Build your business with client referrals

Client referrals are a powerful business growth strategy. You ask your clients to recommend you to people they know. How hard could it be? Really hard. So if the idea of asking for a client referral scares you even just a little, you're not alone. Follow this step-by-step guide on how to ask, and get your clients to say "Yes," to a referral.

Why are client referrals important?

If you're not asking your clients for referrals, you're missing out on a huge opportunity. They're a cheap way to attract qualified leads that are a good fit for your business.

Why are referrals so powerful?

They tell others that you're reliable, trustworthy and provide excellent service.

  • 84% of B2B decision-makers start the buying process with a referral.
  • Referral leads convert 30% better than other leads.
  • 61% of customers make at least one referral.
  • Referred customers have a 16% higher lifetime value.

* Amplifinity, The State of Business Customer Referral Programs, 2016

B2C companies may have formal referral programs designed by the marketing team. Sharing tools and referral rewards incentivize word-of-mouth referrals.

But, for B2B companies, it falls to the sales team or the key account management team to ask.

Fear of asking for referrals

Despite their effectiveness at lead generation, salespeople are reluctant to ask for referrals.

Sales Insights Lab surveyed 400 salespeople to gain insights into today's selling world.

  • 57.9% of respondents reported they asked for less than one referral per month on average.
  • 40.4% rarely ask for a referral.
  • Only 18.6% ask every person they are in front of.

* Salespeople Perceptions and Top Performance Study,

Why don't we like to ask for customer referrals? There are a lot of reasons, and at one time or another, I've felt all of them (often at the same time!)

  • Shy or lack of confidence. 
  • Don't want to feel obligated.
  • Feels salesy
  • Feels like begging.
  • Don't like to ask for help.
  • Don't want to feel like a pest.
  • Intimated by the person you're asking.
  • Feel out of your depth, comfort zone or expertise.

So yeah, asking for a referral from a client is not as simple as "Can you think of anyone you know who might also enjoy our solutions?"

And most of us haven't had much training on how to ask.

So, if you feel even the slightest twinge of anxiety about asking for a referral - it's OK.

In fact, it's normal.

Let's improve your confidence and increase your chances of a successful referral.

Sound good?

If you're not asking your clients for referrals, you're missing out on a huge opportunity. They're a cheap way to attract qualified leads that are a good fit for your business.

Warwick Brown // Account Manager Tips

STEP 1: Decide who to ask for a referral

Who do you have good customer relationships with? Happy customers will refer you, so make a shortlist of those who know have had a positive experience.

Be selective, because when you ask, it won't be for a name, it'll be for an introduction (even a recommendation).

To find the people most likely to give you a referral, create a target list of names with these qualities in common

  1. Value. You've demonstrated you can improve their situation.
  2. Trust. They believe you're reliable and capable to deliver on your promises.
  3. Authority. Has the relationships and influence you need to gain an introduction.
  4. Target market. Knows who you serve and the problems you solve.
  5. Solution. Understands how your products and services work.
  6. Reputation. Believes you are a market leader (e.g. quality, size, innovation).
  7. Reciprocity. You've recommended people to them.
  8. Life. There are personal or professional factors from which your client can benefit.

Next, who on that list can introduce you to promising leads?

  • Internal referrals. Scan your client's organization chart for influential people and decision-makers. Reporting lines don't tell the whole story. It may surprise you the influence some people have, so consider informal networks too.
  • External networks. Search your contact's LinkedIn 1st level connections for potential leads. If they don't know them on LinkedIn, they don't know them well enough to make an introduction.

STEP 2: Ask your client for a referral

Now you know who to ask, let's discuss how.

