Is it the end of referrals?

by | Sep 29, 2021 | Strategy, Websites

Like most accountants, you probably benefit from recommendations to some extent – those informal suggestions from existing clients to check you out, when someone they know asks for advice on choosing an accountant.

We’d differentiate these from referrals, which are similar except they come from a structured plan which facilitates them.

As well as not having to make any direct marketing outlay for the lead, research proves that recommendations/referrals are higher quality than leads from other marketing channels. A US-German university research project found that owing to higher initial margins and enhanced loyalty, business by referral was worth 16%-25% more over the long term.

So it’s no surprise that many accountants will have some kind of referrals plan in place. A plan which actively encourages referred business and comes with a specific onboarding process for referred clients, as well as a way of measuring the results.

In other words, a proper marketing channel.

You may well have one yourself: based on, say, special incentives given to the referring clients and the ones being referred, or belonging to a referral marketing networking group, or making sure your team proactively asks the question of existing clients when they speak to them.

COVID disrupts referral marketing

COVID has changed so much in the world, and it has certainly put some barriers in the way of operating referrals plans.

The buyer journey has changed. For much of the last 18 months, face-to face interactions have been drastically reduced.

It has cut out the opportunity to attend weekly or monthly networking meetings (other than by Zoom, which is never the same). Conferences have been a no-no. Even meeting a potential new client for a cup of coffee has been banned at times.

This is not permanent and we are already opening back up a bit. But there is a sense that some of the shift will stick. It is not the end of referrals. But it does mark a change of emphasis in how you convert them.

What has taken some of the place of face-to-face connection? Whether you get on with it or not, you know the answer: it is digital comms. Video calls, social media and your website.

So to capitalise on referrals now, you’ll need to make sure your digital presence is compelling. Because sometimes that will be all referred leads have to go on when choosing an accountant. And even if you get face-to-face time, chances are they will already have checked you out online anyway.

Ensuring your digital presence is fit for purpose for converting referrals

At PracticeWeb, we conduct regular in-depth research into accountancy marketing. One such insight report, carried out in 2019, gives some really useful pointers for what SME business owners are looking for in their accountant.

This is helpful to think about when appraising whether your digital presence stands up to the scrutiny of people being referred to you. Here are some headline stats:

  • “Professionalism” was the single most important quality SME business owners sought in an accountant – 52% stated this. The next two most important were “honesty” (47%) and “reliability” (39%).
  • “Poor quality of service” is the most common reason for SME business owners to consider a change of accountants (61%). “Better price for the same service” was a distant second.
  • When we asked how important getting the lowest available price was, most (45%) felt neutral on the topic. It was “important” or “very important” for about a third of respondents, and not that important for the rest.
  • 71% of respondents felt it was “important” or “very important” that their accountants know their sector.
  • More than three quarters (77%) of SME business owners stated it was “important” or “very important” that their accountant was responsive.


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Digital presence appraisal

So, what can the insight from those stats tell you about how people being referred to you may view your website?

First, that it needs to look professional. With a critical eye, you may have a good sense of this already. Compare it to some of your local competitors. Think about your imagery; your copy; video; any broken links; how quickly it loads up. How does it rate?

If it looks tired and dated then this is a warning sign that you may be making an unfavourable first impression when people are referred to you. This could undermine the initial good will gained by the independent recommendation.

Next, think about the messaging that the website conveys. This will, of course, depend on the strengths of your own business, but using the insight shared above we can share some general pointers.

Understand your clients. If you like to work with businesses in particular sectors, does your website showcase your experience in those sectors. This is valuable messaging which should be included. After all, our insight report shows it’s important to three quarters of your audience.

The statistics from the report also tell us that it is important to focus on value and quality of service rather than just price.

Testimonials are a great way to communicate quality of service and desirable benefits such as your responsiveness. Do these feature prominently on your website? Value can be a more complex concept to get across. Check out our Build an online advisory firm in three steps, part one blog post to find out a bit more.

Make the most of future referrals

All the above advice is good practice for converting leads in general. But in the current climate, if you rely on referrals, we’d suggest that it is even more important than it ever was.

It’s essential that your website is capable of making a good first impression to convert people who are referred to you.

Our specialist team are vastly experienced in creating new websites for accountants. If you want to upgrade yours to support your referrals marketing plan, then get in touch for an initial conversation.


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