Best way to get referrals is not by asking for them

Friday, February 28, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 9

Referred prospects offer one of the strongest returns of any marketing or sales strategy you can deploy.

After all, a good referral costs nothing to generate, and a referred prospect is much more likely to become a customer than an average lead.

So why do most companies have, at best, inconsistent referral generation strategies?

Reasons often cited include not knowing how to broach the subject and being fearful of forcing an awkward conversation with a good client.

So, if having a traditional referral conversation is just not in your wheelhouse, then try a new approach.

Stop asking.

Instead, explore how to enhance the natural process whereby clients and influencers offer referrals.

Here’s an example of one way to approach influencers in your market:

Let’s say you sell custom pools, and you’re targeting a colleague at a landscaping company. Explain the type of customers with which you can do the most good, and get specific.

For example, you might say you do your best work with owners of custom homes, averaging $500K-plus, who have kids and are seeking an outside living space featuring a unique pool experience vs. simply a traditional pool.

The more specific you are, the easier it will be for influencers to relate to and remember what you do.

Then help them understand that doing that type of custom work, you routinely get requests for landscapers. Ask them who their ideal customer is, so when someone asks, you can understand who to refer their way.

Positioning the conversation from their perspective gives you leeway to talk about what you do.

Be sure to follow through by referring prospective customers to them.

When it comes to your customers, have regular check-in conversations in which you ask about what you do that they find most valuable and what you should stop doing.

Tell them how you’re going to act on that feedback, and then, of course, do so.

Wrap up your meeting by explaining what customers say differentiates you most and describing the kinds of customers with which you work best.

Explain you’re working to grow your business and ask what they’d recommend doing to get the word out about the specialized work that you do.

By asking in this low-key way, you’re avoiding a potentially uncomfortable conversation in which your customer is unable to quickly think of a prospective client to refer when prompted.

By getting them brainstorming with you, you are engaging them in a deeper way, increasing the likelihood they will retain your differentiators and keep your desire for referrals top of mind.

When a customer does refer a prospect your way, be sure to follow up with an old-fashioned handwritten thank-you note.

An email is just not as thoughtful and is likely to get buried in their inbox.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing,, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (