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Customer Referrals — Yours for the Asking

A few years ago, romance author Nora Roberts penned some pretty good advice: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

Yet when it comes to asking for referrals, do you suddenly become like an awkward teenager asking a crush to the prom? Maybe you fear rejection, or perhaps you feel like you’re putting someone on the spot. The truth is that many of us are bad at asking simply because we don’t know how to do it properly. 

Referrals are good business, since referred customers cost nothing to acquire. They are simply a “gift” to you from other satisfied customers. The Wharton School of Business reports that referred customers not only cost less to acquire, but have greater potential for retention and loyalty, giving them a 16% higher lifetime value than a non-referred customer.

The question is, how do you effectively ask for referrals? Here are a few suggestions that will take you from awkward to eloquent and help you leverage all the good service karma you’ve been banking. 

Identify Your Promoters

The first step is to identify the people who are most likely to become your promoters. One way to evaluate this question is with a Net Promoter Score (NPS). An NPS is a customer satisfaction indicator that measures how likely your customers are to recommend your business to someone they know. In order to determine a customer’s NPS, you simply send out a single-question survey that asks: How likely are you to recommend my company/product/service to a friend or colleague?

Respondents are asked to rate their answer based on a score of 1-10, from least likely to most likely. People who respond with a 6 or lower are not your advocates, while those customers who respond with a 7 or 8 are probably just passive fans. Those customers who give you a 9 or 10 are most likely to provide you with referrals, so now you know exactly where to begin!

When someone’s NPS has indicated that they are willing to promote you, don’t be shy about asking who they know that might benefit from your product or service. Be specific about the type of client you are looking for.

You can further narrow down quality leads by asking who they like to do business with that may also be a good match for you. Odds are, that person will be someone they have a close relationship with and, therefore, more likely to listen to what you have to offer.

Choose the Right Time

Some sales people like to ask for referrals at the very first client meeting. Every sales cycle and client relationship is different. It is often best to ask for referrals after you have had a chance to build a relationship with the customer. Once you’ve established rapport, trust and the value of your product or service, many customers will be eager to tell others about you before you even ask.

Keep in mind, however, that a buyer’s enthusiasm often fades quickly. It may be wise to ask for a referral at the time when you have solved a customer’s problem or delighted them with a new acquisition. 

Stay in Touch

It’s important to keep engaging with your advocates so they remain motivated to send you their referrals in the future. 

The first opportunity to engage after the sale is to send a personal and sincere thank you note.

Next, you can ask for customer feedback about their experience. If they are willing, their positive comments can be also be turned into testimonials — and testimonials are powerful referrals. According to Search Engine Land, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. And Nielsen reports that while 92% of people will trust a recommendation from a peer, 70% will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know. Remember that testimonials can be leveraged again and again, generating referrals for years to come. 

Subscribe to a personal or company blog and follow up with an email when you read one you really like.

Connect on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, follow updates and comment on posts.

Set up alert tracking through a system like Monitor or Google Alerts that will notify you whenever your customer’s name or business is mentioned so you can acknowledge their successes.

Look for opportunities to follow up with relevant content or let them know when a beneficial product or service becomes available. Demonstrate that you are invested in the relationship.

Treat Referrals Like Gold

There is an old poem that says, “Make new friends, but keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.” When you receive a referral, it’s important to treat them with the special care they deserve. It is a privilege to be invited into someone’s inner circle. 

Engage referrals in a friendlier way than you would a cold call. It may be appropriate to ask the referrer a few questions about the person, so you can break the ice before getting down to business when you reach out. 

Create Incentives

People are busy, and even if they mean to give you that promised referral, they may just forget. An incentive in the form of a gift card or service discount can be a good motivator and memory jogger. 

Competition inspires action. Reach out to your best customers and tell them that the first 10 to respond with a referral will win the prize. You’ll likely receive more than 10!

Be A Giver

If you’re someone who gives referrals, you’re more likely to get them in return. Be present to helping your customers and contacts grow their businesses through your network. Make introductions via email, share their work on social media or give them a great review. 

Express Your Gratitude

People respond to gratitude. Say thank you for customer referrals, even if it turns out not to be a match. 

Also thank the referral for giving you their time. You can also ask if they know someone else who might benefit from your offering. 

When you focus on your strongest customer relationships — people with whom you’ve had successes or who have given you a great survey or review — you’ll find that asking for referrals is easier than you think. Neuroscience has discovered that the human brain is actually wired for altruism. Giving to others triggers a pleasure response. So when you ask someone for a referral, you’re giving them an opportunity to fire up their happy chemicals. It’s a win-win!

Big Chief Creative Media is a full-service digital marketing agency that helps you define your goals, track your results and stay connected with your clients.