11 Powerful Referral Strategies That Will Supercharge Your Sales, According to Experts

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Marc Wayshak
Marc Wayshak


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salesperson leveraging powerful referral strategies to supercharge her sales

Love them or hate them, referrals are one of the most crucial components of a successful inbound sales strategy. In fact, there’s no more reliable way to grow any business than through sourcing referrals — but only if it's done in a systematic, smart way. Unfortunately, most salespeople use outdated, hit-or-miss methods to get referrals.

It’s no wonder that referrals inspire dread — and procrastination — for so many.

But referrals don’t have to be the bane of your existence. Instead, they can transform your sales for the better. The following eleven referral strategies, when implemented systematically as part of your sales approach, can double your sales within one year.

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1. Stop calling them “referrals.”

It might sound contradictory, but it’s true: Asking for “referrals” isn’t the best way to get more. Many of your customers aren’t sure what the term means. They might think you need a reference, or assume you’re just looking for names and numbers. But what you really want is an introduction. So, why not ask for one directly?

By cutting out the referral talk and simply asking for introductions, you’ll make a lot more progress in a shorter period of time. Try it the next time you’re on the hunt for referrals. Your client or friend will immediately understand what you need.

To learn more about this referral strategy, check out this video:

2. Overcome your fear of asking.

If you’re afraid of asking for introductions, you’re not alone. Many salespeople balk at the prospect of starting a conversation to ask for an introduction. The only way to get over this fear is to just ask anyway. Think of it this way: You’ll never lose business by asking for an introduction, but you never know how much business you’ll lose by not asking at all.

Armed with that mindset, it’s time to overcome your fear of asking for introductions — and just do it. Fear of asking for introductions is a major opportunity loss. Force yourself to work through the fear, and you’ll thank yourself later.

3. Phrase it as a request for help.

When you ask for introductions, it’s important to phrase it as an ask for help. Why? Because people love to help other people, especially when they already know and like them.

Begin your ask for introductions by saying, “I was wondering if I could get your help with something … ” When you do that, you’ll set yourself up for a productive chat and leave the other person feeling good about helping you out.

4. Leverage your entire network.

Take advantage of your entire network. And when it comes to referrals, this is especially true. Don’t limit yourself to just one group of your network when you ask for introductions. Your existing clients are a great resource, but they’re far from the only one.

Your past customers, industry connections, former and present colleagues, friends, family members, social acquaintances, friends of friends — everyone is fair game. The more people you include in your quest for introductions, the more introductions you’ll get, plain and simple.

5. Get specific about your ideal introduction.

One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is not being clear about the kind of introductions they want. Far too often, salespeople say, “So who do you know? Who do you think might be a good fit for what I have to offer?” This puts all the burden on the person helping you. Instead, you should be specific about what your ideal introduction looks like.

When you ask for an introduction, give clear examples about the types of prospects you’re interested in connecting with. Share information such as their specific job titles, the companies they work for, the industry they’re in, their average revenue, and other important factors. Then, let the person think about who in their network fits the bill for an introduction to you.

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    6. Ask for one introduction per day.

    This might sound like a lot of work, but how long does it actually take to ask for a single introduction? You should be able to accomplish this in just 15 minutes — so make it the most important 15 minutes of your day, every workday.

    When you ask for one introduction per workday, you ask for five each week, ultimately requesting around 250 per year. That’s huge! Imagine how many ideal prospects you could connect with from 250 introduction requests per year.

    7. Hold yourself accountable to numbers.

    Don’t just say you’re going to ask for one introduction a day — make a plan, stick to it, and actually follow through. Failing to hold themselves accountable to numbers is one of the most common reasons why salespeople don’t get referral business. If your goal is five introductions per week, then create a system that holds you accountable to that number every single week.

    The key is to make sure that your goals are realistic, and to use a reliable online calendar or CRM system to track your introductions. Holding yourself accountable to your new introduction strategy will lead to a dramatic increase in your sales.

