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A Long and Winding Road: How the Client Referral Journey Has Changed


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Spotting the above sign in Austin Friars Passage and seeing the Yellow Pages drop through my door recently served to remind me of a world that I experienced but had forgotten – a world before the internet and Google searches. Yet worrying a lot of firms don’t seem to have evolved or reinvented their referral marketing strategies in response to the seismic changes of the last decade.

I was amazed to find that Yellow Pages in hard copy still exists even if it’s not quite the doorstep size of yore.

I haven’t signed off a Yellow Pages listings bill for a very long time but they were once a feature of the basic marketing department listing inventory for regional office colleagues keen to be “findable”.  To be fair even ten years ago a large number of private clients would still have been on a dial-up internet connection if they were connected to the internet at home at all.

Ten or 12 years ago you still needed shelves within reach of your desk for dictionaries and reference books.  Meeting a new client or professional connection involved looking them up in Who’s Who or in a hard copy of Chambers/Legal 500 or similar.

The journey of a client or professional contact from that first “who would you recommend for …” to your door was, on the whole, short and straight, and aided generally only by a meeting arranged largely by telephone.

By 2009 however McKinsey was already talking about a circular journey decision-making process with an active evaluation phase in which any set of options for initial consideration might actually expand rather than narrow as consumers sought more information.  McKinsey updated its work recently – see The new customer decision journey – as companies, in consumer goods at least, lead a fight back having invested in “new technologies and capabilities in a bid to regain relevance with shoppers and exert greater influence over how they make purchasing decisions”. So far so good.

But in professional services on the whole the advent of a more digitised world has left us with a more complex referral nurturing challenge with the advent of Google, LinkedIn, the legal directories and the media all dominating search engine optimisation. Even the criminal barrister I spoke to at a Chambers event recently lamented how the clients he visits in prison for the first time usually have his LinkedIn profile printed out in front of them…

The problem is a lot of firms are still operating as though the last 15 years or more haven’t happened.

More alarmingly some have missed the fact that Google search on mobile overtook desktop queries some time last year.

Professional firms, including wealth managers, quite rightly point to the importance of personal referral to their business but often fail to note the ways the referral journey has changed.  Examining or re-examing how referrals are generated, nurtured and converted through the eyes of a potential client base whose habits have changed (and I am not just talking about the under 35s here) is an overdue exercise for many.

Regardless of age (I have interviewed people, in their 70s and 80s) you need to be aware of the following:

  • You will be Googled by prospects however personal the recommendation or referral.
  • Probably on a smartphone and your website might only ever be seen on a small screen.
  • Prospects may also look you up on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
  • This will have a positive or negative effect on your place in their consideration set.
  • Prospects may try and make contact via any one of the above and they may try more than one way at the same time.
  • They will expect the experience to be joined up and slick.
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