The Who’s, When’s, and Where’s of Asking for Referrals


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Ask­ing for refer­rals and actu­ally get­ting suc­cess­ful refer­rals are two sep­a­rate things. If you are rely­ing on your cus­tomers to tell oth­ers about your busi­ness, sim­ply because you asked them to, you’re essen­tially ask­ing your cus­tomers to do the work for you. While some cus­tomers may do this on your behalf – because they’re thrilled with your ser­vices, or because you’ve devel­oped a friend­ship – the wiser approach is to put some work into solic­it­ing refer­rals.

The refer­ral process should take some effort and time, but by break­ing it down into Who, When, and Where, you’ll be putting a frame­work around your process. Read on to get our tips for suc­cess­ful referrals.

Who should you ask for a referral?

When ask­ing for refer­rals, know who you want before you ask. Instead of merely ask­ing your cus­tomers if they could pass your name along, first research who your cus­tomers know. Google is your friend here, as are pro­fes­sional net­work­ing sites such as LinkedIn.

Start off by iden­ti­fy­ing who you want to have as a cus­tomer. From there, work back­wards. Who does that per­son know that might know your cus­tomer? Start iden­ti­fy­ing poten­tial net­work­ing cir­cles that they share in com­mon. Are they on a board together? Per­haps they went to the same uni­ver­sity, and they are part of an alumni asso­ci­a­tion. Do as much home­work as you can on your tar­get dream cus­tomers, and then you can con­fi­den­tially go to your cur­rent cus­tomer and say, “I hear you’re a friend of so and so. I’d love to meet them. Do you think we could all go out for lunch one day?”

By know­ing who you want to go after, and first doing your research, you will be increas­ing your odds of suc­cess; you won’t just be ask­ing for a refer­ral, you’ll be ask­ing for an introduction.

When should you ask for a referral?

Know­ing who to ask is step one. Your tim­ing for when to ask is step two. Let’s say you’ve iden­ti­fied your dream cus­tomer. You’ve been work­ing closely with your cur­rent cus­tomer who knows this dream cus­tomer, and you want to pull the trig­ger and ask for a meet­ing and refer­ral. Before you take this step, time it appro­pri­ately; wait for the window.

The ideal time to ask for the refer­ral and intro­duc­tion is when your cus­tomer is thrilled with your prod­uct or ser­vice. Catch them when they are com­pli­ment­ing you or when they indi­cate that they are pleased they chose to work with you. Take the moment to acknowl­edge the com­pli­ment and ask them if they would be will­ing to intro­duce you to their col­league. Ask from a posi­tion of con­fi­dence and trust — by doing this, you’re affirm­ing their choice to work with you.

Where should you ask for referrals?

Step three is know­ing where you should seek your intro­duc­tions and net­work­ing moments. A great tac­tic is to attend spe­cial events and extend an invi­ta­tion to your cus­tomers and their col­leagues whom you want to do busi­ness with. Look for engag­ing, enter­tain­ing venues that your cus­tomer and your customer’s cus­tomers would enjoy attend­ing. Chef’s din­ners, char­ity fundraiser events, or even golf tour­na­ments are oppor­tu­ni­ties for you to get to know your poten­tial cus­tomers. Invest­ing in tick­ets – even if they are expen­sive – will save you time and money you would have oth­er­wise spent on mar­ket­ing, and if the cause is a char­ity event, all the better.

Refer­rals are the best com­pli­ment in busi­ness, but they rarely just “happen”

Increas­ing your busi­ness leads by using your cur­rent net­work is one of the smartest moves you can make in busi­ness. How­ever, expect­ing cus­tomers to mar­ket on your behalf rarely hap­pens. Put some research and strat­egy into the Who’s, How’s, and Where’s of ask­ing for refer­rals, and start get­ting the leads you are after.


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