Get Over Your Fear of Asking for Customer Referrals

There are few more powerful sales tools than a client raving about you to a prospect. So why do so few firms ask for referrals?

Written by Deborah Aarts

Few sales leads are more powerful than customer referrals. And what could be better than a satisfied client raving about your products and services to a prospect to whom you’d never otherwise have access?

Yet there aren’t many companies that run 100% referral-driven businesses. This is baffling to Joanne S. Black, a U.S. based sales expert who specializes in referral selling. In her recent book Pick Up the Damn Phone! How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal, Black explains why people fear the referral request—and what to do to get over it.

1. Get comfortable with the idea

There are many reasons salespeople don’t ask for referrals from customers as often as they might—they may have other things on their plate, they may not know how to do it effectively and, crucially, they may note feel comfortable. It’s the latter that presents the biggest hurdle, Black says. “Asking for referral introductions feels uncomfortable for most people,” she writes. “We worry that doing so could imply our businesses are struggling, and that asking already-busy people to help us might mean risking those relationships. Worst of all, they might say no.” These are valid fears, she acknowledges—but you need to get over the idea that soliciting referrals is an act of desperation. “When your referral sources introduce you to new prospects, they’re not just helping you; they’re helping the people to whom they refer you as well,” she says. “Referrals are built on truth and integrity. Think of all the referrals you easily and willingly provide: You tell people about a great restaurant, a terrific movie, a top mechanic or the latest iPad app you bought. And you don’t consider it an imposition or favour to do so.”

Read: Generate More Client Referrals

2. Stop making excuses

Salespeople have a lot of excuses for not asking for referrals; “I forgot” or “It’s not the right time” are common. “These are red flags that indicate the downward spiral of never asking,” Black writes. These excuses suggest a lack of confidence, she adds, which is not something you want in your sales force. “It’s time to move referral selling from common sense to common practice,” she says. “Determine how these excuses for not asking play out in your company, and build a plan to shift the way you work.”

3. Don’t wait to ask

The reason many people wait to ask for a customer referral is that they don’t feel they’ve yet earned the right. Maybe the client hasn’t yet seen a significant ROI; maybe the project is not yet complete. There’s no need to wait for such milestones, Black says; she contends that it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a referral as soon as a customer thanks you for something you’ve done. “You’ve given them an idea, shared an insight, introduced them to people they should know, or told the truth when it was difficult to do so,” she explains. If they’re grateful, they’re very likely to pass along a good word—even if you haven’t been working together for very long.

4. Don’t abuse the privilege

The last thing you want to do when a customer has referred your business is to make them second-guess themselves—and that happens all too often in today’s “more clients, now!” sales culture. “Far too many sales organizations are so focused on bringing in new business that they neglect their current customers,” explains Black. Never stop nurturing existing relationships, she advises; that way, you can their referrals coming.

Black’s bottom line? Just start asking for referrals. You have little to lose and an awful lot to gain. “You’ll get to walk straight into meetings with your ideal prospects—without cold calling or trying to figure out how to bypass the gatekeeper,” she writes.

Pop Quiz: Do You Know How to Win Client Referrals?

Do you ask for customer referrals? If yes, what strategies do you find effective? If no, why not? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Originally appeared on

Comments are closed.