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The Foolproof Way to Request Customer Referrals

Your existing customer base is your most valuable resource for finding new business. Compared to any other lead type, referrals are the most likely to convert and the least expensive to acquire, so if you’re not actively seeking out referrals, you’re missing out on valuable business. The key to bringing in a steady stream of referrals is to operationalize your referral process and make it a consistent, repeatable part of your overall sales strategy. Let’s break down how to do this in five simple steps.

Step 1: Identify Your Advocates

To get the best referrals, focus your efforts on customers that are most likely to refer you — aka, your advocates. How do you pinpoint them? The most precise way is by collecting and analyzing data that helps you measure customer loyalty. A simple way to do this is by including a Net Promoter Score® (NPS) in customer satisfaction surveys that you send out after each transaction.

NPS asks the question: “How likely is it that you would recommend me to a friend or colleague?” Based on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), it categorizes customers as promoters (9-10), passives (7-8), and detractors (0-6). Your promoters are the customers you want to target.

If you don’t have NPS data or something similar to go off of right now, you’ll have to use your best judgment to identify your advocates. Go through the list of clients who worked with you in the past year or two. Highlight the customers with whom you have a good relationship or who left you a positive review. These are the customers you’ll target for referrals.

Step 2: Reach Out to Your Advocates

There are plenty of ways to make a referral request, but the quickest, most direct way is through a personalized email. Resist the urge to send a mass email to a large list of people. While it may take longer to send individual requests, adding that personal touch will reap better results. To streamline your referral requests, use a pre-written email template, and plug in a few customer details to personalize it. Here’s a Referral Request Email Template you can use to get started.

But don’t rely on email alone. If you don’t hear back in a day or two, follow up with a phone call. Besides, a phone call is more personal and provides yet another opportunity to deepen relationships with your most loyal customers.

Step 3: Make It Easy to Refer You

Your customers are busy, just like you. To increase your chances of getting a referral, give them a sample template that they can use to quickly introduce you to friends and family. Draft up your own custom message, or use this Sample Message.

Step 4: Say Thank You

Thank your clients for referring you with a phone call or a handwritten note. You’ll want to show your appreciation so they’ll be more likely to refer you again in the future. You should thank your clients immediately after receiving the referral and again after the sale if the referral turns into a customer. If your client doesn’t have anyone in mind or doesn’t want to refer you right now, say thanks, and leave it at that.

Step 5: Repeat

Rather than making this a one-and-done activity that you tackle once or twice a year, make it a habit that’s part of your ongoing sales strategy. Remember, the goal is to operationalize your referral process so it functions like a well-oiled machine. Set aside at least one hour a week (or if you’re really committed, one hour a day) to ask for referral business.

If the list you created in step one is too big to get through in one week, that’s ok! Choose five or 10 customers that you’ll reach out to each week, and continue until you get through your current list. Once you’re done, create a new list, and repeat the process. Just be sure you’re not asking the same clients for referrals more than two to three times a year to avoid burning them out.


Need help getting started? Use this Referral Outreach Checklist to help create some structure around it until it becomes a recurring habit.


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