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How to Ask Your Clients for Referrals

Susan Gold

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If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

Picture yourself at a barbeque with some family and a few friends. You casually mention a new restaurant you’ve discovered and how much you enjoy it. Your brother-in-law listens intently and then says, “That sounds amazing! I have a friend who’s a big foodie and he’s always looking for new dining spots to try. I’m going to tell him about it.”

In that moment, you’ve effortlessly sparked a referral.

It’s as simple as sharing a recommendation with a friend. And just like being at a party, the more genuine connections you make with your clients, the more likely you are to expand your network and discover new opportunities. Asking current clients for referrals is really just about tapping into their networks to grow your business–and help your clients’ connections.

Asking for Referrals Is Not Easy

Having said that, asking for referrals is not comfortable or natural for a lot of people, me included! Rejection can feel intimidating, potentially damaging to a relationship, or even just intrusive. The anxiety is real and can often stem from simply not knowing what to say, when to ask, or if offering incentives is appropriate.

Many professions and industries, such as lawyers and doctors, refer one another, but it is very rare for them to ask for a client or patient introduction.

 Generally, the more specialized the field the more likely that is to happen. A CPA refers a non-profit to another CPA who specializes in that space, for example. Or an attorney who has a client needing specialized support in an area that they are not experienced in. In these situations, there is often a referral mentality and well-established programs that encourage giving and receiving—sometimes supported by compensation budgets, processes, and detailed tracking. Other times driven by pure goodwill.

Unfortunately, most industries haven’t built a culture of asking current clients for referrals, so it is up to you to set your own stage. Here are some best practices to consider that will help you grow your business based on the “know, like, and trust” reputation you’ve already built.

How to Ask for Referrals

  1. Start with clients that have strong relationships with your firm. When clients have expressed feedback on the value you have provided and feel respected, they are more likely to advocate for your business.
  2. Choose the right moment to ask. Timing is everything. When you’ve achieved a major milestone or receive praise for the work you and your team have provided, that is an optimal window for a referral request.
  3. Tailor your referral to their communication style. Asking in a way that feels natural and conversational eases the hesitation that often gets in the way.
  4. Outline what to say and practice out loud.  This can create a more natural flow when the timing is right.
  5. Express gratitude and reciprocate with an offer to help. What do they need? How can you help them? Show appreciation for their support and trust in you and your firm. 
  6. Keep track of referrals received and opportunities to ask by leveraging technology. Use custom fields in your CRM to keep track of referral requests, introductions made, and clients created by referrals. This streamlines the process, making it much easier.
  7. Stay connected with regular communication and value-added touchpoints, such as sharing articles of interest. This can increase the likelihood of receiving referrals in the future.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “that’s all well and good, but how do I approach the conversation?” Here are a few suggestions below.  When making your request, it’s equally important to stay true to yourself and your style as it is to stay consistent with your client relationship.

2 Types of Approaches

The Case Study 2-Step Approach

When you can quantify your impact and results achieved for a client, it’s a great opportunity to build a case study. It’s a great compliment for the client that you want to highlight the work done for their company, even if you can’t be specific as to the company name or identify the client. Here’s a script template for a client named Joe.

Asking for the Case Study:

Hi Joe. I hope you are doing well today. I’ve been thinking about our project (work together), and I’d love to build a case study that describes the initial need for our services, why you selected us, how we approached the solution, and the specific results and impact we’ve had. Would you be up to that?

Build or completing the case study is a great segue into asking Joe for a referral.

Asking for the Referral:

Joe, this is such a great story and we’re proud of the work we’ve done together. You probably know companies in your network that would benefit from our services. Is there anyone that comes to mind? We’re looking to work with more companies (in your industry or other industries such as XXX) that have the same concerns or issues that you’ve faced.

The Direct Referral Ask Approach

You’ve just received fantastic client feedback on your effort and your instinct tells you this is an open window for your request.

Joe, thank you so much for that wonderful feedback. Hearing that we’ve made a big difference for you and your firm is our goal – it’s what we live for! I’m wondering if you have ideas of other companies that could use the same impact. Does anyone come to mind who has the same issues you’ve faced – either companies or advisors who work with companies?

Just like sharing a great restaurant lead with your brother-in-law who hangs out with foodies, asking your happy clients for introductions to other companies that need help can become a natural discussion. Once you know what to say, all you need is an open window. You’ll find that most people are willing to work with you!

If you’re still stuck in how to eloquently and professionally ask for referrals, or how to make this part of your marketing strategy, let’s connect and I can help guide you.