Do you want to get more business without hiring a larger sales team? Or get more warm leads without expensive marketing campaigns?
Customer referrals can do that for you.
But getting referrals isn’t easy. If you feel like you’re begging your customers to send business your way—or worse, if you’re not actively seeking referrals at all—you’re going about it the wrong way.
Read on to find out the best ways to get customer referrals from the people you already do business with.
1. Provide great service.
Only a small percentage of satisfied customers actually recommend the companies they work with. A 2010 study by Advisor Impact, Charles Schwab, and Texas Tech University showed that less than a third of satisfied customers had made a customer referral in the past year.
Which means getting referrals is a numbers game. You need a lot of satisfied customers before you get a lot of referrals.
How do you get satisfied customers? By providing great service.
No matter what it is you sell, your customers will only refer their friends and colleagues if you did a phenomenal job. Exceeding expectations and creating a positive customer experience is the first step in getting more referrals.
Here’s a great example of a company going out of its way to provide great service:
It’s not easy providing tech support via Twitter, but Adobe has a dedicated Twitter feed set up to help people with problems they come across. That’s a great way to win loyal customers—and referrals.
Not sure what your customers are looking for?
It’s worth taking the time to survey your customers to find out how you can improve your service. What are you doing well? Where could you improve? What would make them more likely to recommend your product or service?
Part of providing great service is hiring the right people for your team. Customer-oriented employees who thrive on problem-solving and making people happy create positive customer experiences. It’s also a good idea to have a unifying customer experience strategy that all employees are familiar with.
Before you do anything else, make sure your customers are happy. After that, you can start digging into tactics for getting more referrals.
2. Ask for referrals.
Just ask. It’s that simple. Don’t assume that customers know what you want. Here are two ways to ask for customer referrals:
Include referrals in your branding materials.
Your email signature, business cards, invoices, and other customer-facing materials are a great place to put information about the importance of referrals.
It’s a quick, regular reminder that you’re on the lookout for more customers. Here’s an example email signature I might use to ask for referrals:
Freelance Copywriter / Content Creator
Do you know anyone who might benefit from my services? Click this link to send a quick email and connect us!
You can be as direct as you like in these areas. Your invoice might say that you’re a “referral-based business,” for example, and let your customers know that you value their referrals.
Ask customers directly.
A more direct—and often more effective—method is to directly ask your customers for referrals. A personal email or phone call asking for a referral is a powerful arm of a customer marketing strategy.
Here’s an email template for asking for referrals:
We’ve been working together for a year now, and our projects have gone really well. I’ve enjoyed working on your marketing strategy!
Because we’ve had such a great experience, I thought I’d ask if you know anyone else who might find my services useful. Are any of your colleagues or acquaintances looking for a marketing strategist?
If you can think of anyone who is, or anyone who might be open to a pitch from me, I’d really appreciate it if you could connect us. Feel free to pass along my contact information or let me know who to get in touch with.
P.S. I offer $150 off of an invoice for every successful referral my customers make. I know your reputation is important to you, and I want to make it worth your time.
You can make the same ask over the phone or any other method of communication. If you want to stand out, consider sending a letter or postcard. Get creative!
Time your request well.
It’s important to ask for referrals at the right time. You might want to wait until after you’ve completed a project or a customer becomes a repeat buyer, but asking immediately after a sale might get better results.
A customer who just made a purchase has decided to spend money on your product or service—so they obviously think you’re worth it. They’re in a positive frame of mind, that makes them more likely to agree to refer someone.
It helps if your customers get a tangible benefit from referring people to you. Let’s talk about that:
3. Create a referral system.
What do your customers get from referring another customer to you? “They get to feel good about supporting my business” isn’t good enough.
Research shows that offering a referral incentive results in getting more referrals. It also shows that the size of the reward doesn’t matter (so you don’t need to calculate the largest reward you can offer and still stay profitable).
Instead, test different offers to see what works best with your customers. Research shows that non-cash incentives are actually more motivating than cash ones. So start there. Can you offer a bottle of wine? A free month subscription to your service? An entry into a draw for a vacation?
Dropbox famously offers additional cloud storage space for referrals:
Dropbox’s simple referral program drove huge gains for the company. And it didn’t offer a monetary reward.
It was a big contributor to their staggering growth—3,900% in 15 months. It’s a simple program, and probably cost Dropbox very little. But it was incredibly effective.
You should also consider referral incentives that include a reward for the new customer. Some companies have found this to be effective in attracting new business.
