By Joe Brannen

How did you find that guy who does an excellent job on drywall? You may have searched online, or you may have heard about him from your neighbor. Have an awesome mechanic? Chances are you’re going to tell your friends about them. Many local businesses thrive on referrals, but the truth is that referrals aren’t just beneficial on the local level. Here are a few tips for how to leverage customer referrals to grow your business.


How to Ask for a Customer Referral

One of the most difficult aspects of customer referrals is knowing when and how to ask for them.

Benefiting from Enthusiasm and Excitement

Sometimes the right time to ask for a referral can be obvious: You just finished a project for a customer and it was a hit! The customer is ecstatic, and they are congratulating and thanking you.

This is an ideal setup for asking for a referral, and asking can be as simple as saying, “I’m thrilled that you’re happy and this is working for you. Do you know anyone else we could also help with our services? Would you mind mentioning us to them?”

Or, “This is awesome and we had so much fun working on this! Hey, if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review, it would go a long way toward helping others learn about us.” If you were a band, these types of customers would be your fans, and we all know how fans like to talk about the bands they like. These customers could essentially become ambassadors for your company.

Asking the Client to Help You Out

Positioning your request for a referral as a request for help is a powerful and meaningful way to gain a referral because people like to help other people. Sometimes, the opportunity to ask for a referral isn’t teed up like the above scenario.

More often than not, you have to actively approach a more passive customer for a referral. Approaching the ask as a request for help is much easier than trying to turn an introvert into a cheerleader. Plus, the customer really is doing you a favor.

And in addition to getting those warm and fuzzy feelings when they help you, the customer also feels like they are on another level with you. If you are confident that you have done great work for them—especially if the data is showing it—then maybe it’s time to ask them to help you out as well.

Working a Customer Referral Request in After a Report

Remember earlier when I mentioned data pointing to great work? If you or your team perform regular reporting for your customers, point to this data and mention how great it would be if they could introduce you to others whom you may also be able to help.

Or if you have regular check-ins with customers, ask them, “Have we provided five-star service for you?” If the answer is yes, then you should ask them to leave a review (more on where they can do this below) or introduce you to a colleague. If the answer is no, it may not be a great time to ask for a referral—but you now know that there’s a need for improvement and you can act on this knowledge.

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Social Media

Another great way to ask for a referral is by monitoring social media. This doesn’t mean blasting your contacts with referral requests. Instead, watch what people are saying and make sure to respond to questions, comments, or complaints. If your customers are already talking about how awesome you are in comments or tweets, simply ask them to tell their friends and colleagues. And perhaps do it for the world to see: Reply to the original tweet or comment with something like, “We’re glad you’re a fan—spread the word!” or, “We’re glad to have helped. Know anyone else we could help as well?” This also shows you are listening to your audience.

How to Collect Customer Referrals

Now that you have some ideas of how to ask for a customer referral, it’s time to collect them. It’s important to be able to see where your referrals are coming from and which customers are your biggest fans. There are a few ways to accomplish this:

Set Up a Dedicated Landing Page

It’s always nice when a prospect says, “I learned about you from Jim Bob McGee, what an awesome guy.” But it can be hard to track this. You could directly ask if the prospect learned about you from anyone else, and you can include a form field in your demo or contact form asking, “How did you hear about us?” But the clearest way to determine that you are getting referrals is to set up a dedicated landing page for customers to send to their friends and colleagues. This helps keep your referrals separate from your other efforts and allows you to tweak your messaging to be personalized to this audience. Plus, you can use this as a basis for an incentive program, which could drive even more referrals.

Review Sites

Maybe your customer doesn’t have anyone in mind to directly refer you, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you. Leaving a review is a great way for your customers to guide other prospects to purchase your product or service. Which review sites you should use mainly depends on your industry.

For many B2C companies, Facebook or Google reviews are perfect for gaining visibility. If you’re in the business software and services game, G2 Crowd may be a great option. Because many prospects find SmartBug through HubSpot, we ask happy customers to leave a rating and review for us on HubSpot’s Agencies page.

At the end of the day, remember this: Happy customers are customers who will leave referrals. It’s important to rock it for all of your customers so they will, in turn, help you grow and develop. And once the referrals start rolling in, it’s important to make sure that your sales team has all the right tools and resources to prove to prospects that your business is as awesome as your customers said it was.

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Joe Brannen

About the author

Joe Brannen is an Associate Consultant at SmartBug Media. He is fascinated with all things digital marketing and uses this to help clients implement inbound marketing strategies to reach their goals. Read more articles by Joe Brannen.

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