Referrals: Who, When, and How To Ask

BY: ON WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 06, 2016

Referrals are crucial to the growth of any business, but how do you go about asking for them? This guide takes you through who to ask, when to ask, and how to pose the question.

If you ask any salesperson, leads generated through client referrals have an exponentially higher close rate compared to those that are generated by prospecting or cold calling. If you look at your current client base, the overwhelming majority have probably come by way of referral.

Asking clients for referrals may be viewed by some as pushy, salesy, or awkward. In reality, you are asking a client if they know someone who could benefit from the same assistance they received from you. After all, you likely will only make this request of clients who have expressed their happiness and gratitude for your work.

This guide will help you identify

  1. Clients who are most likely to refer others
  2. The most opportune times to make the request for a referral
  3. How to ask in a way that feels natural to you


Identifying clients who will refer new business

The first step in asking for a referral is identifying a client who is likely to make a referral.

Although you might view a client’s campaign as a success, you need to make sure they experience the same sentiment. In regular client communication, you should be gauging the client’s level of satisfaction periodically. You can also conduct a survey to collect information about client satisfaction. With that said, you should never say, “I saw in your client survey that you gave us high sores and said you would recommend us to a friend.” This may lead to diminished feedback during your next client evaluation.

Frequently, you’ll find that your most inquisitive clients tend to be the most successful referral partners. This is often the case because these clients have come to truly understand your level of expertise. Also, they tend to have a higher-than-average business acumen, making them a trusted resource to friends and business acquaintances.


When is the best time to ask?

Perhaps the most important part of asking for a referral is finding the right time to ask.

You want to bring it up at a point in your conversation that makes sense and happens naturally. The most obvious time for this is when your client has expressed their gratitude regarding your work and dedication. A good reply to their gratitude may be, “I'm so pleased you're happy with our work. Do you know anyone else who can benefit from my services?” We’ll get to tailoring your responses later on.

Another good time to ask for a referral is when your client mentions a friend, customer, or acquaintance's business. This allows for an easy segue into a referral request. For example, if a client is talking about his son-in-law, who is a lawyer, you could segue the conversation by asking what kind of law he practices and mention that you have many successful clients in the legal field as well.

The best time to ask for referrals is early and often. Granted, you don’t want to make your clients feel uncomfortable, but if you make this request regularly, it becomes commonplace, which makes it less awkward. This also keeps referral opportunities at the top of your clients’ minds.


How to make the request

Requesting referrals, like most things in life, is easier said than done. It requires practice and strategy. Now that you know who and when to ask, let’s figure out the most natural way to make this inquiry.

Everyone has their own personal style of communication. Therefore, not everyone is going to use the same approach. See below for some clever (and maybe not so clever) ways you might ask for a referral. Find some you like and make them your own.

  • "I'm really glad that you're pleased with our work. I'd really appreciate it if you'd pass our name along to anyone else you know who would be interested in [your product or service].”
  • “If you know of anyone else having a hard time finding someone to handle their [your services], feel free to pass along my name. Or if you have anyone in mind, I could drop them a line myself and save you the hassle.”
  • "I'm really glad that you're pleased with our work. We are always looking for referrals and we were wondering if you knew anyone else who might be interested in getting our help with their [your product or service]."
  • “Who are one or two people you know that [your company] can help?”
  • “Do you know of anyone who has similar issues to you that we can help with?”
  • “We always have time for your referrals!” - not as a standalone, maybe as an add-on to the conversation.
  • “I love working with people like you, who do you know similar to you that I should be working with?”

An additional tactic that may make you and the client more comfortable is giving them an out. If the answer is “no,” you want them to feel comfortable saying it. Although most of your clients should be compelled to provide referrals, their happiness is more important to you at the end of the day. I have listed some examples of this below, but again, feel free to make these your own.

  • “We completely understand if not...”
  • “Don’t feel obligated, but I wanted to ask you…”
  • “If you don’t feel comfortable with this, please just let me know, and we’ll proceed with business as usual.”


Make it easy for your client

While you do want to have a personal introduction from your clients, we also don’t want to make it feel like a burden. After a client has agreed to refer a potential customer to you, make their life easier by sending them a templated email that they can use.



I really appreciate you making this introduction! Here's a template message you're welcome to use -

--

Hi [NAME],

[Personal note about the last time the two of you spoke].

In any event, I wanted to introduce you to [your name]. She leads our [product or service you offer] at [your company name]. They have done an amazing job. Any chance you'd be available to chat with her?

Best,

--

You don't have to use those exact words, but anything along these lines would be great. Thanks again!



Asking for testimonials

If clients are not willing to offer referrals, asking for a testimonial is the next best option.

If your clients are giving you high scores on every customer survey, but have not left a testimonial, you need to ask. As marketers, we understand the value of testimonials as they function as social proof of our past successes. As business owners, they know the importance of positive reviews and will probably be more than happy to help.

If your client gives you a review over the phone, follow up by email with their testimonial to ensure you have written proof of their approval. This will also give them the opportunity make any additions or changes to their statement.

If you make the ask by email, you may want it to look something like this:


Dear [NAME],

I have really enjoyed working with you over the last [period of time]. As [your company name] aims to continue to bring on great clients like [client’s company name], we are asking that some of our current clients provide us with testimonials that we can share on our website. If you wouldn’t mind, I would really appreciate your participation.

I have included a couple of questions and examples below that might help get you started.

  • What prompted you to seek out our product/services?
  • Why did you select us as a partner?
  • How have you benefited from the work we have done for you thus far?
  • If a potential client was on the fence about whether or not to hire us, what would you say to them?
  • “Sample testimonial”
    • Ex Ample, MD, Owner

Thank you again for being such a great client,



Saying thank you

Saying “thank you” seems like a no-brainer, but in this case, you want your clients to know just how grateful you are for their referral or testimonial.

At the very least, you should write and mail a handwritten note thanking them for their time and letting them know how impactful their referral/testimonial is to your business. In the case where a client’s referral closes, you may even want to send them a little something extra. This is where an incentive program come in.

Referral incentive programs can be quite effective in getting your clients to make referrals. Whether the incentive is cash, a credit at your business, or one of your products/services, it is going to help you get the attention of your current clients and hopefully drive them to refer new business.


Wrapping up

First, think about your current clients and make a list of those you feel would provide either referrals or testimonials upon request. Second, hone your messaging so that you will feel more comfortable. Third, make the request.

Record successes and failures and provide feedback so that you know what tactics worked the best. If you can get all of your employees buy-in when it comes to referrals, you will continue to add great clients to your roster and effectively grow your business.



Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Scott Holstein
Scott Holstein is a networking expert with a shared passion for search and social online marketing initiatives. He focuses his time and energy on driving the direct sales growth of Search Influence, a national online marketing & white label solutions company based in his native New Orleans, LA.
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