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The New Realities of Referral Marketing for CPAs

CPAs and other financial services firms largely rely on referrals to grow their client base and stay in business. This business model has worked for a countless number of years. However, the way clients make decisions has changed, which affects your rate of referral. Under the new model, a referral is only the first step. Used the right way, technologies like websites, email and social media can energize your current client base to make referrals and increase the conversion rate of referral prospects.

There is no longer one linear funnel for client referrals, but rather a series of influencing points that lead to channels where the prospect is most comfortable making contact. Today, a referred prospect is likely to make initial contact in a number of ways:

  • Through your website. They will visit your website to understand why your firm is different and whether your value proposition aligns with the prospect’s expectations.
  • Social media. A prospect will turn to social media to get a sense of your firm’s focus and culture. They may also turn to review websites that allow users to leave feedback, such as Yelp.
  • Email newsletter. Prospects might sign up for your e-newsletter to get a preview of what it is like to be your client.


McKinsey first published their findings on the new consumer decision journey a few years ago. Given the new reality, McKinsey recommends marketers do four things:
  • Align. The first step is to align your marketing resources to best influence the referred prospect’s decision-making. Studies show that websites and then blogs, email and social media channels are the most influential and trusted digital channels. CPAs should rebalance to marketing investment (traditional and digital) to make sure that their strategies align with the new client decision journey.
  • Link. The fact that referred prospects can interact with your firm in a number of ways and places means that your firm needs to present a consistent, easily understandable value proposition across all channels. In-person channels are a part of this. Your partners, clients and staff need to be on the same page and be clear on how your firm is unique and what your firm’s specializations are.
  • Lock. Marketing channels where CPAs can “lock” in a prospect’s attention need focus. The opt-in email list is the most important marketing asset for any CPA firm. However, do not get hung up on the number of subscribers. Genuine opt-ins need to be nurtured even if the list is small. The same goes with followers and page likes. The majority of social media followers will not be real prospects, but the few that are, are worth the effort.
  • Loop. Data will help you focus on the referred leads with the highest chance of converting. Email statistics are particularly useful. Regular opens and clickthroughs show interest. The work that you do with new content on your blog and video will not only reinforce your core message to prospects, but it will also continue to energize your client base—driving more referrals.

Using digital marketing effectively in combination with traditional methods can increase both your volume of referred clients and the speed of conversion. Focusing all communications around a core and tested value proposition is key to success.

Phil Rogers, Founder, Revenizer. Phil’s expertise is in digital marketing and technology. He has an MBA from Boston University and more than 20 years’ experience in marketing.


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