Mastering customer retention is key to the health of your business, but new customer acquisition is a big piece of that puzzle, too. Your colleagues in sales are hard at work prospecting to generate new business, but you have an opportunity to do that — by asking for customer referrals.

According to the Wharton School of Business, a referred customer costs a lot less to acquire and has a higher potential for retention and loyalty. In fact, a referred customer has a 16% higher lifetime value than a non-referred customer. What's more, these customers are free to acquire for your business — a win-win.

But how do you go about breaking the ice with your customers to ask them for help? How do you encourage them to mine their network to help you without being pushy or awkward? In this blog post, you'll learn how to identify potential referral opportunities by asking for customer feedback and how to ask for those referrals once you've identified good candidates.

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How to Use Customer Feedback to Identify Referral Opportunities

Knowing which clients are happiest with you will increase your likelihood of winning a referral. Here are some tips for going about it:

1. Identify your advocates.

Identifying potential customer advocates can seem like a huge challenge, but using a simple Net Promoter Score® (NPS) survey can help make the process a little easier. Using an NPS survey can help you pinpoint potential advocates and turn this customer feedback channel into a referral growth engine.

NPS is a customer loyalty metric utilized across multiple industries to measure how happy a customer is with your product or service. NPS is determined by sending out a single-question survey to your customers that asks: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?

Respondents are asked to score their answer based on a 1-10 scale. Responses of 7 or 8 are labeled as "Passive," and scores of 0 to 6 are considered "Detractors." If a customer responds with a score of 9-10, they're labeled "Promoters" of your business. This group is most likely to provide referrals.

2. Follow up with your promoters.

Just sending out an NPS survey isn't enough. You need to follow up with potential advocates and keep the positive momentum rolling along. What's the use of seeing a set of data with people who selected 9 or 10 if you're not going to use it to your advantage?

You have to mobilize your promoters by engaging with them — and your promoters are your advocates. They are the people who took the time to select an NPS response and raise their hands, saying, "I am willing to recommend you to my friends."

Once you have identified your promoters, you should formulate a plan to follow up and make it easy for them to refer your company or product to their professional network.

If you have an employee at your company who handles new business development or customer marketing, you can have them reach out personally and see if your promoter would be interested in referring you. The key here is to make it easy for your promoters to refer your services to their professional network. Referrals and recommendations from real customers will outperform any share button or social media campaign over the long-term.

3. Use promoter feedback for referrals and testimonials on your website.

People are more likely to trust your brand early on if they have social proof of your expertise, and testimonials and case studies are one of your most powerful assets. A great way to get testimonials for your company is simply by asking for customer feedback and turning that exact same feedback that you receive into a testimonial on your website.

There are two ways you can approach this: One is by analyzing all the comments you get from the NPS survey and then personally emailing each respondent to ask for permission to use their comment as a testimonial. The second way would be to send out a short survey soliciting feedback from promoters.

Once you've identified these happy customers and they've indicated a willingness to speak on your company's behalf, it's time to actually ask them for a customer referral.

1. Don't expect immediate results.

Referrals can be an extremely effective way to grow a business, but they're a snowball strategy rather than an explosive one. Don't expect immediate results.

2. Build value first, then ask.

You can certainly ask for customer referrals immediately after closing the deal — but we wouldn't recommend it. Wait until you've provided your customers with unparalleled service. They'll be more likely to share names of trusted colleagues with you once they know you haven't just been trying to get them to sign. The value you've proven will make them want to tell their network about you.

Share relevant content with them and let them know when your company releases new products or features that would benefit them. This is how you continue to build brand loyalty after the sale and turn happy customers into loyal promoters.

3. Ask, "Who do you like?"

Ask your customers "Who do you like?" to ensure you get referred to people customers have close working relationships with. When you receive referrals of people your customers have, at best, passing or lukewarm relationships with, they're not much better than cold calls. Ask for people they like, and you'll benefit from the closeness and trust that relationship already has.

4. Don't treat referrals like cold calls.

Because they're not. Enter into a conversation with a referral with a much friendlier tone. Play up the relationship you have with the referrer, and act like you're already in their inner circle — because, in a way, you are.

