how to ask for a customer referral

How to Get a Customer Referral

We all want a customer referral. Most of us need them. But they’re so darned hard to ask for. Or are they?

The data from this report are a few years old, but the findings are likely not far off from where they are today. More than 90% of people read reviews before they make a purchase decision. Additionally, 72% say that positive reviews are essential to establishing trust with the brand or person providing the service.

The negative corollary is that one negative review can reportedly drive away about one-quarter of your prospects! According to Forbes, 94% of customers avoid companies with bad reviews. What all these reports underscore is that customer referrals are just about as critical to your business as the products or services that you sell.

Okay. Fair enough. But the exam question remains, how do you get reviews? Can you just ask?


Can I ask for a referral?

Not really – but you do need to ask. The critical part here is all the pre-work that you must do leading up to the request for a referral. This takes time and a consistent offering of something of value to that customer. You can’t simply close the deal and then say, “Hey, awesome. Thanks for signing that contract. Can you give me a referral?”

We can all pretty much guess how that scenario would play out for the salesperson who queues up an “ask” like that one. Let’s peel the “ask” back by reviewing a few key steps around the pre-work to afford you with a reasonable chance of the customer agreeing to provide a referral or a testimonial when you ask. What many people don’t appreciate is that the quest for a customer reference begins with your first moment of engagement – yes – at the stage that they’re still a prospect.

From that moment onwards, every move you make (can you hear Sting singing that lyrically?) will put you one step closer to your goal of securing a referral. It takes work. And it takes a combination of just enough hubris and confidence to make the ask buoyed by enough self-awareness to recognize if it’s even appropriate to make the ask in the first place.


7 self-reflections questions for salespeople

Let me explain. At any given time, these are the questions that you should be asking yourself as a salesperson, even if you’re not quite ready to request a referral.

  1. Have you been providing customer service and support that is valued by your customer?
  2. Would your customer(s) say that it’s “delightful” to be working with you?
  3. Are you engaging with your customer regularly? With a predictable and consistence cadence?
  4. Is what you offer and how you offer it aligned with your customer’s personal values?
  5. Have you been exceeding expectations or just hitting them? Worse yet, missing them?
  6. Do you offer a customer loyalty program with clear incentives and a low barrier-to-entry process to initiate a referral?
  7. Is the experience that you’re offering shareable?

This last question may be the most important. Perhaps we should have listed it first. There isn’t anything more powerful than a customer who voluntarily posts a positive experience. No solicitation or incentive necessary. Hence, that review is untainted and as pure as a fresh snow. That makes it infinitely more credible than a series of anonymized, random reviews posted alongside a five-star graphic.

If you’re hesitant about broaching the subject, take a sideways approach. Ask them how they get referrals for their business because you’re seeking to get some but unsure how to do so. They’ll either take the bait or dismiss you. Read their body language and respond appropriately.


How do you deliver a valued experience?

It all starts with who you are, your personality, your attitude, and your perceived willingness to do things for your customers. You’ll want to frequently pause and assess what their current pain point is and if you’re offering a solution that adequately addresses it. Routinely ask your customer what success looks like to them and if you’re tracking towards a successful outcome; this way, you’ll be reinforcing how you are delivering value, and, if you’re not, you’ll know potentially early enough to change course and refine your tactics. And, when you deliver, knock it out of the park. A ho-hum mediocre delivery never got anyone jazzed enough to think about writing a review or risking their personal reputation to recommend your services to someone within their inner circle.

After you’ve had a few positive interactions where you’ve both agreed that you are tracking towards a successful outcome, it’s time to ask. That’s your sign. And it’s imperative that you act on it quickly – like immediately – before the idea of writing a review or calling someone to recommend you starts to sound like a lot more work than it’s worth doing.

Nudge them in the right direction by repeating back their positive comment, saying (or emailing) them something along these lines, “Thank you so much! You just described your experience working with me as [insert word or phrase]. I’m incredibly honored. Would you be willing to write me a review on Linkedin or could I use your comment on our website?” Keep it short, keep it simple and keep it sweet. If they say no, roll with it like water off a duck’s back. Onward you go to the next customer that you’ve been delivering value to.

Be patient. Nothing happens instantly and it’s getting harder and harder to cut through all the noise and do something that gets noticed by your customer. In contrast, it’s so easy to make a mistake that’s going to alienate them or send them down the path of a negative review that you’ll have to stay on your toes. Get your free quick reference “How to get a Customer Referral” infographic from the Kroma asset library.

And if they do give you a customer referral or a testimonial, be prepared to call them (yes, pick up the phone) and leave them a sincere voicemail or do a quick call with them to say thank you!

Note: you’ll find the lead article image in our Kroma asset library, too – along with one million other creative assets that you won’t find everywhere else!

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