Top tips for building referral relationships

by BN14 Nov 2012


Strategic partners are not only an important source of referrals, they can add value to your overall client service offering. Mortgage brokers explain how they make referral relationships work for them…
Dominique Bergel-Grant, Leapfrog Financial
Leapfrog Financial director and principal adviser Dominique Bergel-Grant has taken a multi-pronged approach to getting referrals. 
In early 2012, she entered into a strategic partnership with an accountant. As it’s still early days, Bergel-Grant says the emphasis has been on finding common ground between the businesses, and helping her partner realise what referral opportunities exist for both parties.
“I’m just really trying to encourage them to pass referrals on even if they’re not sure if it’s relevant, at least starting that conversation with the clients.”
Bergel-Grant, who has a financial planning background, has been a mortgage broker since 2002. While she previously worked for a large Outlook Financial Solutions business, she decided to open her own business just over a year and a half ago.
In another effort to grow referrals, she joined 1300 Home Loans in March. Leapfrog Financial pays for a license for three postcodes and receives referral leads generated by their national marketing campaign.
“From my point of view it’s really about accessing clients that wouldn’t otherwise necessarily knock on my door, and people that are comforted by a bigger brand and national advertising.”
To date, she says the national broker network has generated leads fairly regularly. 
“At the end of the day, you hope you make a profit from the leads you get, but really it’s about doing a good job and getting referrals from those leads.”
Bergel-Grant formed a third strategic relationship that has been important to her business with the Italian Chamber of Commerce. 
In conjunction with another accountancy group, Bergel-Grant runs six seminars per year for members, speaking on a range of topics.
“The seminars aren’t necessarily related to mortgages, but are really about building my brand and my reputation as someone who brings people together in a networking sense.”
For the moment, Bergel-Grant is content with these referral avenues and is not looking to add more strategic partnerships to the mix.
“And it’s also about securing and making sure those existing relationships are strong.” 
Andrew Wright, Smartline – Pennant Hills
For Smartline broker Andrew Wright, referrals are not the main goal of his strategic partnership.
“I think helping each other’s businesses is actually secondary, it’s really to help our clients to get a better overall service. That’s the driving force.”
Wright launched a BNI group in Pennant Hills five years ago, and through that referral group met an accountant, who has since become a key strategic partner. 
“We’ve known each other for a number of years and we talked about ways to help each other’s business by being more closely involved.”
Six months ago, Wright moved his business into his strategic partner’s office. Being based in the same location has several advantages, he says. 
“It’s great. When I have clients visiting me, I ask them if they have an accountant. If they don’t, then I refer them to Ron. And then they have the ability to meet him on the spot – he’s made a face-to-face contact and the client can choose to go ahead with that relationship or not. We’ve referred a number of clients to each other that way and I think it works well.”
Not only does the arrangement provide convenience for his customers, but Wright highlights that the partnership is reassuring in that he knows his clients are getting great tax advice and he’s able to provide them with a broader service. 
The ability to share client information is also helpful, Wright says, particularly in situations with complex business structures. If Wright needs clarification or has any questions, then with the client’s permission, he can go through the issue with his strategic partner and get answers immediately. 
The relationship is also helping Wright diversify his business into SMSF lending. His partner has been involved in that area for several years and has an extensive SMSF client database. As a result, Wright is ability to leverage off his partner’s experience and knowledge. 
At the moment Wright says he is not looking to broaden his referral relationships. He is still involved in BNI and meets regularly with a group 20 local business people – conveyancers, insurance brokers, et cetera, that he says he can refer to with confidence. 
Pauline Sultana, Pride Mortgage Services
Before Pauline Sultana, owner of Pride Mortgage Services, refers any of her clients to another professional, she likes to use them herself.
“At the end of day I don’t want to refer my clients to someone that I don’t trust, or that I wouldn’t use myself. By having used their services, you feel comfortable and confident to refer and not only are they looking after your clients, they’re giving you referrals back.” 
While Sultana is also a member of Business Networking International, she has a direct affiliation with an accountant and a solicitor – both of whom she met through the referral group.
Through regular weekly meetings, Sultana forged a close relationship with an accountant and four years ago actually started using the accountant’s services herself. 
“We just bounce off each other,” she says. “As a broker I often get asked by clients for a recommendation for an accountant, and any clients they have are referred to me.”
They also coordinate several investment seminars a year together.
“We invite my clients and their clients, so we try and cross that partnership of databases as well.”
Her other relationship is with a solicitor who has a conveyancing arm. According to Sultana, after the solicitor had an opportunity to see how she conducts business and her duty of care to clients, they offered to give her clients a reduced fee for their costs. As a result, her clients save more than $500.
“The solicitor knows that when dealing with me, I generally sign up the clients with their docs and so they don’t then have to go back again, which means the solicitor is only seeing them once. So it’s great, because my clients save and I’m working with somebody that keeps me informed, and vice versa. Since then, if the conveyancers’ have deals that have fallen over from other brokers they now pass them onto me. They also have a family law firm section and I get their family law clients. So that’s worked well.”
Sultana estimates that she receives about 10%-15% of business from her referral partners.
“I don’t do any advertising at all, so all of my business is word of mouth from either my database or my BNI members. And having these alliances has been really beneficial to my business.”