you want to target? If you don’t know, it will be hard to find a referral partner. Or the referral partners you select will struggle to send you valuable and appropriate leads. 


2. Identify Suitable Referral Channels 

Once you’ve defined your ideal client, you can figure out where they “hang out” — both in person and virtually. This will help you identify the right referral channels to pursue. Is there a local networking organization you should target? An online community? A certain peer network or industry association? Think about your ideal client, the types of communities they’re likely to participate in and trust, and identify potential referral sources from there. 


Many accounting firms think of financial advisors, attorneys, and other professionals as referral channels, but it really depends on the type of client you’re pursuing. In some cases, your clients (or your clients’ clients) can be an excellent source of referrals. 


3. Formalize Your Partnership Agreement 

Be willing to commit to your referral partnership on paper and document what you expect and what they expect. Formalizing this agreement provides a stable foundation for your relationship. 


Documenting your referral partnership strengthens trust. It ensures you’re on the same page and won’t spend time and money nurturing a relationship that isn’t mutually beneficial. 


4. Communicate Your Value Proposition 

Many accountants have a hard time asking for and receiving quality referrals because they shy away from the idea of “selling” their services. But your referral partners need to know what you do to feel comfortable referring you. The more you can educate them on what you do and the value you provide for clients, the easier it will be for them to help you grow. 


Simply telling a potential referral partner that you are a “full-service” accounting firm doesn’t help others understand what you do. Be specific. For example, outside of the profession, few people understand what “advisory services” entails. For example, you might say, “I provide accounting and advisory services for startups that help them project startup and operating costs, access necessary funding, and remain profitable through the growth stage.” That’s much more likely to help you land quality referrals. 


Likewise, it’s helpful to tell referral partners about the types of clients that aren’t ideal referrals. People tend to think about taxes when they meet a CPA. If you’re not interested in getting referrals for individual tax return preparation with no related businesses, let people know (in a polite way). This will help you avoid fielding calls for people shopping around for the best price on a 1040. 


Remember, in many cases, your referral partner is your first salesperson. Therefore, they need a clear understanding of the value you provide and the problems you solve. 


5. Develop a Clear Handoff Procedure 

A great referral goes beyond just sending over a name and email address, so decide how the potential client will link up with you. 


You may want your referral partner to send the lead to a specific person to schedule an in-person meeting, collect certain information ahead of time, or even attend the first meeting to make introductions. Your actual process will depend on the relationship with your referral partner and the type of clients you pursue. 


Whatever your ideal hand-off looks like, establish a consistent and easy way for your referral partner to provide accurate and relevant information to you promptly. 


6. Engage in Regular Communication 

Maintaining a strong partnership is never a “set it and forget it” endeavor. It’s crucial to maintain an open dialogue. Consider setting a recurring meeting to talk about how the relationship is working for both partners and discuss any issues that may arise. 


Even if your referral partners don’t start referring right away, having these meetings gives you a chance to find out what’s getting in the way — whether they don’t really have the right connections, don’t fully understand the value you provide, or are having another issue. 


This is also a good opportunity to ask about potential conversations that didn’t make it to a referral, so you can identify where you might need to make changes. 


7. Show Appreciation and Follow Up 

When you do receive a referral, it’s important to follow up with your partner. Whether you give them a simple “thank you” or a referral fee, make sure you deliver it timely and let them know you acted on the referral and how it went. 


Once you establish your referral relationship, be a good partner in return. A partnership is about give and take, so don’t only take referrals. Send potential clients their way as well. If you do that, you’ll position yourself as a sought-after partner and see your firm grow through quality referrals. 


8. Evaluate and Optimize Your Partnerships 

Periodically assess the effectiveness of your referral partnerships. Analyze the quality and quantity of referrals you are receiving and the outcomes of those referrals. Are they leading to new business? Are there ways to improve the partnership or the process? This step ensures that your referral strategy remains dynamic and continues to evolve based on feedback and results. 


Building and maintaining strong referral partnerships is an ongoing process that requires dedication, communication, and mutual respect. By following these eight steps, you can establish and nurture valuable relationships that drive your firm’s growth. Remember, a successful partnership is a two-way street, where both parties benefit and support each other's success. Invest time and effort into your referral partnerships, and you’ll see the rewards in the form of quality leads and sustained business growth. 


Do you want to fast-track your firm's success in the areas of marketing and business development? 


The Boomer Marketing & Business Development Circle is a peer group of top marketing and business development leaders in the accounting profession who are committed to aligning marketing and business development initiatives with firm strategy. Apply now to get plugged into the Circle and start growing your firm. 


Heather Robinson, Marketing, Boomer Consulting
Heather Robinson

As the Marketing Manager for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Heather’s primary focus is on developing the firm’s marketing strategy and brand awareness to help drive business results. She is one of the leads of the Marketing & Business Development Circle. Internally she manages and executes marketing and business development initiatives, with daily oversight of the website, social media, and thought leadership content. In addition, as a part of the Business Development team, she provides leadership and strategic planning on marketing and communication practices for the firm.


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