To Get Referrals, Your Clients Must Understand Your Target Market


When Andrew Sullivan, of Sullivan and Schlieman in Atlanta, formed his client advisory board, one of their top recommendations was to give each of them a card listing his services and accomplishments. Their request was “tell us how to sell you.”

In a recent client advisory board I facilitated, the participants told the advisor “tell us who your ideal client is, so we know who to refer.” It is not the first time I have heard that kind of feedback from clients.

Experiences like this raise two critically important points. First, there is clearly a strong willingness, even an enthusiasm, on the part of clients to make referrals. This is not really surprising – Julie Littlechild’s research has shown that as much as 91% of our clients are willing to refer. (It also demonstrates why participants on an advisory board tend to be a firm’s best referral sources!)

Second, it is the strongest proof I can imagine that advisors must clearly define what they do and for whom. They must be able to describe their niche, their target market. Remember, these advisory boards are composed of the advisors’ best clients – the ones who should know best what they have to offer.  And yet, they asked for guidance on what kind of clients the advisor hoped to attract.

If you believe you have defined your target client, here is how you can test how well you have done. Try this experiment – next time you talk to a couple clients you are on particularly good terms with, and who would be willing to take a minute for a little thought experiment, ask them this question: If I sent you into a cocktail party in the next room full of all kinds of people, and I asked you to refer a couple of them to me as prospective clients, how would you figure out who would be the best ones to send to me?

I suspect that most clients would answer “I don’t know.” And if that’s the response, you will know why you aren’t getting more referrals. Your clients are not sure who you’re looking for. And whatever you have done so far to define and communicate your target market, your value proposition, and your ideal client, you still have work to do.

Defining who you want as clients and what unique solutions and experiences you provide to people like them are the foundation of referral marketing. Get those two things right, and attracting new clients becomes much easier.

1 Comment

  1. MaltaDecember 12, 2011

    Who is Andrew Sullivan? I dont know this man!
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