When appropriate, ask your referrer if their referral has any interests or hobbies. When you place your first call, break the ice by saying, "Blair mentioned you know all the best restaurants in Chicago. I'm headed there for work next month and would love some recommendations." You'll make the referral relaxed, and you'll bridge the gap between you and the referrer.

5. Offer incentives for referrals.

You might be offering great customer service, but sometimes it's still not enough to get those referrals. It's time to incentivize your customers. Offer Amazon gift cards, a discount on next month's invoice, or a donation to the charity of their choice.

Send this incentive offer to a portion of your happiest customers, and tell them the first 10 to respond with a referral will receive the prize. You might be surprised at how fast those referrals suddenly come to your customers' minds.

6. Get specific with your ask.

If "Who do you like?" isn't garnering the qualified customers you need, dial in your request.

Once you've ascertained they're happy and there's nothing else you can do to improve their experience as a customer, you might ask, "Do you have any friends who are looking for a new software solution?" You might even joke with them a little by saying, "Or friends who need new software but just don't know it yet?"

7. Develop a referral mindset.

If you want to get referrals, you should also give referrals. This is what I call a "referral mindset." Help your contacts and acquaintances grow their businesses by hooking them up with people in your network, and they'll feel inclined to return the favor.

8. Stay connected with customers.

If you asked for a referral and your customer said no, or if you just haven't made the ask yet, stay in close contact with your customer. That way, when you eventually do ask them to refer you, the request won't seem out of the blue or desperate. Here are a few ways you can stay in touch in an authentic and human way that will keep the door open for future referrals:

  • Set up Google Alerts for their name or business so you can drop them a quick "congratulations" email if they receive an award, another round of funding, open a new office, etc.
  • Connect with them on LinkedIn, and follow their updates so you can like and comment on status updates, job changes, and blog posts.
  • Follow them on Twitter so you can read their updates and chime in on conversations that are relevant to you.
  • Subscribe to their personal or company blog, if they have one, and send them an email when one of the blogs is particularly resonant or well-written.
  • If they live in the same area as you, ask them out for a cup of coffee. If you don't live in the same area as your customer, offer to host them if they're ever in your city.

9. Share their work.

Proactively share their work, their business, or their ideas within your networks so you're passively — but proactively — referring them on a regular basis. It only takes a few clicks, but it can build a lot of goodwill to share their latest blog post, publicize their most recent product launch, or leave them a positive review. 

If you do this on a regular basis, it won't be unreasonable to ask for referrals when the time comes, because you'll already have been singing their praises, too.

10. Focus on your strongest relationships.

As a general rule, you should focus your referral generation efforts on your strongest customer relationships. These are customers you've worked with before, helped achieve success, and have already indicated they might serve as good referral sources by filling out a positive customer review, giving you high marks in a feedback survey, or by otherwise indicating that they're happy with your work and like working with you.

Customer Referral Letter Templates

Once a new customer is onboarded, let enough time pass to produce some results. You want the customer to decide whether they're pleased with your work or not. This could take a week, or it could be a few months, but when you're satisfied you've made an impression, follow up by asking directly for referrals using these templates our friend Rick Roberge shared:

Customer Success Manager: "You told me you're happy with my work thus far. Have you told anybody about what we've done together?"

Customer: "No."

CSM: "Is it because you're not pleased with the outcomes?"

Customer: "No, we're pretty happy."

CSM: "Well then, do you think what we do together would be beneficial to your clients, vendors, or competitors?"

Customer: "I don't want you working with my competitors, but maybe some of my vendors."

CSM: "Your vendors then — do you have a favorite? Do they sell to other people you know?"

Customer: "Yeah, we have a good relationship."

CSM: "And are any of your favorite vendors trying to grow their businesses?"

Customer: "Yes, a few in particular."

CSM: "Okay. In that case, if you called or sent an email and said ‘I've been working with [Name] for six months, and we're starting to do some pretty interesting stuff. I know you're growing your business, so I thought I'd put you two together,' would they like you for that or not like you?"

If your customer thinks that would be fine to do, send out the email template below.

