Asking for Referrals: Have You Earned the Right?

August 25, 2015


If you’re asking for referrals from strangers on social media, you’re like the guy at a networking event who shoves his card in people’s faces and asks for theirs in return. I never give my card to that guy, because he’s all about himself. He probably just wants to win the contest at his company for bringing back the most contact information. He’ll almost certainly email me the next day, telling me about his great product and asking for referrals. But I don’t respond to emails like that, and neither do most people.

What’s missing here is … well, a lot. First, he’s proven he doesn’t care about making a personal connection. He’s pitching without ever bothering to ask about me or my business. And he thinks I’ll give him a referral? Why would I? I don’t know him. (And at this point, I don’t care to.)

Most people only refer sales professionals they know, like, and trust. After all, when we make business referrals, we’re putting our own reputations on the line. Why would we stick our necks out for people who don’t even take the time to learn about us before they ask us to do something?

When to Ask for Referrals

Salespeople often ask me when they should bring up the referral conversation. This concern reflects the discomfort many of us feel when asking for referrals. We don’t want to appear pushy, salesy, or arrogant, so we keep waiting for the right time.

Many think they should wait until they sign a deal; others wait until the client implements; and still others feel they can’t ask until the client sees an ROI. We wait and wait, often until the relationship with the initial buyer is so far removed that we never ask.

As long as you’ve made a personal connection and demonstrated value, you have earned the right to ask.

Who to Ask for Referrals

Referrals are based on trust, which means you must earn the right to ask. But you already have that right with existing clients, because they:

  • Know firsthand the value of your solutions
  • Can attest to the ROI they’ve received from working with you
  • Trust you (or else they wouldn’t work with you)

With existing clients, you don’t have to wait until your solution is implemented and getting results. You can ask:

  • During the sales process when you’ve added value
  • When the client has thanked you
  • Those with whom you and your team interact during the implementation process

The Fortune Is in Your Follow Up

Existing clients are your best source of new business. Never lose touch with your buyers and all the other individuals you work with during the sales and implementation process. These people become valuable members of your referral networks.

Follow up to learn the impact of your solution on their businesses. Share your expertise by sending relevant articles, podcasts, or webinars. Most importantly, follow up to say thank you—for new business, for a referral, or just for being a great customer. You can express your gratitude with a phone call, an email, or (best of all) with a personal, handwritten note. You can’t say thank you enough.

When it comes to referrals, it’s never too soon to ask or to say thanks. Just don’t wait until it’s too late.