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Referrals are easy socially – we just ask a friend to do an introduction.  And that gets us off to a pretty good start from the common ground of the friend. It is exactly the same in business.   But in neither case will someone do it, unless you ask.

A referral is SO much more valuable than just getting a potential name.  You will be introduced to someone your referrer knows has a potential need for your product or service, so they are filtering your leads with insider knowledge and efficiency, knocking out hours of what would have been your hard work. 

In addition, because of the personal recommendation, before you even speak to them, the prospect will have a fair degree of trust in you and your product, already defeating down one of the main obstacles in sales.  A referral is rightly reckoned to be worth 10-15 times a cold call.

Yet so many salespeople fail to bother to ask for referrals.   Even when you have the easiest of all referral situations, a customer with several internal buyers, most salespeople will stick to the one they already know and fail to explore potential relationships with the others.

There is an in-built resistance to asking for referrals.   Partly, many salespeople think their job ends with the sale, rather than seeing asking for further referrals as part of the ongoing sales process.   Others worry it will make them look too pushy.

Referrals should be easy

Look at it in a different way.  If you have pride in what you do, asking for referrals should be easy.  Doing a referral should reflect well on the person doing it, providing it works out well for all three sides.  You need to make sure the person you ask understands that too.   Sometimes, you can offer them something additional,  a referral or good review back first, or send them some useful information on something they were interested in, all extra benefits.

Some people think they have asked for a referral by vaguely asking to be passed on to “anyone you know that might like..”  There is no chance of anything ever coming out of that.   If you want a quality referral, you need to individualize the request.  And you just need to be direct and ask for help and advice.

Ask at the end of a good job done, when you have enjoyed working for a customer, and telling them how much you have enjoyed it, ask if they know of anyone who is as nice to work for because you would love an introduction.  That gets their brains working to think of specific people.

Stressing how much you have enjoyed working with them both strengthens your relationship with your existing customer and also helps find new customers, whom you are likely to have good relationships with for the future.

If you still feel shy, put the request in an email, but make it specific.  Put what you want in the header of the e-mail, such as “could you help with an introduction?”  Either in the header or in the first sentence or so, check if they feel comfortable with that introduction, in a way they can say no.  If they are not comfortable, you would only be losing a bad referral.

If they agree, consider putting an email together they can pass on, or a quick paragraph they can include what you do.  Remember it is still your job to sell your company, so putting the facts together for them works really well.  Plus as people are so busy, the easier you make it, the more likely it is to happen.

When to ask for referrals depends on your personal relationship with the person you are going to ask.  Timing is crucial.   If you are totally comfortable you can ask early – say to them straight out if you are happy with the result, would you be kind enough to give us a referral.   The groundwork is then done, the obligation for them to keep to the deal already in place.  But the relationship has to be very sound for the other party not to think your mind is already on the next job.  Nothing spoils a relationship quicker.  Many of us are happier waiting until the end.

Don’t forget that you can ask for referrals more than once.  It is actually a very good idea if you do, especially with ongoing customers. It will help you keep an eye on where you are in the market place and how you are doing in the eyes of your customers.  You can also ask the same person for more referrals if you have done further work for them – for example, if you did the design of their brochure last and the photography this time, then that is a new referral you are asking for.

Someone who has given you a referral once will very likely be the sort of person who will be kind enough to do it again.  Particularly if you have said thank you properly the last time.   When it comes to saying thank you, do it properly in a good old fashioned way, too. 

A personal note is great for this, hand-written ideally.   Financial thank you’s are a no on so many levels;   they can get you into the illegal areas of bribes but even that aside, it completely devalues the entire point.  Referrals must be built on genuine, personal relationships, not on motives of financial gain

Asking for targeted referrals, and doing it well, should be a daily practice as part of your sales and marketing strategy.   It leads to easier and higher quality sales, which is what every business needs.

I originally wrote this piece for Wire

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