It's no secret that your next best opportunity comes from referrals, colleagues, or other personal recommendations. In short, word-of-mouth marketing, specifically through direct referrals, is one of the most powerful sales and marketing tools available to large enterprises and small businesses alike. Unfortunately, as with exercising any new skill, asking new clients—or even well-established current clients—for a favor can feel awkward. Here are some tips if you need some help getting started.
What Are Customer Referrals? (And Why You Need Them)
Client and customer referrals are recommendations clients make to their contacts for your business' services or products. Client referrals constitute word-of-mouth marketing. They're incredibly important to the health of your business, first as a lead generation channel, and second, as an indicator of the overall health of your business.
Why referrals are critical for your business pipeline
As a marketing and lead generation channel, referrals are of paramount importance because they are your best pre-qualified leads. Instead of coming in through other channels such as your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media channels, referred prospects have already pre-qualified themselves by demonstrating a greater intent to buy and by providing validated contact information either through direct inbound contact or through the referrer themselves.
Simply put, people are more willing to trust the opinions of friends and colleagues. It's impossible to replicate such social capital in any other marketing channel. A sales rep will therefore have to spend less time and resources selling to a referred prospect. For a small business owner, prioritizing referrals is an excellent way to triage prospects when resources are constrained, and you cannot respond to every opportunity immediately.
Referrals as a marketing channel
For this reason, growing your referral process should be treated with the same care as any other marketing channel. Messaging and writing relevant content specific for a referred client may prove successful for content teams with enough resources. Be sure to tag referrals separately for precise conversion rate tracking within the broader demand funnel.
Cross-selling, up-selling, and client retention
If you are fostering your customer base for cross-selling and up-selling initiatives (and you should be), using one of these touchpoints is a great time to offer a discount or other incentive offer as a reward for helping you sign new business. Target or Amazon gift cards, or even a charity donation for those working in the public sector industry, are popular incentive choices. If a salesperson prefers to take a more indirect approach, asking for referrals in the email signature or within a monthly customer newsletter can be practical and often overlooked methods. Standardizing email signatures or marketing email templates can make it easier to align your whole team around this strategy, especially for larger enterprises.
The second reason referrals are essential is that the number of referred clients is a useful metric for your overall business health to measure customer loyalty and customer happiness. Happy clients and customers show their appreciation by referring their contacts and colleagues, so it stands to reason that a high number of referrals corresponds directly to the number of happy clients. If your customers are not satisfied, and your business is experiencing customer turnover problems, focusing on customer retention instead of new business opportunity might be a better priority.
How to Identify Referral Opportunities
Now that we've discussed why referrals are vital, both from a demand generation perspective and as a business health metric, let's get into how to identify referral opportunities through personal connections, NPS, and customer reviews.
Know your champions
When working with multiple team members from the same company, it's essential to identify your biggest advocates. These advocates will be the people who will internally champion your product or service within the company. They will be your best contacts for up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, and they will be the likeliest to send you referral business. For larger enterprises with multiple individuals tied to one account, you may find it useful to track your champions with a custom field within the CMS.
Collecting and using Net Promoter Score (NPS) feedback
NPS is the gold standard of user experience metrics that measures customer loyalty. Collecting and Using NPS feedback on a regular basis is a user experience best practice. NPS is also a great way to identify current customers or clients who are likely to recommend your brand to a friend. For example, you could target an automated nurture email campaign asking for client referrals to customers who select an NPS of eight (out of ten) or higher.
Testimonials and reviews
In the same vein, monitoring client testimonials and customer reviews can also help identify referral opportunities. Individually reach out to reviewers who have taken the time to compliment your company. These happy clients are most likely to introduce you to other clients.
The saying, "It's not what you know; it's who you know," really rings true in any b2b industry. In today's digital age, it's easy to forget about networking the old-fashioned way, but you never whom you'll run into. It's good to keep a few business cards on hand in case an opportunity presents itself.
