By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis
Have you ever encountered a referral source who simply stopped sending business for no apparent reason? It happens to good, hard-working attorneys all the time. Unfortunately, if you are like these attorneys, you never quite know what prompted them to stop referring. Here’s another troubling situation: a large percentage of the referral sources who do refer to you may be sending business to other attorneys as well. If this doesn’t apply to you and your practice now, it may soon. The explosive growth of practicing attorneys means competition in the future will be tougher than ever.
Given this trend, it’s critical to keep in touch with your referral sources. Cultivating them is important to keep the stream of business flowing and ongoing communication is important to keep the feedback flowing. Fortunately, the upcoming holidays offer you a great opportunity to do both. Even if you haven’t been faithfully sending out thank you notes or acknowledging your referrers throughout the year, all is likely to be forgiven in the spirit of thankfulness and goodwill that begins with Thanksgiving and ends somewhere around New Year’s Eve.
When an Atticus® client in south Florida wanted to make sure his efforts to acknowledge his referral sources were memorable, he had his secretary discreetly inquire about where his colleagues liked to celebrate special occasions. He then directed his secretary to purchase gift certificates for the referrers and their families to dine in their favorite spot. This highly personalized approach won our client a great deal of good will and he didn’t even have to show up. For him, a couple hundred dollars spent on gift certificates is a worthwhile investment compared to the high value cases his referral sources send every year.
Which referral sources should you invest in for the future? Here’s how you find out: make a list of the referral sources who’ve sent the most business in the last year. Add to this those referrers who have sent some business and are well positioned to send more. Then list clients who refer significant business or have a great deal of recurring work. Focus your efforts on the individuals on this list.
To get started, examine your list to see whom you’d like to get to know better. While giving gifts is a great form of acknowledgement for some referrers, there is no substitute for time spent face-to-face with those you’d like to get to know. We encourage you to invite these referral sources out to lunch or dinner and express your appreciation for the business they send.
When face-to-face with them, your acknowledgement can be brief and simple. You can say something like, “I’ve been reviewing my referrals for the last year and want to let you know I appreciate all the business you send.” Or, “I really appreciate your continued faith and confidence in me. You’ve sent a lot of business this year and I appreciate it. I will always take good care of the clients you send.” These simple acknowledgements can be used in almost any setting. Our experience indicates that the best referral sources are usually those who become your friends. An expression of gratitude paired with good food in a nice atmosphere can go a long way to turn a referrer into a friend.
For those clients on the list whom you’d like to acknowledge with a gift, the possibilities are endless. Several of the attorneys we work with have thick Omaha steaks, or large stuffed turkeys delivered to their best referral sources, who eagerly await these treats every year. One creative soul dresses up like Santa and hand-delivers his wife’s homemade cookies. To recognize referrals that come from staff members who work for their referral sources, many firms send baskets filled with chocolates, cheese or nuts. This is often much appreciated and helps to reinforce their desire to refer clients to you.
While gifts of food are very much appreciated, some attorneys take another approach and give sports-oriented gifts. Gift certificates for a few rounds on a favorite course are nice. Asking a client to play a round of golf is even better. One client we know treats his referral sources to a series of sessions with a golf pro. Another attorney we work with doesn’t play golf, but loves football. He buys season tickets and generously shares them with referral sources who are fans. Sports memorabilia is another great gift for referrers who are fans and live away from their team’s home base.
In fact, gifts related to any of your referrals sources’ hobbies, passions or interests are a great way to say thanks. A book on photography given to an amateur photographer; a hand-held GPS unit given to a mountain climber; a bottle of fine scotch given to a single-malt scotch lover; a subscription to a top-notch wine-of-the-month club for a wine enthusiast; all are highly personalized ways to say thank you for remembering us and sending business.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, there will still be time for you to identify your best referral sources and plan gifts that will represent the appreciation you have for their continued business.
To help motivate you, consider this: the lifetime value of a referral source who faithfully sends business, year after year can add up to thousands, possibly tens of thousands of dollars worth of business over time. In some practices where the average case is worth thirty or forty thousand dollars, a referral source may send hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business over their lifetime. Never underestimate the worth of your referral sources they are literally putting money in your pocket and should be thought of as critical to the growth and survival of your practice. So, whether you take the face-to-face approach or send a gift that reflects their interests, just be sure you make the effort to do something nice. A little extra effort over the holidays can make up for any lack of gratitude you’ve shown in the past and set you up for a win in the coming year.