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Pinpointing The Right Time to Ask for Referrals (and How to Do It)

Travis Balinas
June 29, 2015

It’s no secret that as a business you need to stay top-of-mind with your clients so that they can give you that sweet repeat business and even sweeter referral business — truly the gift that keeps on giving. Being excellent at what you do helps you attract new clients, but there’s a lot that you can and should be doing to set yourself up for referrals. Getting the ask or the timing wrong can mean losing your chance, so having a plan is essential.

Most business owners realize that referrals are critical to their bottom line. shared a survey that found that for B2B brands, referrals converted two times better than websites or social media. A Nielsen study found that 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising — an increase of 18 percent since 2007.

It’s no wonder experts say that referrals can be more beneficial to your success than advertising. Easier said than done, you say? We get it. We’ve all been there. You ask a client for referrals only to get an empty promise to follow up, or even a straight-up no. But know this: you are in control of the process and results of your referral ask.

Before you can ask for referrals, you must realize how important referrals are to your business, then commit to prioritizing them. Put the work in so that you can maximize your results; you’ll be glad you did.

Referrals don’t just happen.

Asking customers for referrals must become part of your routine. It must be a consistent business practice that becomes a natural part of your daily work. But before you make your first referral ask, you need to develop a strategy.

Author, trainer and former financial adviser Frank Maselli says many people use archaic techniques or just awkwardly ask clients for names. Instead, Maselli recommends changing the conversation and reframing your ask so you don’t sound like you’re requesting a favor. David Finkel, author of “Scale: 7 Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back,” says when most businesses talk about referrals, they are referring to word-of-mouth referrals, or what he calls “passive referrals.” Instead, Finkel recommends an active referral strategy.

Before you get started, take a look at a few of the popular resources we’ve created for what to do (and not do) when asking for referrals:

The first step in developing your strategy is to decide which type of referrals are best for your business by assessing what has and hasn’t worked for you and similar businesses in the past. There are three types of referrals:

 Keep in mind that word-of-mouth referrals are great, but for many industries, the power of an online referral can be more visual and permanent. Remember that 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

 You will, of course, need to customize your strategy to your business’ specific requirements, but it’s helpful to begin with some best business practices in mind. Joanne Black, author of “Pick Up the Damn Phone,” offers the following advice:

  1. Understand what you are asking.
  2. Earn trust first.
  3. Be specific about what you need.
  4. Ask for action, not a contact.
  5. Get a commitment for a confirmation.
  6. Immediately thank your source.
  7. Follow up on the referral.
  8. Thank your source again.
  9. If you make a sale, thank your source again.

Bonus Content: Getting referral business doesn’t have to be challenging. Grab your copy of our pocket guide: 10 Steps to Getting Referrals Leads from Your Clients.


Timing is key.

There are no absolutes when it comes to timing except this one thing: your customer must be completely satisfied with your services or product. There are no referrals without happy customers. Asking an unhappy customer for a referral isn’t just a waste of time — it could further damage your reputation with them and their networks.

Getting the timing right can be tricky. Asking too early can make a bad impression, and asking too late can mean your request gets ignored. Experts say that the right time to ask for referrals varies by industry. The Small Business Administration advises business owners to: “Ask for referrals at a time when the customer is in a mood to give them.” While that’s true, it varies a bit from customer to customer. You want to be sure your customer is in a good mood, so catch them at a point when they’re satisfied with your service and are not in the throes of buyer’s remorse.

Ray Sliverstein calls referrals “the number-one tool in your tool kit. “Get in the habit of reaching for it often–say, as often as you might glance at your watch.” Silverstein advises businesses to follow up after the transaction with a thank you and a question: “Do you know anyone else who can benefit from my services?” Silverstein also recommends that when you begin working with a new customer, bring up referrals early. You could mention that you have a profile on Yelp, for example, or give the customer a few extra business cards to give to friends who might need your help.

In his article, Finkel suggests creating referral systems, including a script that requests referrals at the point of purchase; as soon as the customer makes the purchase, thank them for their business and ask for the names of two people who would also benefit from their service. Another of his ideas is a “gift for your friend” campaign that uses gift certificates for the customer’s friends after the transaction is complete.

Referral strategies vary, but an analysis of the advice experts give shows that the best time to ask for referrals is immediately after your successful transaction with them is complete.

For a real estate agent, this could mean getting permission from your client for a Facebook post of a congratulatory photo of you at closing on your new dream home. This way, all of the client’s friends and their friends see your success, and those who need your service can easily find you.

For more transactional businesses, like HVAC repair, plumbers, salons, spas, etc., offering a small discount for a quick Yelp or Google review before a customer pays would be an easy way to get the word out to people who are searching for your service — and reputation — online.

Obtain a referral in 3 easy steps.

Here is how the experts say you get it done, step-by-step: 

Step 1: Do your homework. Determine what has worked for your business and others like yours. You could ask your client for referrals before or after you complete your work. You could send an email immediately after your transaction including an easy way to post a review on a social media site or other website.

Step 2:  Deliver exceptional service, ensuring that your customer is happy — so happy that they will share their love for you with their friends.

Step 3: The moment a customer compliments you, accept the compliment and thank them, then make your referral ask. Be polite and direct. Make it easy for them, and thank them for their business — and referrals.


Bringing it all together, it’s important to remember a few things about referrals. First, you are the driving force behind your own success. Do good work and be specific about what you want from your clients. Second, time your ask appropriately. Make sure that your job really is done. And lastly, make it a habit. The more you do it, the more natural this process will be in the future.

BONUS CONTENT: Getting referral business doesn’t have to be challenging. Grab your copy of our pocket guide: 10 Steps to Getting Referrals Leads from Your Clients.



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