The Proper Care and Feeding of Referral Sources

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Because I work with a lot of different lawyers, people often contact me when they need to engage one.  Sometimes a friend needs legal services, and I hear from them later about their satisfaction level with the services received. Often, however, a friend calls on behalf of the potential client.  I give them contact info for a couple of appropriate lawyers, which they forward to the client. Usually I give the lawyers I recommend a heads up by email or voicemail…and that’s the last I hear of it.

Over the course of a couple of years, I referred 5 or 6 potential clients to one lawyer. I never even heard whether she got hired. When a new referral request came in, I had a little conversation in my head: “I wonder whether the previous referrals were good matches for her. In any event, she didn’t seem to particularly appreciate them. She never let me know what happened. Did she even say ‘thank you’? I think I’ll send this referral to someone else who will appreciate it.”

Not long after that, I ran into a coach friend. She said to me, “Did that lawyer I referred to you ever call you?” I told her that I had not heard from him. I realized, however, that she might be having a similar conversation in her head. What was I doing to keep my referral source in the loop and to convey my appreciation even for failed referral attempts?

Referrals are the lifeblood of a professional service.  So we should have a strategy for making sure that they keep coming our way. Here are some of my thoughts on things you can do to nurture your referral relationships.

1. Promptly acknowledge and express appreciation for any referral attempts.

If you hear first from the person making the referral, send a thank you email or make a phone call promptly. Let them know that you’ll get back to them if you hear from the client. At least then they can assume that you didn’t hear anything, if you don’t follow up later.

2. Send hand-written thank you notes.

When you get hired, promptly send a handwritten thank you note.  It will convey more appreciation than an email, because it takes a bit more effort. Handwritten correspondence is so rare today. Have you noticed that you usually open the hand addressed letters first? If your note contains a sincere compliment to the recipient, they may hate to throw it away. Not knowing what to do with it, they will keep it on their desk a few days. Each time they see it, they will be reminded of you, reinforcing your top-of-mind status for future referrals.

3. Send multiple communications.

Strengthen those neural pathways to your name in your referral source’s brain. Communicate with them (i) when they let you know the referral has been made, (ii) when the client calls to hire you, and (iii) when the engagement completes. Most will like being kept in the loop, and they will know that you value them and their referrals.

4. Make referrals to them.

Nothing will make someone happier to continue sending you referrals for your excellent service than the prospect of reciprocation.  Ask them about their ideal clients, and keep your eyes and ears open for an opportunity to return the favor.
When the referral comes from a client, lawyers sometimes forget that their own clients may appreciate business referrals or introductions, too.

5. Keep in touch.

If someone has attempted a referral to you, they are your advocate. Try to reconnect in some way with them at least every 30 days or so. Social media makes that so much easier today. Connect with them on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Comment on their postings there or on their blog. Share or retweet to your followers something valuable or interesting that they say. Don’t forget to use more traditional technology to keep in touch.  Drop them an email or give them a call just to check in. If you get a number of referrals from people in the same organization, attend the organization’s meetings regularly so you can see them there. Call now and then to invite your referral source to lunch or something fun. If you send out holiday cards, make sure they are on your list.

6. Write a testimonial for them.

If you have familiarity with the good quality of their work, there are a number of online opportunities to acknowledge them. Consider whether it would be appropriate to write a recommendation on AVVO, LinkedIn, Angie’s List or some other forum.

7. Send them useful information.

If you come across an article or blog post that they would be interested in, send them a copy or a link. That tells them you are thinking of them and know what they care about. It also brings you back to top-of-mind for any referral opportunities in the near future.

8. Send appreciation gifts.

You may want to send a thank you gift when you receive a referral. It is ok to have a few stand-by favorites like a book, a bottle of wine or dinner for two at a trendy restaurant. It is even better if you can tailor the gift to the interests of the referral source. One of my clients gave a leather jacket to the motorcycle-riding lawyer who sent him several matters. If you usually send gifts to clients during the holidays, don’t forget to include your referral sources and attempted referral sources on your gift list.

Have these thoughts gotten you to brainstorm ideas? How has someone else expressed gratitude to you for a referral? What was the impact on you? What impact did “radio silence” have on you, if you never heard from someone after making a referral? We are interested to hear, so please send us a note or post a comment to the Raising the Bar blog.

Adapted from a post by the author originally published in Solo Practice University™ Blog on 12/16/11. © 2011 Debra L. Bruce.


One Response to “The Proper Care and Feeding of Referral Sources”

  1. How to Give Thanks to the People Around You on November 28th, 2012 2:58 pm

    […] gratitude, and how to give an effective acknowledgment. I’ve also written about the importance of demonstrating your appreciation to referral sources. Are you starting to get the message that I think having an “attitude of gratitude” is […]

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