If your customer is on the fence, work to reframe the situation to assure them they'd be helping the referred party, not setting a money-hungry sales rep on their trail. Emphasize your purpose is to grow businesses — or whatever your company's mission may be — and not to be a hard-pitching nuisance.

How to Ask for a Referral from a Loyal Customer

When requesting a referral, you want to keep the focus on your customer and their happiness. You don't want to appear like a lead-hungry sales rep who's done with them and ready to move on to their friends — you want to seem like a helpful CSM who's invested in your relationship.

Instead, only ask for a referral after first ensuring they're happy with your product or service and can think of no way in which their experience could be improved. Then, gently ask if they have a friend or industry colleague you might be able to achieve similar results with. Here's an example:

This is friendly, focuses on your customer's success, and is hopeful you can help one of their friends at another company achieve the same results. Who could say no to that?

How to Ask for a Referral from a New Customer

A new customer may be a more difficult ask than an existing one with a wealth of positive experience with you. However, it may still be a good idea to ask a new customer for a referral on the back of a successful onboarding experience. 

It's at this point, if everything's gone well, that their emotions are high on having solved a big problem using your offerings, and they are still in the honeymoon phase. Only ask after a moment of delight during the beginning of a relationship, and don't wait for buyer's remorse to set in or those emotions to level off. 

Be sure to ask for feedback throughout the process, and after a particularly glowing email, respond with your ask. For example: 

How to Ask for a Referral from a Partner, Vendor, or Affiliate

You likely have service providers, affiliates, or — best of all — partnerships in your industry who offer solutions complementary to yours. If you have a good relationship with an individual at one of these companies, you might have an opportunity on your hands to tap into their sphere of influence. 

The goal to keep in mind is that you want to provide value to their clients/contacts. Here's how you can approach the topic:

You may also consider adding an incentive to your email such as providing them with a referral in turn or promoting their product/service on your social media channels.

How to Ask for a Referral from a Competitor

In some industries, mainly those with large markets, your competitors may not be targeting the exact same clients as you. For example, if you are a real estate agent who specializes in working with first-time home buyers, you might consider referring clients who don't fit that bill (like relocation buyers or buyers with past foreclosures) to a competitor. 

With that in mind, you can start to gauge whether your competitors with overlapping but different specialties would do the same for you, especially if they have more overflow than they can handle. You can broach that topic like so:

What to Say When They Agree to Make the Referral

If you have a favorable response to any of the emails above, reply with, "Great, I have an easy email template I'll share with you. All you have to do is press send!" Provide them with the email template below, and you'll make it simple for customers to refer you:

The customer isn't asked to explain what the CSM does. It's not their job to sell the referral — it's yours. From there, you can take it away, or connect them with a salesperson at your company.

Phrasing it in this manner builds on the mutual respect between customer and referral by implying the referral can give the CSM the benefit of the doubt. Also, because both the customer and the CSM are on the email, it would be appropriate for either to follow up.

After sending this referral template, check in a week or two later with your customer and ask — gently — if they sent it out. If they haven't, reply that it's no problem, and don't ask again.

If, on the other hand, they have sent it, and you hadn't been included on a reply, ask if the customer got a "No, thank you" from the referral. If that's the case, cross that referral off your list. If there was no reply at all, ask if they would like you to reach out directly.

How to Thank a Referral Source

The key step to maintaining positive customer relationships after you connect with their referrals is to say thank you. Your customer connected you with a valuable member of their professional network, vouched for your professionalism and the value of your product or service, and conducted outreach on your behalf.

To show your appreciation, send an email or letter promptly after the point in the referral process — usually after the referral has made their first purchase. Send a short, sincere, and personalized thank you letter to show your referral source how much you appreciate them contributing to your success.

If you can, offer them a reward for referring a new customer to you. Even if it's something small, the gesture can go a long way.

Here's a template you can use as the basis of your thank you letter:

To learn more, read about how to build a customer referral program next.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

Free Resource: How to Reach & Engage Your Audience on Facebook

 45 Free Customer Referral Templates

Originally published May 27, 2020 8:58:29 AM, updated January 25 2021


Customer Acquisition