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 lifetime value twice as high as a non-referred customer. What's more, these customers cost little to nothing to acquire — a win-win.
But how do you go about breaking the ice with your current customers to ask them for help? How do you encourage them to mine their network and help you without the interaction seeming pushy or awkward?
In this blog post, you'll learn how to identify potential referral opportunities and how to ask for those referrals once you've identified customers who might be willing to help you out.
How to Use Customer Feedback to Identify Referral Opportunities
Knowing which clients are happiest and prioritizing them in your referral efforts 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) can help make the process a little easier. An NPS survey can help you pinpoint potential advocates and turn customer feedback channels into rich networks for sourcing referrals.
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: "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 considered "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 them — and your promoters are your advocates. They're 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 develop 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 friends, coworkers, and family. Referrals and recommendations from real customers will outperform any share button or social media campaign in the long run.
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 by asking for customer feedback and turning that 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 ask them for a customer referral.
How to Ask for Referrals
- Don't expect immediate results.
- Build value first, then ask.
- Ask, "Who do you like?"
- Don't treat referrals like cold calls.
- Offer incentives for referrals.
- Get specific with your ask.
- Develop a referral mindset.
- Stay connected with customers.
- Share their work.
- Focus on your strongest relationships.
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.
In order for this play to work, you'll want to take time building relationships with your promoter customers. Segmenting this group in your CRM is a great place to start because it prepares your entire team to communicate with them more often. For example, you can have your marketing team keep an eye on their social media profiles and interact with them when they post. Your account executives can reach out proactively to check in and see how they're doing. Spend this time building value.
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 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 in your network do you like?" to ensure you get referred to people whom your customers have close working relationships with.
When you receive referrals from people that your customers have passive or lukewarm relationships with, they're not much better than cold calls. Ask your customers to refer you to people they like, and you'll benefit from the closeness and trust that already exists in the relationship.
4. Don't treat referrals like cold calls.
Because they're not. A conversation with a referral will benefit from 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 customer 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. If this is the case for you then it's time to incentivize your customers. Offer an incentive program that includes gift cards, a discount on next month's invoice, or a donation to the charity of their choosing.
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 that your customers are happy and there's nothing else you can do to improve their experience, 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?"
Getting straight to the point is always appreciated and chances are, you're more worried about asking for a referral than your customers are.
7. Develop a referral mindset.
If you want to get referrals, you should also give referrals. This is a play on the reciprocity principle that states people want to return the favors given to them. Help your contacts and acquaintances grow their businesses by connecting them 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 that 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 statuses, 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.
- 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, 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 to help them achieve success. They may have already indicated their interest in serving as a referral source by filling out a positive customer review, giving you high marks in a feedback survey, or by 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 inspired by our friend Rick Roberge:
Customer Success Manager:"You told me you're happy with my work thus far, and I'm glad to hear that. Have you shared these sentiments on a review board or with a friend or colleague?"
Customer:"No, I hadn't thought about it."
CSM: "Is it because you're not pleased with the outcomes?"
Customer: "Not at all, we're pretty happy with the quality of the product and service we're receiving."
CSM:"That's great! Perhaps your clients, vendors, or competitors might need this same level of quality from a software service like ours. What do you think?"
Customer:I don't want you working with my competitors, but I can think of a few vendors who might want to work with you."
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:"There sounds like an opportunity here. If you called or sent your favorite vendor an email and said ‘I've been working with [Name] for six months, and we're doing some pretty interesting stuff. I know you're growing your business, so I thought I'd put you two together,' would they be receptive?"
If your customer agrees their vendors would be open to the suggestion, send out the email template in the section 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 an opportunistic 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 building 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:
Hello [Customer name],
I'm so glad to hear you're happy with the results of working with [Your company name] so far. I knew we could help, and I'm pleased you're seeing results so quickly.
Since things are going so well, I found myself wondering if you have any colleagues at similar companies who would benefit from our [product/service]. I would love to help them achieve similar growth.
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're 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:
Hello [Customer name],
That's amazing that you've had such a great experience with our team already. They continue to surprise even me, and I work with them daily.
I trust they'll take care of you through the rest of the process, and you can always reach back out to me with any questions. In the meantime, since you're in good hands, do you know anyone else who also needs help with [pain/problem that led them to you]?
Let me know,
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 to tap into their sphere of influence.
The goal is to provide value to their clients/contacts. Here's how you can approach the topic:
Hello [Point of contact's name],
I've noticed that our customers who work with [their company name] have far fewer issues with [problem that they solve] on average. I think that [your company name] and [their company name] makes for a powerful combination.
Do you currently know anyone who would benefit from [your solution]? I'd be happy to help.
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 Customer on Social Media
If you follow our advice about staying connected with your customers, you may find yourself interacting with potential referrals within their network. Sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to meet new people and engage informally about topics that align with what your business sells. And, when the time is right, this can be a relevant and natural way to ask your customers for a referral.
The key here is to show your customer that the referral you're looking to connect with has a reason to hear from you. In this example, both you and the potential referral commented on the customer's LinkedIn post.
Hello [Point of contact's name],
Thanks for sharing [reference the information in a post you enjoyed] on your LinkedIn post. I was able to converse with quite a few of your constituents in the comments, and as I got to know [name of person you engaged with in the comments] more, I think her business could benefit from [solution you provide]. Since you and I have had a great working relationship thus far, would you mind initiating a formal connection between [prospective referral name] and me? I'd greatly appreciate it!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
What makes this example so great is the fact that your customer won't need to put much thought into the connection. You've already told them how you know their colleague and you were transparent in the reason you want to connect with them.
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're 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:
Hello [Point of contact's name],
I've noticed that you specialize in [insert specialty or niche]. I've had quite a few clients I've turned down recently who could've used services in that area. I'd be happy to send them your way in the future because my ideal client is more along the lines of [description]. If you have any overflow in that area, my company [write in your value proposition] and could provide those clients value.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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:
I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I've been working with [CSM name] for a few months. The other day, I was talking with her about some of the things she and I have done, and I realized I should put you two together. So...
[Referral], meet [CSM, with a LinkedIn profile URL].
[CSM], meet [Referral, with a LinkedIn profile URL].
Can I leave the rest to you guys?
Talk to you both later.
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 a specific 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:
Dear [Referral Source],
Thank you for referring [Referral Name] to me for [Your Product/Service Offering]. [Referral Company] is a big organization, and I sincerely appreciate your vote of confidence in my abilities by referring them to [Your Company]. We're going to work together on [Services/Project/Initiative] over the next several months, and hopefully [Product/Service Offering] will be as helpful for them as it has been for you.
As a token of my appreciation, here's a promo code for 10% off your next purchase from us.
Thank you again for connecting me with [Referral Name], and I look forward to talking again soon.
Start Sourcing Referral Opportunities
Acquiring customers can be done a few different ways including having your sales team prospect new opportunities, having your marketing team bring in leads, or — a more creative and less expensive way — receiving referrals from happy, existing customers.
With honest feedback from your customers and these tips and templates, you can build a referral strategy that can be just as profitable as traditional means of customer acquisition.
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.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 29, 2021 5:00:00 PM, updated March 29 2021