Asking for Referrals

What is it in our psyche that stops us asking for referrals?

Let’s look at a typical scenario.  You’ve been working with a client for a couple of years, you get on really well with them and they’ve given you a lot of positive feedback on your work.

From their perspective they’d be more than happy to recommend you or refer you to business contacts or associates.  In some cases they’re probably wondering why you haven’t asked!

From our own perspective we worry that by asking for a referral we might damage our relationship with them.  We worry that they’ll think we’re being pushy or salesy.

Let’s take a step back for a moment.  By delivering great solutions that meet the needs of your clients and backing it up with great service, you’ve earned the right to ask for a referral.  Provided that you ask in an appropriate manner, we’ve found that most clients will react positively to such a request.

Why should we ask?

There are numerous ways to find new clients from networking to building strategic alliances to cold calling.  The big advantage in receiving a warm referral is that because you’re getting a recommendation your relationship and trust building with the third party is accelerated and the sales cycle is therefore generally shorter.

A drawback can be that unlike cold calling where you can approach specific targets, with referrals you get what you receive.  A good way to overcome this can be to be specific when asking for referrals by quoting specific industries, company types or even to name particular businesses.

Who should we ask?

We’d say any client or business associate with whom you have a good relationship.  Longevity of the relationship is probably less important than credibility built up through your expertise and performance.

When should we ask?

At any time when your relationship is good.  Particularly when you’ve just successfully delivered a product or service, or if you’ve done a favour for your client.

If you’ve just had a service issue or some other problem, it may be best to wait until you’ve rebuilt the relationship.

How should we ask?

In a non-pushy, non-threatening manner!

This could sound something like:

‘We really appreciate your business and we’re keen to expand our own business with other successful people like you.  Who do you know that you think I should be talking to?’

Your client will likely say one of three things in response to this:

  1. ‘I can’t think of anyone / I’d rather not’
    This person will be in the minority, probably one out of ten or twenty that you ask.  If this is their response, let it go.  Trying to push it will damage your relationship.
  2. ‘Of course, here are some names’
    This is clearly the best result for us, but again an immediate response like this will likely only happen in about one in ten instances.  But when it does happen it certainly makes it all worthwhile!
  3. ‘Hmm, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you
    We’ve found this to be the most likely response.  Again, don’t push it immediately but next time you’re speaking to them ask them a follow up question.  This could be something like’Did you think of any potential contacts for me to talk to?They may or may not give you a name, it can be likely they’ll say they’re still thinking about it. Whilst they say they’re thinking about it, keep following up and keep asking them.  If you drop it so will they, but as long as they say they’re thinking about it you’re entitled to keep asking!

So, who else can we ask for referrals?  We’d say anybody that has the potential to refer you to a potential client! For example, if you’re a member of a networking group, use them to access their membership.  Networking clubs like the Chamber of Commerce and BNI will happily introduce you to other members.  But you have to ask!

In summary, we’d say that asking our best clients for referrals is a much underutilised method of finding new clients.  Our natural conservatism and reticence to appear pushy often restrict the growth potential of our business.

Most of your clients expect you to ask them, so start asking – You might be surprised at the outcome!

Contact Brendan now while it's on your mind