For as long as anyone can remember, salespeople have suggested that the very best way to acquire a new client was through a warm referral from an existing client. The salespeople who would tell you they prefer referrals would also tell you that they would prefer not to make cold calls (a call to someone who is not expecting your call).
If you pay attention, you will notice that many of the people who resist making cold calls also don’t ask for referrals either. If you look closely, you might see what cold calls and referrals have in common. But there are other reasons you might not ask that we can easily resolve. Here is how you can ask for and obtain referrals from your existing clients.
You Waited too Long
One of the reasons salespeople don’t ask for referrals is because they wait too long. They develop a relationship, win the client’s business, deliver the result they promised, and then they disappear for some time.
Because they waited such a long time to call their client to ask for the referral, it feels weird. Asking them to make an introduction feels like an imposition. There are a couple of factors at play here.
The request for a referral is no longer connected to the value you created for your existing client because you have allowed too much time to pass. Instead of asking when your client was still experiencing the good feelings from the work you did, the value you created isn’t top of mind. Value degrades over time (What have you done for me lately?)
Because you are outside the time frame that asking for a referral would have seemed appropriate, and are claiming new value without creating any for the client. You are also asking them to turn over their friends, family, and peers to a salesperson whose sole intention to sell them something.
Your Fear of Hearing the Word No
Some people are afraid of hearing the word no when they make an ask. There is no reason to fear the word no when every client you will ever acquire and take care of is a solid no before they are a solid yes.
No means a couple of things. First, it means I didn’t hear enough value in what you offered for me to say yes. Second, it means not now. Over time, you will have a prospect tell you they will never buy from you who will, at some point, become your client.
The truth about asking for referrals is that no one is likely to tell you no. Mostly they politely agree to provide you with a referral and then do nothing. You will hear a yes followed by some form of a hedge, like: “Sure. Let me think about who it might make sense to introduce you to, and I’ll get back to you.”
The client knows you are more likely to give up and go away than bother them about the very soft commitment they gave you.
There is nothing to fear when asking for a meeting, requesting a referral, or asking for your client’s business. If they have concerns that cause them to reject your request, you can ask to resolve their concerns and try again. If the answer is an unqualified no, you move on and try again later (but not too much later).
How to Ask for a Referral
If you want referrals, there is a way to go about getting them that increases your effectiveness. Here is the setup.
- Start When You Sign a Contract: The best time to set up your future ask for a referral is when you are signing the contract with your new client. You want to ask for an introduction to someone in your client’s world early, contingent on them being happy with the outcomes you deliver.
- Explain Your Need for Referrals: While you are setting up the ability to ask for referrals in the future, you explain that your business is one that grows by referrals. You also tell them that it would be helpful if they could introduce you to someone who might value the outcomes you are about to create for your new client.
- Thank you. “Thank you for trusting me with your business. My business depends on my clients introducing me to other people who might value the outcomes I am going to create for you. If everything is perfect and I do good work, may I ask you to make an introduction to someone you believe might need my help in the future?”
Here is how you ask:
- After Execution, Ask: When you are following up after you have generated the promised results, you now need to ask for a referral. If you don’t want the awkward feeling of asking after months (or years) have passed, ask when the value you created is still fresh in your client’s mind. The fact that you are following up will help you in getting the introduction.
- Forestall Their Concerns: Because someone is making an introduction, you need to assure them that you aren’t going to make them look bad by being a pushy, smarmy, self-oriented salesperson. You need to let them know that you will do nothing to damage their relationship and that it is okay if they don’t buy anything from you now or in the future.
- How you ask. “I am thrilled that you are pleased with the results. If you are completely satisfied, can I ask you to introduce me to one person who might benefit from these same results? I promise I will not pitch them, and even if they don’t need me now, they may need me later. Could you connect us with an email and ask them to take my call? “
If you want to feel better about asking for referrals and increasing the likelihood of having your clients agree to make introductions, you might want to follow this formula or something like it.
If you want to make successful referrals part of building your pipeline, the best thing you can do is to earn them by executing and producing results and asking early for the right to ask for them when you do.