25 Ways to Get Referrals

By Mary Flaherty, Director, Content Strategy & Development

SellSvcChall_2Last year, we asked you to share your selling services challenges. You flooded us with your challenges and concerns, which included communicating the value of your services, client relationship management, and qualifying leads. In this blog series we identify 12 of the major selling obstacles you are struggling with the most and offer advice and suggestions for overcoming them.

This week's challenge: getting referrals.

If it's no secret that referrals are among the top ways professional services firms get leads and new business, then why do so many providers struggle when it comes to getting referrals?

We know our buyers rely on colleagues, associates, and friends to recommend service providers. And we know when a prospect comes to us via this route that some of our work is already done for us. After all, a referral comes with some pre-selling done, since a certain amount of trust and credibility comes along with it.

Are you doing what it takes to generate quality referrals?Are You Doing What It Takes to Generate Quality Referrrals?

While most professionals recognize this, they don't effectively tap into their networks to proactively generate referrals.

This happens for a number of reasons. As we saw in the Selling Services Challenge, many people are uncomfortable asking for referrals. They either don't want to appear "salesy" or don't want to appear desperate for the work. Or, as John Jantsch, author of The Referral Engine, suggests in his podcast with RainToday's Michelle Davidson, they may be insecure about whether they deserve referrals-do they actually deliver value and benefit to their clients?

Be Referable

To make referral marketing a proactive part of your lead generation activities, you need to be referable. Ensure that you deliver what you promise, when you promise-and that you actually deliver value to your clients.

Don't Rely on Accidental Referrals

This is important.

If you don't want what Jantsch calls "accidental referrals," you need to get clear on who you want to attract as clients and how your network can help you get referrals to those clients.

Don't Wait for the Pipeline to Dry Up

Don't wait until your pipeline for work has stopped flowing. Put a referral process into place now to drive high quality referrals consistently.

Create Your Own Referral System

Start getting quality referrals using these tips (in no particular order):

  1. Create a referral program with complimentary service providers to exchange referrals. Be sure you only include providers in this network that you'd be comfortable recommending to your best client or best friend.
  2. Recognize and thank your referral sources. This could be with a simple phone call, email, or-even better-a handwritten note. The important thing is to express your appreciation. You'll also encourage additional referrals this way.
  3. If you have clients who don't refer, create another way for them to recommend your services (e.g., case study, testimonial). I once worked for a large organization that prohibited written testimonials and discouraged referrals; however, I was able to provide recommendations by phone for vendors with which I worked. Two vendors I worked with took advantage of this opportunity and closed several deals by having select high-value prospects speak with me.
  4. Include a "Referrals Appreciated" blurb in your print or email newsletter. Be sure to describe what an ideal referral looks like for you.
  5. Also in your email newsletter, include a request: "If you got value from this article, please share it with your network (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)." Add icons and links that make it easy to share content.
  6. Add to your email signature: Referrals Appreciated.
  7. Add a "referrals appreciated" tagline or "By Referral Only" to your business card.
  8. Make sure your current clients know about the services you offer so they can either refer within their company or to others they know. Too often providers assume their clients know more about them than they do. If you're a market research firm and a client uses only your online survey research services, for example, make sure they know about your intercept interview service or focus group capabilities.
  9. Add a link to a form on your website for referral submissions.
  10. Proactively refer people to other businesses that have a clientele similar to yours. Let those businesses know you've done so and that you'd appreciate the same.
  11. Be remarkable; remind clients why your service is special. Give them something (good) to talk about.
  12. Inspire confidence. It's risky referring someone-what if it's not successful? You can inspire confidence in your referral sources by letting them know that 80% (or whatever) of your business comes from repeat customers.
  13. Offer an affiliate program.
  14. Offer a guarantee. This is another way to inspire confidence (see #12).
  15. Provide valuable content your referral sources can share with their network-an invitation to a breakfast or lunch seminar or webinar on an industry topic, research briefs, an article about a regulatory change or industry trend, etc. Make it something special for them to share.
  16. Treat the vendors and suppliers with which you do business as partners. Make sure they're aware of who you help and the services you provide.
  17. Update your LinkedIn profile. Include the link to your profile in your email newsletter or website to make it easy for referral sources to share. Include it in your email signature with the note, "Please feel free to forward my profile to others you feel would benefit from my services."
  18. Create a list of prospects you want to work with. Check out their LinkedIn profiles to see whether you're connected in any way. If so, reach out to them via your network-whether it's an individual, a company, or a group.
  19. Create a referral program for current clients where they receive some type of reward or recognition for new business they refer. For example, John Jantsch gives an example of an accounting firm that created a "100% Refund" offer where its tax preparation clients received four coded business cards. Clients who referred new clients could receive a refund of up to 100% of their tax preparation fee-25% for each card that was turned in to the firm by a new client.
  20. If you generate traffic from Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks, reach out to your networks online and request referrals. On Twitter, you can ask your followers to retweet to their networks.
  21. Be helpful in forums. There are many stories of helpful people getting business just from the goodwill they create from helping on Twitter, LinkedIn, and private online communities.
  22. Treat your customers as partners, too. Let them know you view them as a strategic partner, and tell them you hope they'll do the same with you. Create formal channels to share referrals.
  23. Educate referral sources so they know what an ideal referral looks like. For example, Sarah Arrow of Same Day Courier Services lets people know their ideal referrals are blue chip companies looking to deliver airfreight and time-sensitive components. They don't deliver small packages like nuts and bolts unless they are worth more than $5,000.
  24. Give your raving fans the tools they need to refer you. Johan Taft had people tell him they wanted to refer him, but they didn't know how to explain what he does. So, he created a site for referrals and testimonials. He has a link to it in his email signature, and he gives copies of the PDF document posted there to people who are interested in referring him.
  25. GIVE a referral. It's one of the best ways to get one in return.

