Satisfied customers can be your most powerful marketing tool.

When it comes to growing your company’s credibility and profit, happy customers are your secret weapon. From stronger brand loyalty to more repeat spending, their buying habits can directly contribute to your business growth. Perhaps one of the best characteristics of a satisfied shopper is their willingness to provide the referrals you need to grow.

Learning how to ask for referrals can be your fast track to a better bottom line. Not only is it a low-cost marketing tactic, but it creates big results. One study found that, of the companies that implement a referral strategy, 71% saw higher conversion rates and 59% saw a higher lifetime value per customer.

If you want to start earning more for every dollar you invest, read this article to multiply your high-quality leads.

How to ask for referrals

No matter how long a customer or client has been with your business, it can still feel awkward to ask for a referral. You may be worried about your referral request sounding pushy, or you simply don’t want an existing customer to feel like they’re a marketing tool.

However, landing a successful referral isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Texas Tech University found that 83% of satisfied customers are open to providing referrals. And they will if you have a solid game plan for asking them.

Follow the simple steps below to make a direct ask, and you’ll never have to overthink your referral requests again.

1. Identify your most loyal customers

Sending direct asks to your entire customer base can be a waste of valuable time. Just as you need to narrow down your audience for day-to-day marketing materials, you need to target the potential referrers who are most likely to take action.

To start, think about which customers already have a strong relationship with your brand. Some questions that can help you build and refine your list include:

  • Who is a returning customer?
  • Who has had a positive customer service experience?
  • Who consistently opens and engages with your marketing emails or newsletters?
  • Who consistently engages with your brand on social media?
  • Who has left an online review without prompting in the past?
  • Who have you personally had a positive, direct conversation with before?

The best customers to target are those who know the value your brand provides, especially if they’ve already proven to be advocates in the past.

2. Personalize your message

Whether you’re speaking face-to-face, sending an email, or making a phone call, you don’t want your customer to feel like they’re receiving the same pitch as hundreds of others. Your best customers deserve a more personalized message that’s more than an ask, so toss aside your scripts and copied-and-pasted email templates.

The content of your ask should include more than a request. Tie the ask into a message your customer finds value in. For example, when emailing a current client, a web designer may lead with a link to a blog post about website content trends in the client’s industry. Then the content naturally transitions to the referral request. Don’t forget to address your customer by name as you craft your message.

To increase the likelihood of getting a customer referral even further, many business owners will also offer an incentive (such as a gift card, store credit, or swag) with the ask. Your customers know that you care about your business growth, but this simple addition can prove that you’re happy to invest in your current buyers, too.

3. Ask at the right time

Even if a customer has had great experiences with your company in the past, they probably aren’t as excited about the brand six months after their last purchase. You want to catch your potential referral sources immediately following a good experience.

As an example, an e-commerce company may ask for a referral right after a shopper’s most recent purchase is delivered or after their customer support team helps a customer find a solution.

5 ways to increase referrals

While handpicking customers and asking for referrals will get you the best results, you definitely don’t want any missed opportunities. Although your biggest advocates may be the most likely to contribute to your referral marketing, they’re not the only ones with connections to offer.

Still, it can be hard to justify dedicating resources to lukewarm candidates. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies you can use to boost your referrals without sending direct asks to everyone.

1. Set up a referral program

Referral programs are a popular strategy for driving new business. By providing even a small incentive to anyone who successfully refers a new customer, even your most passive shoppers may be spurred into action. Proving the effectiveness of this marketing strategy, the majority of business-to-business (B2B) marketers agree that referral programs result in a lower cost-per-lead than all other marketing channels.

As you finalize the logistics of your referral program, we recommend setting up a dedicated landing page for it. This will not only help you direct customers to more information on your referral program promotions, but it can also draw in referrers who are simply browsing your site or searching on Google.

2. Partner with an organization

A unique referral marketing strategy you can use to passively gain referrals is networking with relevant organizations in your area. These may include professional associations, leadership programs, coworking spaces, or even social meetups—any group with members who may consistently need products or services like yours.

When you develop a relationship with an organization, you become the group’s go-to suggestion whenever members ask for related products or services. You gain access to a new pool of connections that you can develop close relationships with. Plus, the organization’s trust in you will help you gain immediate credibility among new members, including those you wouldn’t have otherwise connected with.

3. Collaborate with other professionals

Similar to partnering with organizations, collaborating with other professionals can help you connect with another company’s customer base. Building a relationship with brands that have similar but not overlapping products or services can help you get a consistent flow of referred customers.

You may find this type of partnership between photographers and videographers, dentists and orthodontists, and much more. To promote this partnership, both business owners may link to each other’s websites on their own sites under a “partners” page or similar category.

If you provide a professional service, you may even find it helpful to work with people in the same industry. If a company is all booked up, they may turn a qualified lead to you as a second choice.

4. Automate a follow-up

While you probably don’t have the time to send a handwritten note to every customer, you can automate a short and sweet request to all of the willing referrers you may have left behind. You can set up an email, SMS, or even chatbot message that sends to a customer as soon as they make a purchase or finish an interaction with a sales rep. Some companies will even follow up with previous referrers, perhaps a month or two later, to see if they know someone else who may be interested in what your company offers.

Though an automated message won’t be as personal as a direct ask, make sure it feels more personable than a cold call. For example, you may use more conversational language and thank them for purchasing, reaching out, or taking whatever specific action that spurred the follow-up.

If you’re worried about not providing your customer with enough value in return, keep in mind that automated follow-ups don’t have to ask for a direct customer referral. More and more businesses are simply asking for online reviews—which, in many ways, have become the new word-of-mouth marketing.

Online reviews are just about as effective as traditional referrals, influencing 93% of shoppers’ purchase decisions. They act like referrals, too. Shoppers look to consult real people during the customer journey, and often, the most convenient recommendations come from the people who share their experiences online. Using customer review software can simplify your automation setup so you can get to sending review invites and gaining leads faster.

5. Engage on social media

These days, most brands are using social media for marketing purposes. By gearing your strategy toward building referrals, you can find potential customers with the help of your entire following—not just those who have purchased from your brand.

One effective tactic you can use is promoting user-generated content. Like all consumers, social media users like to feel valued and heard, so when you share their content that features your brand, you encourage them to keep tagging and indirectly promoting you.

Social media contests are also commonly used to increase referrals. Many brands ask for their followers to tag their friends—which takes little effort on their part—in exchange for an entry to win a grand prize. This is a great way to get hundreds of referrals at once. While many of these tags will simply build brand recognition, a percentage of users tagged can become interested leads.

B2B businesses, in particular, should amp up their LinkedIn engagement, as 87% of B2B buyers will favor professionals referred by their LinkedIn networks.

Improve results with online reviews

Word-of-mouth referrals may lead to high conversion rates, but you need more than traditional referrals to experience business growth. If you want to speed up results and get new clients or customers faster, you can add an online review management tool to your referral strategy.

Online reviews are testimonials that can reach thousands of people at once and influence their decisions. When you start making it your priority to respond to this feedback and get more glowing reviews, you can speed up your progress even more to hit your business goals.

Matt Boyce
Matt Boyce Head of SMB Marketing

Matt Boyce is a marketing and business professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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