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3 Little Things That are Quietly Killing Your Referral Business

Travis Balinas
June 15, 2022

What are you doing to build your referral business? If you’re like most of the clients we serve at OutboundEngine, the best leads and sales come from referrals.

You’re probably aware that referrals usually don’t just happen, either. Three things typically take place before you get your hands on that referred lead:

1) You provide excellent service to a customer, which builds a positive reputation up front so they actually want to send business your way.

2) That person can recall you at a moment’s notice and drops your name in conversation when the opportunity presents itself.

3) Finally, the person receiving your name takes action to get in touch with you.

Obviously building your credibility throughout the business transaction is something that’s very much in your control. And while it might seem that those last two things are out of your control, they’re not; ignoring them will quietly kill your referral business.

Silence Is Deadly

Selling to referral leads is common sense (and much easier than cold leads), but they first have to get referred to you. And before you’re even able to ask past clients for leads, there are indirect forces already at work destroying your chances for referral business. It’s not what you’re doing that’s the problem… it’s what you’re not doing that’s ultimately hurting you:

  • Not continuing to build past client relationships
  • Not staying top-of-mind
  • Not managing your reputation

When not done, these three things can directly and indirectly decrease the number of people sending you referral business. But when acknowledged and properly addressed, these are the three critical assets to your referral business success!

Here’s how those three things work to sabotage your referral business (and what you can do to change that).

1: Not Continuing to Build a Relationship

You’ve taken the time to cultivate a relationship with someone who eventually became a customer. Fantastic! But what happens after that transaction is done?

Just because you’re done working with that person in a professional setting doesn’t mean that your job is done. You got them to the table, built up their trust in you, and earned their business, but if you want them back at the table again (or sending their friends to you), then you have to keep earning their trust.

Over time, people forget things. How helpful and knowledgeable you were. The special treatment they received from you. It’s not personal, just how we’re wired. The quality of your relationship with a past client has suffered and as a result, so will your referrals.

Failure to continue to build and nurture your relationship with that person can hurt your business growth potential.

How to Fix This

If you’re only looking at this from a “what’s in it for me?” perspective, you may lose the opportunity to receive referrals from past clients. You need to present yourself to them with something of value.

While past clients might not need your services at the moment, they will still look to you for professional advice on topics you’re familiar with. This is where content marketing comes into play.

Content marketing is a way to communicate with your audience that offers them information that they want to read. Rather than information specific to your industry or your business, you talk about topics that interest your readers, solve a problem for them or provide useful information.

Did you know?

  • 70 percent of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advertisement.
  • 68 percent of consumers spend time reading content from a brand they are interested in.

For example, if I’m a loan officer and I just helped a couple refinance their house, I’ve got a pretty intimate relationship already built up with them. They won’t be looking for another refi for a while, but I still need to show that I’m valuable to them.

In my email newsletter, I could write about mortgage-adjacent topics like upgrades that add value to your home without overpricing it for the neighborhood. This information is relevant to all clients in my database and helps me become a trusted professional they can turn to for advice.

Solution: Use content marketing to help, not sell to past clients. This makes you look like an expert to them and shows that you’re interested in maintaining a good relationship.

2: Not Staying Top of Mind

This is such a common problem for all of us. We have our core relationships, family and friendships, colleagues, casual acquaintances and then everyone else. What are the odds that we’ll be able to recall at a moment’s notice the nice real estate agent who helped sell our home five years ago?

It’s not personal, either. As humans, we’re not able to maintain relationships with everyone we meet. In fact, it’s been studied and estimated that we can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships (Dunbar’s Number).

It could be years before you ever cross paths with that person again, and if you’re not easily recalled by a past client, you just lost out on a referral lead you didn’t even know existed.

How to Fix This

This is one of the easiest fixes out there and it’s the one that’s so often overlooked. Businesses spend too much marketing to audiences of people who don’t know them, rather than marketing to their past clients.

Did you know that it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one? That’s certainly not helping your referral business either. Who’s more likely to send you referral business: someone who saw your direct mail piece or someone who has actually done business with you?

So how then can you have an impact on someone’s long-term memory? Content marketing gives you a way to overcome relationship challenges, and when used in conjunction with a long-term engagement strategy, you can solve the problem of top-of-mind recall.

To impact long-term recall, you need to have a strategy in place that touches your past clients where they spend their time: email and social media. Why email and social?

  • Email marketing yields an average 4,300% return on investment for businesses in the United States.
  • 70% of people say they always open emails from their favorite companies.
  • Marketers consistently ranked email as the single most effective tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention.

When trust is established, past customers will open your emails, pass them along to friends when relevant, and engage with you on social. And when people in their social circle ask for a recommendation, your name will be first on their list because your regular emails and social posts have kept you top-of-mind with them.

In short, people are forming opinions about your business based on what other people are saying, long before you even get the chance to meet them, so it’s your job to take an active interest and convert your online audience into new customers.

Solution: Give people multiple opportunities over time to be exposed to your relationship-building content via social and email. Seeing your name in their inbox and social feeds increases their ability to easily recall your name when the time is right (bonus points if you automate this process).

3: Not Managing Your Reputation

You’ve done it! You have solidified your professional expertise and built strong relationships with past clients through content marketing, and are now top-of-mind with them too, making referring you second nature. However, there’s one last barrier to overcome: your online reputation.

Even with referrals from past clients, people are still inclined to seek you out online first and make their final determination on whether or not they want to work with you.

Did you know?

  • 50% of referrals decided not to call based on their personal research.
  • 80% of potential clients check out a company’s website.
  • 68% of consumers trust opinions posted online.
  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

In short, even if a past client gives your name to a friend, they’re going to do a lot of research on their own before getting in touch with you…if at all.

How to Fix This

While you can only do so much to shape the opinions of others, you can do quite a bit to manage what people find about you online. There are two things you can do right away to face this challenge head-on.

First, have a mobile-optimized website for your business. This is what you want to be found first, so be specific with keywords that get indexed by Google, like your industry, professional name, city, business name, etc. That way, when someone does a quick search for you, they find a welcoming, transparent page all about you, linking to your social media accounts, content, newsletters and most importantly, your reviews.

Read: How to Get More Online Reviews for Your Business

Secondly, you need to take control of your reviews online. If there are negative ones out there, do damage control. Reply to negative Yelp reviews and Facebook posts so people can see you’re working toward a resolution. Proactively, you should pick where you want your reviews to be located (your website, Google, Yelp, Facebook) and actively encourage your recent clients to leave feedback for you there.

Solution: Lessen the amount of time potential referrals spend researching you by having an up-to-date online presence that consolidates all the information they need to know in an easy-to-read format, and by encouraging new clients to leave you reviews.


If you’re doing a good job, people will be more than happy to recommend you to their friends. However, we’re all human. We forget details, lose touch and move on with our lives. If you’re not actively working to continue your relationship with past clients, stay in touch with them in a proactive way, and improve your online presence, then your referral business won’t be as strong as it should be.

Focus on the long-term engagement strategy through content marketing and automated email and social media. Be proactive in getting new clients to review you in a single place and continue to nurture those relationships for future referral business.

That’s what we do for our clients at OutboundEngine; let us help grow your business.

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