How to Make It Rain Referrals (Scaling and Automating)
Once you've gotten the hang of asking for referrals on an individual basis, it's time to scale and streamline your referral process to really ramp up your pipeline. How? By creating a referral program and developing a referral mindset.
Creating a referral program
The key to creating a referral program is to create content templates, establish a cadence, and use tools to automate steps. While you should ultimately tailor the program to fit your business, here are some basic structural elements to consider:
- Will you or the account manager reach out for referrals directly, or will you set up an automated trigger to kick-off an email nurture campaign? While your success rate will undoubtedly be higher person-to-person, the amount of time and effort individual personal requests expend might not make sense for a smaller team.
- What kinds of request templates do you need to create, either for your account managers or for an email campaign?
- Does it make financial sense to offer incentives for client referrals?
Fostering good relationships
To foster good relationships with your clients, buying them lunch—or in today's Covid-era, sending an UberEats gift card—can go a long way to promoting goodwill within your client base. Other forms of direct marketing, such as sending holiday packages or small gifts, can help keep your business top of mind.
Additionally, consistently staying active on LinkedIn by sharing and engaging with your client's posts goes a long way toward promoting goodwill.
Finally, be sure to properly thank your client when they do refer you business.
Timing: when to ask
Strike while the iron is hot. A user's experience can sour at the drop of a hat. The best time to ask for a referral is always when you know the customer is happy. If you are considering triggering a referral request email after an NPS submission, for example, you should aim to send out the request within a day of the survey submission.
Tools for automation
Several tools can integrate into your marketing tech stack to help streamline your program processes. Beyond having a CMS and marketing automation software to handle client management and outbound emails, there are other automation tools to consider. For example, Reachdesk is a direct marketing platform that integrates with your CMS to send physical and digital gifts. Delighted and Promoter.io are popular NPS collecting applications.
Selecting the right software for the size and budget of your business is essential. It's also critical you choose tools that can integrate into your CMS with little custom configuration. You don't want to invest in an application that doesn't work well with your current systems. Do your research.
Example Templates of Good Referral Requests
Are you suffering from writer's block? These templates are meant to be a guide that you can tailor to fit your specific needs. Pay special attention to your audience and modify your tone and messaging accordingly.
How to ask a loyal advocate for a referral
Hi [Customer name],
I'm happy to hear you're pleased with the results of working with [Your company name] so far.
Since things are going so well, I'm reaching out to see if you have any colleagues who would benefit from our [product/service]. I would love to help them achieve similar growth.
How to ask a new customer for a referral
Hi [Customer name],
I'm glad you've had such a great experience with our team already. We do have a fantastic team here at [Your company name].
I know they'll take good care of you moving forward, 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]?
How to ask a partner, vendor, or affiliate for a referral
Hello [Point of contact's name],
I've been looking at our customers who work with [their company name], and there's a noticeable trend that they have less friction overall with [problem that they solve]. I think that [your company name] and [their company name] work well together to solve [pain point].
Do you currently know anyone who is trying to solve a similar problem? I'll keep you in mind over here if an equal opportunity comes up as well.
Here are some answers to miscellaneous, frequently asked questions about referrals.
What is a referral fee?
A referral fee is a commission or a finder's fee paid to the referrer. It is a financial incentive.
How can I get referrals without asking?
As mentioned above, using passive methods like asking for referrals within your email signature avoids direct asking. In general, if you are fostering good client relationships, and your customers are happy, verbally mentioning you are always looking for new opportunities can signal your clients without your having to ask for referrals explicitly.
How do referrals work?
Depending on your client, they may make an introduction between you and the prospect. Often, the prospect will reach out directly after getting your contact information from your client. How you follow up and whether you choose to offer a reward for the referred customer is up to you and what makes sense for your business.
Summarizing Client Referrals
It's no question that client referrals are an effective marketing channel for any business. While asking for referrals can feel like a daunting task, by getting into the habit of cultivating a referral mindset, you can learn to identify referral opportunities, create a dedicated referral program, and foster good client relationships that will naturally develop into a referral pipeline with just a little consistent effort.