How Selling to Web Leads Is Different Than Selling to Referrals

Both web leads and referrals can put your practice on a path to stable growth, but there are key differences in how you should sell to each group.

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Practice Marketing

How Selling to Web Leads Is Different Than Selling to Referrals

July 8, 2022
min read
Lee Reams
CEO | CountingWorks PRO

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if every lead we found converted into a paying client with little to no effort on our end?Well, yes. But it’s not going to happen because client engagements take thought, nurturing, and work. One thing many tax and accounting pros don’t realize is that serious effort is required whether you’re selling your services to someone who found you on the internet or who was referred to you via word-of-mouth. In many ways, the sales process for these prospect types is different — but there are a few key similarities. Let’s break it down.

How Referrals and Web Leads are Different

First, it’s important to distinguish how prospects — and the efforts they’ll require from you — are different based on how they found you in the first place.

Word-of-Mouth Referrals

Prospects who come to you after being referred by a friend, family member, or other connection are considered word-of-mouth referrals. These are personal recommendations made by a third party for the mutual benefit of both you and the potential client.Referrals are prospecting gold for tax and accounting professionals. Many practices will happily declare that their businesses are built entirely on word-of-mouth referrals — even in the digital age when many other aspects of lead generation have changed.In the tax and accounting industry, it really does continue to hold true that referrals are incredibly valuable for building a successful practice. In most cases, referrals are already at the intent stage of the marketing funnel – meaning they know they have a problem and have made the conscious decision that it’s time to “buy.”On top of this, someone coming to you because of a recommendation has already have been told by a trusted source that you and your practice are also trustworthy. That endorsement is priceless.

Web Leads

If someone finds your practice due to your online presence, they would be considered a web lead (we call these web referrals). This could mean that they found your Google My Business profile when searching “San Diego tax preparation,” saw a review of your practice on CountingWorks or TaxBuzz, or read your blog on small business accounting tips when browsing the internet.However they find you, these prospects are not qualified leads. They present a “chance opportunity with potential,” but they are coming in blind — no one recommended your practice to them, so there’s no personal connection. Their decision about whether or not to contact you will be based solely on your online presence, reputation, and whether or not you seem trustworthy. Web leads are also often farther up in the marketing funnel compared to referrals, meaning that they may be aware, interested, or even considering their options – but don’t have any solid intention of buying yet. This means that how you nurture these leads and communicate your value will be exceptionally different. More on that later.

How Web Leads and Referrals are Similar

While the starting point for an engagement with a web lead definitely differs from where you begin with a referral, the two prospect types have one major similarity:They will see your online presence, and it will affect their decision of whether to work with you or not.Some pros have issues converting their leads into clients, even if they were a word-of-mouth referral. They can’t seem to figure out how a glowing recommendation from a mutual connection wouldn’t have been enough to make the prospect want to work with them.In these cases, one of the first places we investigate is their online presence.In the modern age, the referral pipeline has been disrupted by a key middleman: the internet. Even if someone is referred to you by a trusted third party, they are almost guaranteed to still Google your name before making contact. What kind of first impression are you making online?It comes down to much more than any singular component. From your website to your Google My Business listing to your social media, all aspects of your digital footprint are showcasing your reputation to anyone considering your services.And let’s not forget the most crucial element: reviews. No one sells you better than a satisfied client, which you’ve no doubt recognized if your practice is built on referrals. That being said, even your referrals want to see five-star ratings when they search for you online. 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 90% of prospects read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about the business — so make them count.It’s important to keep in mind the various places you can start building those reviews, too. Google My Business is crucial, but so are your marketplace reviews on sites like TaxBuzz and CountingWorks.With both web leads and word-of-mouth referrals, your online presence is make or break. Creating a digital footprint that resonates with prospects will keep them interested in your practice — from there, the client lifecycle is driven by your efforts.

Selling to Different Types of Prospects

A key factor when selling your services to these two groups of prospects is understanding common objections you will encounter and how to overcome them.With word-of-mouth referrals, the story goes like this:

They ask for recommendations from friends or colleagues, then most likely Google your name. Based on what they see, they’ll decide whether to contact you or not. If you have a professional website, great five-star reviews, and look trustworthy, there’s a high probability you’ll get the work.

Web leads have gone through a different process:

They may be aware they have a problem and have been doing online research. Because you have a solid digital presence, they encountered your brand. They liked the article you wrote or the review they read and decided to reach out to you.

For referrals, there will most likely be fewer objections to encounter, as they already have a personal connection to you. Since you’ve been introduced, their interest is already piqued, and they’re more likely to answer a call or email.That being said, not just any type of introduction will do — engaged introductions work best.

“An engaged introduction is a collaborative effort where the referral source works with you to make sure you get connected to the new prospect. This type of introduction gets your foot in the door and establishes a genuine connection between you and the new prospect.”

It’s also highly probable that if someone was referred to you, they are already aware of your location and work style. For instance, if you only work with clients in your locale, then the mutual contact probably told them that — and they most likely wouldn’t have come to you unless they fit that ideal client profile.For web leads, it’s a different story. On average, 50% of the leads in any system are not yet ready to buy, and 80% of new leads never become sales (or in this case, clients).How can tax and accounting practices beat this statistic?

The Added Challenge of Selling to Web Leads

Because many web leads will be higher up in the marketing funnel — aka not ready to hire you yet — it’s important to position yourself properly and help them see the value you can add to their personal or business life.

