How to Ask for Referrals and Increase Sales, Script Included

While referrals have long been one of the top ways to grow your business, entrepreneurs are relying more and more on their network for resources over more traditional marketing tactics. As a result, including a strong referral system in your marketing plan is critical to your continued success.

I’ve noticed that many business owners don’t bother with referrals. I suppose they assume their clients will recommend them organically to friends and co-workers. It’s also likely that some entrepreneurs find asking for referrals uncomfortable and like it to begging. 

The problem with not proactively asking for referrals is that you’re missing out on one of the most effective and affordable ways to get more clients.

If you want to save your company marketing dollars and increase your response rate, then you need to develop a referral program. I promise you it’s not complicated, and I’m going to walk you through it.

Referral Request Mindset

The first thing you have to do to get in the habit of asking for referrals is to overcome your fear. Here are a few tips:

    • In truth, most people like to help other people if there’s no negative cost to them. Remember that fact the next time you stop yourself from asking a very happy client for a referral or two.
    • Remember, the worst that can happen is that the client says, “No.” That’s not too terrible, is it?
    • You can remove any discomfort or awkwardness by making asking for referrals a part of your project routine. With most projects, there’s a final meeting with the client and that’s the perfect time to ask for a referral.

Choose Your Referral Request Method

A study from Amplifinity showed the request method that produced the best results was the verbal referral, at a 32% success rate.

That doesn’t mean you’re limited, though. If you can’t bring yourself to ask for referrals in person, you have options. You can use a lead form, email, business cards, sharable link, and social media to do the requesting for you. Please keep in mind that when it comes to asking for referrals, social media is actually the least effective with a measly 1% conversion rate.

While that same Amplifinity study proves that a verbal referral is best, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the other forms as well. Referral requests can be a part of your email and social media marketing campaigns. With that said, if you see your clients or customers in person or speak with them on the phone, you should ask them for referrals. Once you get into the habit and after a little practice, you’ll become more confident asking and that will show through.

Use a Script for Referral Request

So asking for a referral isn’t a habit yet. That’s understandable, and that’s why I created this handy referral request script for you to use until it becomes a habit.

Remember, you’re not making an Oscar acceptance speech here. When you ask for a referral, be sincere, direct, and brief. For example:

"I'm really glad that you're pleased with my work. I'm always looking to help others with ______ (what you provide) and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in _______ (what you do)."

While the direct ask for names is the most effective, you can offer several of your business cards for your client to share with others.

"I'm so glad that you're pleased with my work. I'd really appreciate it if you'd pass my name along to anyone else you know who would be interested in _____________ (what you do). May I leave these extra business cards with you?"

After you’ve asked, pause to see what they say. Some people will offer names, others will say, “Yes, maybe,” and not offer any further information. While a few may just say, “No,” but at least you tried.

If they do offer names, take the names down and ask the person if you may contact the people directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them. In the event that they don’t offer names, ask if you can leave some business cards that they can pass along.

If your clients say no to giving you a referral, but they are receiving your emails or following you on social media, this is where your referral campaigns can help. For example, a person might not be comfortable giving you names but would forward an email or share social media with their network.

Tips for Asking for Referrals

When asking for a referral, there are a few best practices that can increase your chances of success.

Always ask for referrals face to face. It’s not only more respectful of your clients, but also tends to be more successful.

People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them. It is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you work under conditions where face-to-face meetings are uncommon or very difficult. For instance, a website designer may create a website for a client on the other side of the country.

Consider offering an incentive for successful referrals. Monetary rewards, such as a gift card, can be an effective incentive for referrals that lead to sales. Other options include a discount or merchandise.

Never ask for a referral when presenting a bill. You don’t want your client to feel like you’re asking for too much.

The time that you’re asking for referrals is also an excellent time to ask a client for a testimonial. This short, written endorsement of your company and your work can be used on your website and in other marketing materials such as brochures.

Tip: Don’t expect anyone to write a testimonial for you on the spot; either leave them a printed card or form that they can use or ask them to email it to you.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t let nerves or fear get in the way of building your business. Referrals will get you more clients, and the more referrals you ask for, the more referrals you’ll get. In fact, while most people make only one referral, 34% of people make two to 10 referrals. Imagine, getting two or more new clients simply by asking a happy client or customer? That’s the power of referrals.

What Do You Do After You Have That Referral?

At this point you have a few referrals (sales leads) but you’re not sure how to follow up on them. I can help with that!

Always make sure to ask the person giving you the referral(s) what they believe is the best way to contact each of them. Remember, this person knows these people far better than you do, so ask for their guidance and make sure to take note.

Ask the source of your referral(s) if you can use his or her name when contacting the individuals. Make sure you take careful notes because you do not want to break a client or customer’s trust.

Following the advice of the source of your new referrals, you’re going to reach out to each contact you were given, whether by email, phone call, text message or an old-school style letter in the mail. Be professional and introduce yourself. Explain that your mutual friend who is satisfied with your work/product/service suggested that he or she may find what you’re offering valuable. At this point you may choose to include a special limited time promotional discount.

What if they’re not interested?

This happens and there’s nothing wrong with it. After all, not every product or service is the right fit for a person. But this doesn’t mean it’s time to quit to immediately move on to the next name on your list – this is an opportunity! Respect their position and don’t use high-pressure tactics or try and talk them into something they’re not interested in. Keep in mind that the person who referred them doesn’t know the financial situation of every name on that list. 

Ask a few follow-up questions:

    • I’d really appreciate any suggestions or insights you may have that would have made my product/service more appealing to you right now?
    • I’m so grateful for your time. Can you think of anyone who might be interested in what I’m offering?

You should never take a lead that doesn’t close or pan out personally. The individual may have a lot of financial obligations at the moment and simply can’t afford your product or service. Or it may not be the right fit to begin with, but assuredly it’s not personal. Instead of trying to persuade them (and ruining your reputation in the process) ask for help tracking down someone who they think may have need of what you’re offering. You’d be surprised how often this works!

Picture of Rad Mitkov
Rad Mitkov
Radoslav is a senior motion graphics engineer and designer specializing in 3D modeling prototypes for digital marketing platforms. Rad frequently writes on WordPress, site optimization and cybersecurity topics.