Straight Talk Wireless assigns each customer a unique code. When you give that code to a friend and they join Straight Talk, you both get bonus points that can be cashed in for rewards:
People like getting free stuff for their friends. Use that to your advantage to drive referrals.
4. Offer a referral yourself.
One of the best ways to show your customers that you value them—and to remind them that referrals are important—is to refer them to someone.
Maybe you know someone who could benefit from your customer’s product. Or you have a contact at another organization that can solve your customer’s problem. Whatever the case, make that connection.
Like providing great service, this is another way to give your customers as much value as possible.
5. Partner with another business.
Not all referrals come from customers. Other businesses can refer customers to you, too. This works best when your businesses complement each other.
For example, if you offer web design services, you might partner with a copywriter. If you’re a plumber, you could partner with an electrician.
It doesn’t need to be anything official. If you meet someone with a complementary business, let them know that you’ll send some people their way. Once you’ve referred a couple customers to them, consider asking them to return the favor.
You can get other benefits out of this relationship as well. Maybe you could run a promotion together or offer a deal on packaged services from both companies. There are lots of ways you can benefit from partnering with another organization. But you won’t get any of them if you don’t reach out and ask.
Local meetups and business groups are great for making these connections. Find business owners, marketers, and salespeople who are looking to make connections in your field, and reach out to them.
Consider a full-fledged partner program.
If you’re serious about using this method to grow your business, consider starting a partner program. These programs include startup kits, support from your business, tiered rewards, and all sorts of other features:
Large-scale partner programs like Xero’s drive huge amounts of business. You don’t need something this complicated—you can use a smaller partner program to get similar benefits.
You don’t have to start with a fully formed program. But if you want to rely on referrals, give some thought to how you might motivate your partners.
Many successful companies drive a huge amount of revenue from their partner programs. It’s a good strategy, and it can work very well—but you have to understand what your partners want and how you can provide value to them.
6. Make it easy.
It never ceases to amaze me how many companies make it hard to do what they want you to do. They say “get in touch!” and bury their contact information at the bottom of an About page.
Don’t make this mistake.
Make it as easy as possible for your customers to refer you. Put your contact information in obvious places on your website, business cards, and emails.
You might also create an email referral template to share with your contacts. Don’t push this onto you customers, but offer it when you reach out to them.
For example, you might ask “Do you know anyone who could benefit from my services? If you’d like, I’d be happy to provide you with an email template to save time on the referral.”
What should an email referral template look like?
It can say whatever you want. Here’s an example:
I’d like you to meet Tanya. She’s been helping me with [project] for the past [time], and she’s done a fantastic job!
You mentioned that you were interested in [service] too, so I thought I’d connect you. I hope you can find a way to work together!
It can be that simple. Just fill in a couple pieces of information for your customer, and they’ll have a referral email to send with a single click.
Of course, not everyone will want a template for this type of outreach. But having one on hand means you can offer it, and if even one person decides to refer you because of that template, it will have been worth it.
7. Stay in touch with your contacts.
Your customers are busy. So are your industry contacts. There may be situations where they could refer you to someone they know, but they forget to do it.
There’s an easy solution to this problem: stay in touch.
With current clients and customers, this is easy. You’ll probably be exchanging emails or calls at some point anyway. And if you have a reminder in your email signature that you’re always looking for referrals, you’ll stay top of mind.
Customers and contacts that you don’t talk to regularly require more intentional action. Get into the habit of sending a monthly or quarterly email to stay in touch. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy; it can be as simple as this:
It’s been a while since we’ve chatted, and I thought I’d check in to see how things are going. I see you’re still working at PLC ONE—do you have any exciting projects coming up? I’d love to hear about them!
And, as always, please let me know if I can be of any help.
You can bring up the issue of referrals if you’d like, or keep it very informal and social. The former has the advantage of cutting to the chase, while the second puts less pressure on your contact.
Either works. Which you choose depends on your personal style, your contacts, and whether you’re actively looking for referrals.
Start with one request.
The best way to get customer referrals is to make a habit out of the steps above:
- Provide great service.
- Ask for referrals.
- Create a referral system.
- Offer a referral yourself.
- Partner with another business.
- Make it easy.
- Stay in touch with your contacts.
But you don’t need to do all of them right away. To start, get in touch with one customer. Send one email asking if one of your customers knows anyone who could benefit from your product or service.
Do that today, and you’ll be on your way to getting a lot more referrals.