Initial Discovery

When you start nurturing a web lead, it’s common to start out with a discovery call or meeting: a great opportunity to find out if you and the client will be a good fit. Use this meeting to “uncover info about the customer's current situation, including their challenges, goals, budget, and timeframe.”The initial discovery meeting puts you in the driver’s seat, versus waiting for the prospect to start coming up with objections. It’s on you to change the narrative, drive the conversation, and ensure they see your value-add proposition first before anything else.Here are some examples of questions to ask during discovery that can help you discern if you can help the prospect, how you can help them, and if you even want to. For businesses (B2B):

  • Tell me more about your company and role.
  • What are your overall goals?
  • What is your most pressing challenge currently?
  • What do you think is causing these challenges?
  • Why have you chosen to address these challenges now?
  • What will happen if you do not tackle these issues now?
  • Do you have a timeline for getting started?
  • Are there any other decision-makers involved in this process?

For individuals (B2C):

  • What initially sparked your interest in contacting us?
  • What is your most pressing challenge currently?
  • What are your goals? Short- and long-term?
  • Have you ever worked with a tax/accounting/bookkeeping professional before? What was your experience?
  • What is important to you when working with a service provider?
  • Do you have a timeline for getting started?
  • Is there anything that could end up delaying this timeline?
  • Is there anything else I should know that we didn’t cover?

Note that one of the biggest goals of this process, as mentioned previously, is to determine if you can even help the buyer at all. Sometimes there will be prospects who need a different type of service than what you offer, or some who don’t need external help at all in their current stage.Recognize that, and be a businessperson with integrity. Let them know that you aren’t the right fit for them (and maybe help point them in the right direction if you’re able).This is also a two-way street: not every prospect will fit your ideal client profile. If you have a good handle on your niche, the type of client you know you can provide outstanding service to, or just the kind of person you’d like working with, then stand by that.

Continued Engagement

If you’ve decided that your practice would be a good fit for the prospect (and vice versa), then it’s time to start proving your expertise and trustworthiness. Keep in mind that buyers of professional services are always evaluating the sellers, because the seller is often the one who will be providing the service. This is in contrast to other types of industries, where the sales organization is often a separate entity from the service (or product) being sold to the buyer.When you engage with a prospect, remember that making the sale is only the beginning of your professional relationship. It is of paramount importance that you start off on the right foot, and have their trust moving forward.But how do you earn that trust? One major priority should be social proof.People look to others in order to determine what is correct – it’s in our nature. Use this psychological reality to your advantage, and ensure that your social proof can showcase to prospects that your past clients have been highly satisfied.Social proof mediums vary by industry, but the most important forms for service businesses are online reviews, testimonials, case studies, and references. Having this proof readily available — both online and as part of your sales process — is crucial for tax and accounting professionals because there’s no real way to “test” your services before buying. Sure, you may offer a free consultation or something similar, but that will never be quite the same.Your biggest selling points are the positive, lasting impressions you left on other clients — and the results they gained from working with you. Use these pieces of proof to continue growing your practice with new leads that come about, and your sales pipeline will be endlessly flowing.

Nurture Your Leads Using Content Marketing

In a world where your prospects are increasingly wary of ads and direct sales, using a nurture campaign that provides education and reinforcement of your value is key. Share relevant content with your new inquiry, like blog articles, videos, and case studies.Also, don’t forget that email is still the best delivery method to start nurturing your leads. A nurture journey can include four to six points of contact and last 30 - 45 days. Make it conversational, so your prospect can easily respond. Automating your journeys allows you to communicate with a larger audience across various channels. As attention spans get shorter and shorter, staying in constant contact with your new inquiry will increase the odds of conversion to client.

Wrap Things Up

The last thing you want is to make it through the entire lead nurturing process, only to lose the prospect right before the purchasing stage. To ensure this doesn’t happen, make it as easy as possible for potential clients to buy from you when they’re ready.This includes:

  • Making it easy to contact you through various means (email, web conferencing, business cell, etc.)
  • Including prospects on your email newsletters, so they’re aware of important deadlines or specials your practice may be offering
  • Taking the friction out of the buying process by offering service packages
  • Showcasing how easy it is to become a client with your online onboarding tools
  • Offering easier ways to engage without in-person meetings, including E-Sign technology for important documents and a secure client portal

When you simplify the buying process for your prospects, it removes any chance for a last-minute roadblock to turn into an objection against working with you. Make the journey seamless, showcase your expertise, and prioritize being truly helpful to your prospects and clients.What are some ways to continually be helping throughout the lead nurturing journey? Here are a few, courtesy of Zapier:

  1. Determine how (and if) you can help the buyer
  2. Uncover the problems, pain points, or challenges you can solve for them
  3. Set clear expectations
  4. Provide value in all of your emails and calls
  5. Do what you say you are going to do every time
  6. Be transparent in every interaction – don't hide anything
  7. Share your expertise during the sales process

Converting leads into paying clients is simpler than it seems, as long as you’re putting in the effort. Be responsive to inquiries as quickly as possible. Build out a solid online presence with a professional website that features your glowing reviews front and center. Write informative content for your blog and third party sites, and join the public conversation surrounding your industry on social media.Finally, make it as easy as possible for satisfied clients to refer you. Web leads are beneficial (and can be converted using the strategies we discussed here), but building a continuous referral pipeline will keep your practice growth stable and enduring. If you have any questions regarding web leads, referrals, or your online presence, contact us today at 1-800-442-2477 x3 or set up some time to speak with one of our digital marketing experts. We’re here to help!

Lee Reams
CEO | CountingWorks PRO

As the founder and CEO of CountingWorks, Inc, Lee is passionate about helping independent tax and accounting professionals compete in the modern age. From time-saving digital onboarding tools, world-class websites, and outbound marketing campaigns, lee has been developing best-in-class marketing solutions for over twenty years.

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