Attorney Marketing 101: The psychology of referrals


The psychology of referrals--lawyer marketingThere are two kinds of referral sources: those who can refer and those who will.

If you’ve done a good job for your clients, most are probably willing to give you referrals. That doesn’t mean they will. If they don’t know people who need your services, they can’t refer them.

Others — professionals, business owners, centers of influence — who are able to refer you a lot of business, often don’t.

Understanding why people do or do not give referrals can help you get more of them.

So why do people provide referrals? Your clients are willing to send referrals for several reasons:

First, your clients want to help their friends and colleagues to the benefit of your services. They can save their friends the time they might have spent looking for an attorney, and help them avoid the risk of getting an incompetent one or getting overcharged. Their friends appreciate this help; your client’s status is elevated. Being able to help their friends makes them feel important.

Second, when their friend retains you and is also satisfied with your work, it validates your referring client’s decision to hire you in the first place. Any doubts they may have had about their experience with you are removed.

The third reason your clients are willing to give you referrals is that they want to help you. However, clients don’t always know that you want their referrals. You need to tell them. Or, they understand that you want referrals but they just don’t think about it. You need to remind them.

If you’re not getting referrals from your clients, or you’re not getting as many as you would like, there are only two reasons: either you don’t deserve them or you’re not asking for them.

Now, how about non-clients, professionals, business owners, centers of influence–why might they give you referrals?

For some, it is the expectation of quid pro quo. They give you referrals and you give them referrals, or so they hope.

Others will refer their clients and contacts to you for the same reason your clients do: to help their clients avoid the risk and effort of finding an attorney on their own. In helping their clients this way, they add value to their relationships and their status is also elevated. And yes, some also feel good about helping you, too.

When a professional is able to refer business but is unwilling to do so, it may be because they don’t yet know, like, and trust you. It takes time for your relationship to develop. Eventually, they may turn out to be a big source of new business.

Many prospective referral sources don’t send you business because they don’t have it to give. They have a relationship with another attorney to whom they refer and they don’t have enough referrals for both of you. Unless their regular attorney has a conflict of interest, is unavailable, or doesn’t handle a given matter, your prospective referral source may be willing to refer, but not able.

In time, that may change. When the other attorney retires, dies or screws up, you could be next in line.

If you’re dealing with a prospective referral source who cannot reciprocate, there are other ways they can help you. By the same token, there are other ways you can help them when you can’t reciprocate.

Some people who can give referrals simply won’t. They may see it as risky–what if you screw up and make them look bad? Others just can’t be bothered.

Don’t dwell on the reasons why people won’t refer. If some clients won’t do it, it doesn’t matter; most will. With non-client referral sources, the numbers are reversed. Most won’t refer and this doesn’t matter. You only need a few who do.