  • Ask in person. A verbal request leads to referrals 32% of the time while email is only 17% of the time. You're asking for a favor, and your client may take some convincing. So it's best to ask in person (phone, meeting, Zoom) where it's easier to do some persuading.
  • Be direct. Don't be ambiguous about your request. When you ask, make it clear, specific and get to the point.
  • Open-ended questions or statements. Tell them they know someone, and you need to figure out together who.
  • Solve problems or improve results. Talk about the issues you'll solve or the results you'll get for their referral. "Who do you know that would like to get X results by doing Y, like you?"
  • Make your connection look good. Frame the request in a way that creates mutual value. Show them what's in it for them.
  • Consider power dynamics. Asking for a referral is like borrowed trust. Your contact is going out on a limb for you, so make sure they know it's OK to say "No".
  • Follow up by email. After your client agrees to make a referral, follow up with an email introduction. That way your contact can forward it on your behalf and not write it themselves.
  • Share useful resources. Have a library of value-centred resources and email templates ready to send. You can drip this information to your newly acquired contacts after the introduction. Don't let the referral go cold because you've run out of things to say.

Example client referral scripts

Here are examples of how to ask your client if they know people interested in getting the same results.

Variation 1. "Are there people you think should know about the work I do, but you're not sure how to introduce them to me?"

Variation 2. "As you consider who might benefit from the work I do, I want you to think about people you know would benefit, but you're just not sure how to make the introduction."

Variation 3. "Over the time we've been doing business together, maybe you've thought of some people who should know about me, but you weren't quite sure how to bring me up in conversation. Let's talk about those folks for a minute."

And here's an example of how the conversation might go

Marty, I think you may know some people who might benefit greatly from my work. And I know the only way you'd consider introducing me is if you have a clear understanding of what I do and how people benefit from working with me. Would you be open to setting aside some time so I can explain our value proposition? And if you feel comfortable about it, then possibly open a few doors for me?

… So Marty, does this give you a clear picture of what we do and how we do it?

(It sure does!)

Great. Would you agree that, for the right people, the work I do is pretty valuable?

(Absolutely!)

Nice! I'm wondering if we might do a little brainstorming to see if we can identify some folks who you think should be aware of my value. I have a few ideas I'd like to suggest. Then, we can see if you'd feel comfortable putting in a good word for me. Are you open to this?

* Adapted from Beyond Referrals: How to Use the Perpetual Revenue System to Convert Referrals into High-Value Clients.

Tips to make introductions easy

  • Write it for them. Create a draft email for your client to send on your behalf.
  • Add visuals. Avoid attachments. Instead, embed visuals that show the value of your solutions.
  • Use video. Include a video version of your introduction. It helps to build rapport and that all-important "know, like and trust."
  • Make the next steps clear. What do you want the referrer to do? Offer a call or meeting to explain in more detail.
  • Follow up. Don't expect an answer right away. Give it a day or two and then follow up with a phone call.
  • Say thank-you. It involves time and effort to make introductions so show appreciation.
  • Keep them informed. Clients will be curious about how their referrals are doing. Check-in now and then to thank your client for past referrals and let them know how they've helped.

Example referral email

"George Smith, meet Nancy Cates.

I've been working with Nancy for several months, and she's helped our firm boost sales from referrals. I won't go into details now, but give me a call if you like.

I'm confident it'll be a good use of your time to connect with Nancy."


* Adapted from Beyond Referrals: How to Use the Perpetual Revenue System to Convert Referrals into High-Value Clients.

