July 15

Jim Hawker: Building a System that Generates Referrals


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Jim Hawker: Building a System that Generates Referrals

Three Pipe is an agency formed by a number of other agencies, beginning as a PR agency in 2004, before merging with a performance marketing agency in 2012. They have since acquired an SEO and a creative agency. They are made up of around 80-90 people and consider themselves a ‘digital first agency running across multiple channels, namely sport and retail.’

Jim suggests when beginning their referral plan, the agency ‘analysed where their new business leads were coming from and tried better to understand how they could engineer more of it.’ He discusses how they ‘try to encourage referrals where they can’. With team members from their currently clients moving jobs more than ever in the current climate, Jim suggests that ‘maintaining relationships with these people even after they leave their job is really important for referrals.’

‘We have a different contact strategy for referrals from other agency partners. We refer them and they refer us to other clients. We also get referrals from agency brokers and other potential referrals from consultants and non-executive directors.

When asked about the preconception that referrals are a weakness, Jim suggests he has ‘read many articles that warn about being too reliant on referrals’, but he notes that ‘referrals are a valuable source of new business because your conversion rates are often a lot higher with these warmer leads. Referrals tend to come from a place of trust.’

Jim suggests that ‘if you are passive with getting referrals then it is a risky way to run an agency, but if you turn referrals into an active opportunity then they should be seen as a strength.’

When asked about their approach to getting referrals, Jim suggests they started by ‘setting out the services they offered as an agency and worked out where they had gaps within their model.’ They looked at the client base and spent time understanding how else their clients were working with where they didn’t have the expertise. They realised they ‘shared clients with multiple agencies but had never spoken with them’. When they did reach out, they realised they each could refer one another new business.

‘We haven’t focussed on commissions but instead adding value to our clients by referring a company that we trust, that is enough. We view them as a trusted partner.’

Three Pipe also put on event with other agencies to blend their client bases, which gives them time to make these connections. The cost of these events is mostly the time it takes to put them together, they split the cost 50/50 with the other agency partner, and we both benefit.

Jim discusses that they have not only partnered with other agencies, but headhunting firms too, for those who are moving into new jobs and who are reviewing the agencies their new company works with. He suggests the events they put on also give them a reason to keep in contact with these potential warm leads.

When asked about tracking results from referrals Jim mentions they have too many Google Sheets but maintain connection via multiple platforms with those who attend events.

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