Referrals are among the top ways sellers get leads and new business, but many struggle with generating them consistently. Often, this is because they haven’t thought about why buyers should refer them. They don’t have a system in place for generating referrals.
We know our buyers rely on colleagues, associates, and friends to recommend providers. So when a prospect comes to us via this route, some of the work is already done for us. Referrals build a seller's trustworthiness and credibility—two cornerstones of effective selling.
How do you ask for referrals?
- Create a referral program
- Ask at the right time
- Thank your referral sources
- Offer alternate ways to recommend you
- Educate current customers about all products and services
- Add a form for referral submissions
- Be remarkable
- Inspire confidence
- Offer a referral commission
- Provide valuable content
- Listen to and implement feedback
- Update your LinkedIn profile
- Create a list of buyers you want referrals to
- Treat your clients as partners
- Give a referral
- Ask for referrals
While most sellers recognize the power of referrals, they don't know how to tap into their networks to proactively generate sales referrals.
This happens for a number of reasons. Many sellers are uncomfortable asking for referrals. They either don't want to appear "salesy" or desperate for the work. Or it might be insecurity—they're not sure if they actually deliver value and benefit to their clients.
That's why we put together this list of 15 tactical tips for generating more referrals.
How do you get referrals?
Be referral ready. If you want referral marketing to be a proactive part of your lead generation, you need to deliver value and establish a reputation. Ensure that you keep your promises. Your clients need to be able to speak to the value you provide and have the means to leave online reviews, provide testimonials, or share content.
Don't rely on accidental referrals. It's important to get clear on who you want to attract as clients. What does your ideal buyer look like? Consider their business objectives, values, and interests. You’ll also want to plan how your network can help you get referrals to those clients.
Don't wait for the pipeline to dry up. How do you plan on converting referrals to clients? Build a sales referral process now to drive consistent, high-quality referrals. When the pipeline stops flowing, you’ll have plenty of clients willing to speak on your behalf and get it going again.
What can you do to get more sales referrals?
1. Create a referral program.
Providing referrals is often reciprocal between businesses. If you work with other companies that you value, propose a partnership to exchange referrals with your respective clients. Offering to refer your customers also creates a welcome bit of leverage when negotiating.
Be sure you only include providers in this network that you'd be comfortable recommending to your best client or best friend.
2. Ask at the right time.
Asking for referrals should be a customized process. You shouldn’t ask for a referral if you’re still in the process of creating deliverables—or worse, you’ve missed the mark on something.
Knowing when to ask for a referral comes with good communication. If you keep your clients in the loop on the successes they achieve through your company, they’ll be more willing to refer you. Consider pairing positive news with a referral request, particularly if you have success metrics to share. Coordinate with other departments of your company to know when to reach out.
3. Recognize and thank your referral sources.
A referral is a gesture worthy of gratitude. You should make sure clients know their time and feedback are valued.
This could be with a simple phone call, email, or even better, a handwritten note. The important thing is to express your appreciation. You'll also encourage additional referrals this way.
Even so, consider going beyond this and offering incentives for referrals—more on that later.
4. If you have clients who don't refer, create another way for them to recommend you (e.g., case study, testimonial).
I once worked for a large organization that prohibited written testimonials and discouraged referrals. However, I was able to provide recommendations by phone for vendors I worked with. Two of these vendors took advantage of this opportunity and closed several deals by having select high-value prospects speak with me.
If you want your clients to go out of their way to advocate for you, you have to provide different avenues for them to do so. Options include online reviews, testimonials, or serving as a case study. The more options you have, the more comfortable clients will feel giving feedback.
Additionally, if a client is hesitant to refer you for whatever reason, don’t push it. Be respectful but provide means for them to refer you in the future.
5. Educate your clients about what’s possible.
Often, people don’t know what they want until they’re shown what’s possible. Even if it’s not an exact fit for them, educate your clients about your products and services and demonstrate why each is valuable.
This way, they can either refer within their company or to others they know. Too often, sellers assume their clients know more about them than they do. For example, if you're a market research firm and a client only uses your online survey research services, make sure they know about your intercept interview service or focus group capabilities.