STEP 3: Avoid common mistakes when asking for referrals

  • Asking the wrong people. The biggest mistake you can make is asking anyone who breathes if they'll give you a referral. Qualify referrers like you would any other lead. Only ask those to whom you've delivered value, that trust you and believe in your solution.
  • Not asking at all. Don't talk yourself out of seeking a referral because you think your clients don't give them. If you've created enough high-level value, your clients will be happy to give a referral if they can.
  • Asking closed questions. Plan the questions you need to ask to find out who your client can refer you to. Avoid anything that leads to yes or no. For example, "Do you know anyone?"
  • Making it sound like a favor. Don't act like it's a big deal. Asking for a referral is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you're doing them a favor! Remember, you're offering to help people in their network get better results faster. So don't be shy.
  • Waiting too long. If you delay asking for a referral, the moment may pass, and all because you don't want too seem pushy.
  • Asking once. People often do know someone, but either they don't feel comfortable (yet) or forgot. Things change throughout the year, too. Clients talk to their network and meet people all the time. Don't miss opportunities for referrals. Make it a habit to check in on a regular basis with anyone who said "No" in the past.
  • Not practicing. Confidence comes with repetition and refinement. Create practice opportunities to develop your referral request toolkit.
  • Not explaining your value. Describe what you do and how it can help in a way that captures attention. You want your referrer to be able to repeat it to someone else when you're not around.
  • Not adapting language. Are you using too many technical terms or not enough? Should your message be formal or informal? Adapt your message depending on your audience, so they're not overwhelmed or confused.
  • You don't believe in the product. If you don't believe it, your client sure won't. You must have complete confidence in your solution and the value it creates. If you don't, you better get some confidence and do more research to develop those positive beliefs.
  • Asking only your top clients. Expand your pool of referrers to include more clients. In research by Amplitude, the top 10% of customers made up 54% of referrals that led to 6% of deals.
  • You let objections stop you. Don't say "OK" when your client says, "I don't give referrals." Instead, try to understand their reluctance. Maybe they had a bad experience before?

Speaking of objections, let's talk about how to deal with rejection.

A step-by-step guide to client engagementKey Account Managers aren't short of people

STEP 4: Dealing with rejection

So you put yourself out there, asked your client for referral and now you feel very awkward and vulnerable waiting for the answer.

And it's "No."

Here's how to get over it:

  • Prepare. Expect to hear the word "No" so it doesn't surprise you and throw you off.
  • Acknowledge. Don't get defensive. They're allowed to say "No." Acknowledge and reassure your contact it's OK.
  • Clarify. Seek feedback on why. Is there more information your client needs to be comfortable making a referral? Any constraints you're not aware of?
  • Expand. Is there anyone else you should include in the conversation? Maybe the referral isn't there's to make.
  • Credibility. Show don't tell. Share client success stories that prove you can deliver on any promises you make about results.
  • Reposition. Take a time out and revisit your introduction and pitch - it may need tweaks to be more persuasive. Re-submit either to the initial contact or someone else.
  • Referral mindset. Get into the habit of asking for referrals. Practice makes perfect and will help you overcome any fears.

Resources

Follow Up and Close the Sale: Make Easy (and Effective) Follow-Up Your Winning Habit

The fortune is in the follow up and this book lays out a complete strategy along with scripts to help you nurture your pipeline and close those deals.

Perfect Phrases for Sales Referrals: Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Getting New Clients, Building Relationships, and Increasing Your Sales

If asking clients for a referral makes you sweat a little, this is a great book with literally hundreds of example phrases you can use to help get new clients and build relationships.

Beyond Referrals: How to Use the Perpetual Revenue System to Convert Referrals into High-Value Clients

A practical guide on how to leverage your relationships with existing clients to get referrals and convert them into clients.

* As an Amazon Associate we may earn from qualifying purchases.

Final word

Your existing clients represent an outstanding opportunity to grow your business through word-of-mouth. But sometimes they need a little coaxing to share the good news. The secret to securing a referral is to:

  1. Develop your own system to identify the right people to ask
  2. Build a library of scripts and resources to help you engage with the referrer and the referee.
  3. Prepare in advance of asking for a referral so you avoid common mistakes that end up in "No"
  4. Anticipate objections or rejections and how you'll respond to them.

Build your confidence through practice and always remember that a referral is not asking who you can sell to, but who you can help.

If you're not asking your clients for referrals, you're missing out on a huge opportunity. They're a cheap way to attract qualified leads that are a good fit for your business.

Warwick Brown


Warwick Brown has led business development and account management teams in Australia and Europe for more than 15 years and worked with some of the world's most prestigious firms, including Merck & Co, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey & Company and Vodafone. As the founder at Account Manager Tips, his mission is to help organisations leverage the power of key account management to accelerate client retention and revenue.


Tags

business development, revenue, sales


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