13 Steps to Convert Referrals to Clients

13 Steps to Convert Referrals to Clients

No discussion of ad agency new business is complete without considering the value of a good referral. In fact, according to the most recent Second Wind Annual Agency Survey Report, 83 percent of agencies named referrals as the primary way they acquire new business. In the age of social networking, referrals are the name of the game. Lead generation is one of the reasons so many businesses, across all industries, like LinkedIn; people are pleased to trade information, discuss topics of interest among business peers, and most importantly, pass along new contacts or make introductions.

Assuming you are already exploring LinkedIn and other networking opportunities, it’s important to have a process for pursuing leads gained through referrals. Here are 13 steps to follow to move from networking to lead, and through to the account-winning pitch.

Cultivate Referral Sources. Every contact in your network is a potential lead generator. In the social era, you can “trade” for leads. Leverage your networking skills to share and exchange favors, and build relationships until you are comfortable inviting leads from your contacts. The goodwill you build by giving someone else a referral will circle around and help send leads to your agency.

Qualify the Referral. A lead received from your network is only as valuable as your criteria say it is. Pre-qualify all referrals against your pre-determined prospect criteria. Read more about qualifying prospects in The Perfect Client.

Tag New Referrals as “Hot.” Regardless of your ongoing pursuit of your “AA” list prospects, a qualified referral should automatically be moved to the top of the pursuit list. A qualified referral is golden; don’t slot it into your regular new business process. Alert the entire agency that you “have a live one.” Get the team excited. Give the lead top priority and pursue until you get a meeting.

Research and Investigate the Lead. Upon qualifying a referral, research the company: its products or services, its competition, marketing spending, market share, etc. And if the company is nearby, work your local contacts (bankers, lawyers, civic groups, the Chamber) to “get a feel” for the business. If the business has a distribution channel with outlets in your vicinity, visit those outlets and talk to store salespeople, managers and customers. Call the trade editors and associations and see if there are current trends or industry outlook reports they might share. Build what you learn into a reference database or book that agency employees can review to “get smart” about the prospect.

Call the Prospect to Introduce Yourself. Your referral contact is your door-opener. Drop their name and then drop some of your research “nuggets” to leverage that introduction into a meeting.

At the Meeting, Dig for What They Need. As Bill Clinton liked to say, “I feel your pain.” You need to find the sore spots that are giving the prospect pain, and propose solutions to mend their ills. But you’re not just fixing what’s wrong. Also propose ways the prospect might exploit opportunities you’ve identified. Offer to assemble a proposal to address their priority concerns.

Grow Your Network Within the Company. As you develop proposals, use the development process as a reason to make more contacts within the company. Talk to people who can assist you as you grow the relationship and explore ways you might help them. Take every insight gleaned from these conversations and funnel them into your knowledge pool of company data.

Assess Your “Fitness” to Do What the Prospect Needs. Know going into this important pitch whether you must “tool up” to deliver the prospect to their stated objective. This means assessing the agency’s strengths and weaknesses and figuring out how to position to win the business—and deliver on your promises. To do this, you may need to find strategic partners or vendors to back up your existing team.

Attend a Trade Show or Industry Event. See and be seen, we like to say. By showing how much you are willing to be “in” the prospect’s business and industry, you distinguish yourself from other agencies who can’t be bothered. Talk to industry reps and garner more contacts. Ask questions and share what you learn with the prospect.

Treat the Prospect Like an Account. Think of it as giving them a “free demo.” Write a report containing information and data you’ve gathered that is relevant to the prospect’s key concerns. Make sure everyone in the agency reads the report, too. Ask for a meeting to review the report and discuss some solutions you are “bouncing around.” When that goes well, ask to present the report to the CMO or CEO.

Create a Marketing Plan. Formally outline how you plan to get the prospect from point A to Point B.

Name the Team. Select those key agency employees who will service the new account. Involve those players in the pitch. Move the proposed account executive forward and make sure the person has good chemistry with the prospect’s primary marketing contact. Make sure the agency principal and CEO also strike positive sparks.

Ready Your Pitch. Develop the presentation, with proposed solutions, and rehearse it until you are “pitch perfect.” Stand in your prospect’s shoes and develop a list of questions you think they might ask. Then develop answers to those questions. Make the presentation, visual and interactive. Then…