Even outside of referrals, going beyond consultative selling and redefining buyer needs will differentiate you from other sellers and put you in the best position to win new sales.
6. Add a link to a form on your website for referral submissions.
Even if buyers would be willing to offer a referral, it’s easy for them to forget. Make referrals easy to give. Provide a form on your website for buyers to provide referrals and include the link in your email signature. The simpler the form, the better—but make sure it’s still specific enough to accomplish your goals.
You can also expand to different channels. If you’ve already established outreach and engagement efforts on social media, clients have more ways to find and refer you. Even something as simple as a client sharing a piece of content is still a tacit recommendation.
7. Be remarkable; remind clients why your company is special.
You should already be thinking about the value you provide as a seller—so what makes your company worth referring? Aim to build loyalty among your clients.
Don’t just provide excellent products and services; engage on social media, go above and beyond when addressing their needs, and provide resources in the form of blogs and other content. If you nurture the client relationship, they’ll be more likely to talk about your company.
Treat companies you work with as valued partners. Make sure they’re aware of who and how you help.
8. Inspire confidence.
A referral is a boon to your company, and it costs nothing. However, clients won’t refer you unless they’re confident in your credibility and competency. To project professionalism to your clients, have all the steps of a referral program already in place before you ask.
But it can be risky referring someone—what if it's not successful? You can inspire confidence in your referral sources by letting them know that 80% (or whatever) of your business comes from repeat customers.
9. Offer a referral commission.
It’s not easy to quantify the exact value of a referral, but a referring client is doing your business a huge favor. By offering commission or other incentives for referrals, you demonstrate your gratitude and encourage new referrals.
Even minor perks, such as free products or services, give clients a reason to refer you and rewards them for going out of their way to advocate on your behalf.
10. Provide valuable content your referral sources can share with their network.
Potential clients are far more likely to use free resources you offer before making any deals or purchases. Consistent and high quality blog posts are often a draw to a company website, but tools, research, and ebooks are also great ways to appeal to the kinds of customers you want to convert into leads and referrals.
The type of content you provide is limited only by your imagination. An invitation to a breakfast or lunch seminar or webinar on an industry topic, research briefs, or an article about a regulatory change or industry trend are all viable. Make it something special for them to share.
11. Listen to and implement feedback.
Being referable means accepting all feedback, positive and negative. Surveys and other feedback tools can help you get a sense of what you’re doing well and where you can improve. However, be sure to construct survey questions to be unbiased and useful to you.
By acting on feedback, you improve your credibility and reputation.
12. Update your LinkedIn profile and stay engaged with your contacts regularly.
Though there are numerous social media channels worth engaging with, LinkedIn remains the platform of choice for networking and doing your homework on prospects. You can also leverage LinkedIn to discover second-degree connections that may be good targets for referrals from your existing clients.
When possible, do research to learn whether individuals, companies, and groups align with your goals and values. The more in common you have, the more willing they’ll be to submit a referral.
13. Treat your clients as partners, too.
Let them know you view them as a strategic partner and tell them you hope they'll do the same with you. Create formal channels to share referrals.
14. Give a referral.
Even if you’re not in a full-blown partnership with another business, giving them a referral is the best way to get one in return.
15. Ask for referrals.
You’ll get a lot more referrals if you ask for them. As you’re completing a project with a client, simply ask if they know anyone who would benefit from a similar product or service. It’s always helpful to have multiple avenues of advocacy, but it helps to be direct.
Personalizing your approach with the client can make a difference. Talk to them directly when you can, do your research, and follow up.
This is just a start. Let these suggestions jump-start your own idea generation. Create a sales referral process that works for your ideal clients and your networks. When the time is right, reach out to the prospects your referrals have generated.
And remember, the fundamentals of your offerings take precedent. Nobody will refer you if you aren’t striving to provide value and ensure buyer satisfaction.
Be referable. Focus on your ideal clients. Tap into your networks in a proactive way. By putting a referral system into place now, you are more likely to receive lead-boosting referrals throughout the year.