    8. Host exclusive, invitation-only events.

    This strategy is the absolute best approach for attracting new clients. To make it work for you, ensure that your event feels very exclusive. Invite high-level prospects and clients to a high-end venue. By inviting both clients and prospects, you’ll even see your best clients begin to do your selling for you. That’s where the magic happens.

    These events are also a perfect opportunity to ask everyone in your network for introductions to people who might get value out of your event. You’ll quickly find that people love the opportunity to get invitations for their friends and colleagues to an exclusive event.

    9. Strategically time your referral requests.

    Rob Scott, Managing Director at Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, says, "There is a time-tested sales technique that always works: when a customer is satisfied, ask them for three referrals. You may not get three, but you will often get two and almost always get at least one.

    "Asking for a referral during the negotiation process can also be effective. Instead of immediately offering discounts, propose a value exchange: provide a price reduction in exchange for a referral or testimonial once the client is happy with your work.

    "The best time to ask for a referral is when a client is genuinely thrilled with your work. This is your ‘Golden Moment,’ so be sure to take advantage of it every time.

    “Additionally, it’s important to remember that referrals are based on relationships. Always follow up with a handwritten thank-you note or card when you receive business from a referral. A personal touch can make a big difference in today's digital age. And don’t forget that referrals are a two-way street. Look for opportunities to send business back to those who have referred you. This will strengthen your relationships and generate more referrals in the future.”

    10. Incentivize referrals with tangible rewards.

    Andrew Lee Jenkins, Owner of Catalyst RVA Marketing Agency, says, "I've found that offering incentives is a highly effective strategy for generating customer referrals. People often need a little extra motivation to take action, even if they love your product or service.

    "By providing a tangible reward—for instance, a discount on their next purchase, a small gift, or even entry into a contest for larger prizes—customers feel appreciated for their referrals and have a clear benefit to doing so.

    "Another important part of the strategy that I use is to make the referral process as easy as possible. This can involve providing customers with a simple link that they can share with friends and family, or having a straightforward form on your website. The easier it is to refer someone, the more likely they are to do it.

    “These strategies have been successful because they not only motivate customers through incentives but also remove any barriers to actually making the referral. By addressing both the 'why' and the 'how' of referring, you significantly increase the chances that your customers will bring their friends into the fold.”

    11. Leverage indirect competitive referrals.

    Michael Scott, Enterprise Account Executive at Neara, says, "When looking for referrals, you must understand whether or not your market is directly competitive with one another. Asking for a referral only to reduce a customer's perceived competitive edge of working with your product by selling to their competition never works.

    "That said, referrals are one of the best warm leads you can ever interact with, so you need to be creative in how to get them in competitive markets. One way I have done this is to look for a related business that everyone interacts with and ask for a referral to that business. From there, ask that connected business who you could be referred to from there.

    "An example of this comes from my time selling to the construction market. I could not ask a contractor to refer me directly to another contractor. The regional market was too small to ask for a referral to another business doing the same work; however, all of these contractors worked with a gravel pit in the region.

    "I would ask for a referral to that gravel pit, have some introductory conversations with that ‘connected business,’ and ask for a referral from that business to another contractor. This strategy of referral from my target market to an outside vendor, then from that vendor to a target customer, was incredibly successful over the years. It led to warm intros and didn't ever put me in the awkward position of asking a customer to introduce me to their competition.

    “Referrals from a customer represent ”social equity,“ and when someone introduces you, they are helping vouch for who you are and what you are saying. Leveraging referrals successfully is an easy way to get a few runs on the board, but there needs to be some strategy to make a customer feel comfortable in helping connect you.”

    Do you already have more referrals than you can possibly handle? Probably not. Which of these eleven powerful strategies will you use to double your business through referrals over the next year?

    Editors Note: This post was originally published in July 2023 and has been updated for comprehensiveness. 

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    Topics: Referral Sales

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