Everyone recognizes that referrals are the lifeblood of any service business. Despite that recognition, most lawyers report disappointment with the paucity of referrals they get out of the amount of time and effort it takes to cultivate referral sources.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Current sources aren't particularly productive, so you're constantly trying to recruit additional ones. As a result, you end up with too many unproductive referral relationships that you still have to invest time cultivating.
Whether internal or external, a potential referral source needs one critical bit of information. What business problem or challenge do you solve? That's all they need to recognize who needs you and will thank them for connecting you. They don't need to understand your practice, expertise or accomplishments. They're not hearing conversations about skills or solutions; they're hearing conversations about problems. When they hear someone talking about your problem, it becomes a memory index by which they automatically associate you with the speaker's situation.
Here's an example. For the twenty years that I trained and coached lawyers one-on-one, the problem I associated with was that of law partners having impressive contact lists but less impressive books of business. If a firm acknowledged having that problem, they needed me. Think how easy it would be for a banker, accountant, consultant, etc. to hear a law firm leader expressing frustration with their partners not converting such visible assets into business. All they have to say is, "Hey, I know a guy who's been solving that specific problem for a long time. Would you find it helpful to have a conversation about how you might change that?"
We call this underlying demand-driving problem the Door-Opener, because it literally opens doors to productive discussions with potential buyers.
Once you arm your potential sources with your Door-Opener, communicate variations of the core problem. That reinforces their awareness of the problem and its significance, and associates you with it more vividly. The more aware they become about the problem's impact and consequences, the more confident they'll be that the person to whom they connect you will thank them for doing so, which raises the likelihood of them doing it.
Now you can begin measuring actual referrals vs. perceived potential. Rank them by productivity, not potential. Concentrate all your attention on the top handful of referrers. It's better to have four stark, raving fans than 20 people who send you little or nothing.
Don't ignore the rest completely, but limit your relationship-building investment to inexpensive, plentiful means such as group email, blog posts, etc.
In everything related to selling, I've learned that "yes" comes right away; "no" takes a long time. If someone is going to be one of your top referral sources, it will happen quickly.