Digital marketing is incredibly valuable when it comes to driving sustainable business growth. Yet, it would be a huge mistake to forget about the most basic (yet effective!) form of marketing there is: word-of-mouth marketing.
Client referrals, which bring in new, likely-to-be-loyal clientele, are some of the best contacts a company can make. Referrals are a powerful selling tool. However, for them to work for you, you first need to get them.
So how can you earn more referral business? We’ve got a guide right here.
Why Is it Important to Ask for Referrals?
Human nature is such that people would much rather do business with people they know — or with companies recommended to them — than with total strangers. So few things are more likely to convert leads and prospects into clients than a ringing endorsement from friends or family. A referral from a satisfied past or current client is like a five-star review, written directly to someone who would be a good fit for your business.
Now, you could sit back and wait for such powerful referrals to come your way. If you consistently do exceptional work for your clients, this may indeed earn you a few here and there. However, taking a more active approach and specifically asking for referrals can amplify the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing. But, for some reason, many business owners are not asking for referrals on a regular basis.
So, what are some of the benefits of asking for referrals?
One is related to the quality of the potential clients referred to you. Since your customers likely hang out with others like them, the individuals they refer will likely immediately be enthusiastic about what you have to offer. They’ll already be members of your target audience and, therefore, more likely to invest in your services or products.
Best of all, thanks to your referrer, they will already have a measure of trust in your company. Brand loyalty and evangelism are just a stone’s throw away from there.
In other words, asking for referrals is essential for bringing in valuable new customers, especially for small businesses. But how should you go about asking?
9 Ways to Ask for Referrals
Asking for referrals is like asking for reviews. There’s no use in and no need for being shy or sheepish. More often than not, clients are happy to oblige your request and to help out people in their circles who need what you offer.
To get more referrals, incorporate these nine good habits into your daily business routine.
1. Include Referrals in Your Initial Discussion
Raising the subject early on can calm any nerves you have about making referral requests and make clients more likely to follow through out of a sense of obligation.
So whenever you start work with a new client, ask them to agree to a simple deal. If you do a great job for them, they’ll tell others about you. Why does this work? It’s balanced. It’s a low-pressure ask in that it gives clients the choice to refer you based on the results you deliver. Yet, it also sets the expectation that, if those results are good, they should send like-minded people your way.
2. Deliver Exceptional Service
You won’t succeed at getting any referrals at all unless the quality of your service goes above and beyond the standard for your industry. Your company should shine and it should impress consistently (not just long enough to get the referral).
3. Cash in Those Compliments
One of the best times to ask for a referral is just after a client finishes raving about how much they love your work. If you strike while the iron’s hot, you increase the chances of them recommending you exponentially.
If a customer is pleased with your work, thank them and say something along the lines of, “It’s great to hear that you’re happy with your experience. Do you know of others who could benefit from our services?”
4. Set & Pursue Referral Goals
As with anything, practice makes perfect. The more you practice promoting word-of-mouth marketing surrounding your business or your agency, the more recommendations you’ll get.
Try this: Determine a reasonable number of referrals you think you can get in a week or month — it could be 5, 10, or more — and challenge yourself to meet that goal. Once you do, see how much higher you can raise the bar. Soon enough, your clients will be doing a good deal of your lead generation for you!
5. Be Specific About Your Needs
Not all referrals are equal. In fact, they’re only valuable if they’re high-quality referrals. It’s no use if your clients recommend your company to any and everyone. The people they recommend should be ones with similar interests, who would be genuinely attracted to your business and what it has to offer.
To make sure that they are, when requesting a recommendation, be specific about the kind of referral you’re seeking. If you’re looking for individuals with a high net worth, say so. If you’re seeking out companies in a certain industry, mention that. Tell your clients who your target audience is and let them know the type of client who typically needs your products or services.
You’ll make it easier for them to identify who in their network is worth referring. And you won’t waste valuable time pursuing referrals that aren’t the right fit and won’t yield the results you want.
6. Capitalize on Your Other Marketing Strategies
Referral and word-of-mouth marketing need not be a standalone effort. Integrate it with your other marketing strategies such as email and social media marketing. For example, one very successful social media marketing method is inviting your followers, some of whom are likely your clients, to tag a friend in exchange for a small reward.
This social media contest is an easy way to get referrals to your business — or to at least expand your brand’s presence through your existing customers.
7. Give Referrals Yourself
You get what you give. Pay it forward by providing referrals to businesses and partners you believe in. People will be more inclined to return the favor if you do. Plus, contributing to the greater good of your community will bolster your reputation.
8. Develop a Customer Loyalty Program
Your most loyal clients and evangelists are the most likely to point others to your business. Why not develop a customer loyalty program that incentivizes both repeat business and positive word-of-mouth?
Enticing incentives might include freebies, discounts, exclusive offers/access, gift cards, or other perks. Consider what would appeal most to your customer base. The better the incentives, the more referrals you can earn.
9. Network, Network, Network!
Make the most of every networking opportunity. Plan what you’ll say in advance. This will prevent on-the-spot brain freezes and rambles and ensure that your message is concise and effective. Also, be sure to convey personality and enthusiasm, which is what people are drawn to.
Make it a goal to talk to at least three people at each event. Tell them about your business, pass out business cards, and invite them to visit your website, store, or office. Especially with something tangible to remember you by — your business card — they just may take action and even tell others about you.
Lastly, don’t forget to follow up with those you meet with a networking email to keep the lines of communication open and begin building real relationships.
What To Do After You Ask for Referrals
After you ask for referrals from your clients, customers, and other businesses, there are a few more steps you’ll want to take!
Show Your Clients Appreciation for Referrals
As the saying goes, “a person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.” Always, always show your appreciation to someone who has given you a client referral. Never simply take their referral without a thank you or follow up of some sort, such as a handwritten note or an email.
If they’ve provided you with an exceptionally valuable referral, consider one-upping yourself with something more substantial, such as a tasteful gift or treating them to lunch (when in-person meetings can resume).
Showing appreciation is always worth the effort! If you don’t want to put money into it, don’t fret. A heartfelt “thank you”, in whatever form it takes, is always well-received.
Return the Favor (If Possible)
As mentioned, it’s great to be referred by others but your referral pipeline will be short if you don’t reciprocate. Make a note of clients or businesses who refer customers to you so that, when able, you can return the favor. This will keep you top-of-mind and give referrers good reason to keep sending people your way in the future. And who knows what other opportunities reciprocation could open for you?
Make Referrals a Top Priority
Your business is, at its core, a network of connections. Use those connections to bolster your marketing strategy.
Remember that each referral expands your web, netting you more clients and, ultimately, more profit. So it’s vital to find ways to connect with your existing customers and business partners to keep your business top-of-mind and ask for referrals. These should be part of your daily activities and, once they are, you’ll find that they quickly become second nature. The referrals will start rolling in and your business will grow organically.
Besides this, though, we also covered the importance of doing exceptional work for your clients and being deliberate about requesting referrals. The best times to ask for them include during your initial project discussion and when a client expresses satisfaction with your work.
As for how to make your referral requests, you can work them into your other marketing strategies, aim to make an impression while networking, or even create a formal customer loyalty program to incentivize clients.
Whatever strategies you choose, though, keep these four things in mind. Be worth referring, be specific, be consistent, and don’t be shy!