This is just a start. Let these suggestions jump-start your own idea generation. Create a referral process that works for your ideal clients and your networks.

Be referable. Focus on your ideal clients. Tap into your networks in a proactive way. By putting a referral system into place now, you are more likely to receive quality referrals throughout the year.

Want to learn more about referrals, as well as other strategies that will help you generate loyal, profitable clients? Enroll in The Relationship Strategy Program. This online, on-demand training program was developed by RAIN Group and relationship expert Andrew Sobel to help you not only bring in new business, but to ensure you make the most out of that business by developing clients for life.

Learn More and Enroll in The Relationship Strategy Program.


Mary Flaherty, Director, Content Strategy & Development, at RainToday.com, directs overall strategy and development for the site. She develops research, case studies, how-to tools, interviews, and other premium site content. Mary’s career spans more than 20 years in higher education publishing and research, as well as professional services marketing. You can reach her at mflaherty@raintoday.com and follow her on Twitter at @MaryFlaherty.

Selling Services Challenge


Sarah Arrow

Thanks for the mention Mary, and what a great article :)

There are definitely some that I don't do, so time taken on creating a good referral program is time well spent.

January 5, 2011, 11:33 AM
Dan Knowlson

A very useful reminder of things we should all be doing but often don't. Like Sarah, it's time for me to get my system working more effectively.

January 5, 2011, 11:39 AM
Mary Flaherty

@Sarah @Dan Appreciate the comments. Most of the time it seems we know what we "should" be doing, it's more of matter of getting around to actually implementing. The beauty of a referral system is that once we plan (and write down) how we're going to encourage referrals, it's much easier -- and less time-consuming -- to make it happen.

Here's to a referral-laden new year!

January 5, 2011, 9:00 PM
Trudy Brady

Once they are comfortable with the concept of giving referrals and you have proven your ability and commitment to live up to you promises, clients will give good quality referrals. Joanne Black, founder of No More Cold Calling, says referral selling, which is based on introductions from others, will help make all your sales calls.

January 18, 2011, 10:35 AM

Hi Mary, excellent post.

I particularly like your tip to add a link to forms in order to stimulate possible referrals.

I've recently posted on <a HREF="http://clientonomy.com/how-to-get-referrals" rel="nofollow">how to get referrals</A>. My readers will be grateful for your excellent resource.

Thanks, Mac.

July 4, 2011, 12:21 PM


Really excellent post. There is so much information about referrals. Thanks for this article.

February 4, 2012, 1:59 AM
Gerry Hatton

Hello Mary,

Excellent blog! If you get started with these 25 ways, you're well on your way to a great referral-based business/life. I put together groups of contractors and small businesses involved in and around real estate activities. The business is solely driven by referrals. I teach techniques in our meetings. Wishing all a great referral 2012! Gerry and Theresa

February 26, 2012, 1:32 PM

These are all really great ideas. I find the key to referrals beyond remembering to ask is to make it simple and easy for people to give them. I found a tool that helps with that. It's called Tell'em'bout Me. Might work for your business as well. Check it out. www.tellemboutme.com

August 4, 2012, 1:32 PM

Adding asking for referrals to signature is a great idea. Consider it done.

December 13, 2012, 3:50 PM

Getting referrals is not so hard, hard is to get active ones. building a relationship with your referrals is way more important that number of referrals. Great information all the way!

February 9, 2013, 10:56 AM

It's true that getting referrals is not very hard. But you really need to work with a good strategy to get the number of referrals you want. If you follow the wrong procedures, it may take years to make even a single referral. What is more important is to know the right ways to get referrals. There are people who can make tons of referrals easily. They are definitely doing something that other people are not doing. It may be said that they don't even know what the other people are doing. But if you use your intelligence in a far better way, I am sure that it will not be very difficult to get significant number of referrals for your business. What you need to follow the right procedure in the right way.

June 18, 2013, 12:48 AM

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