Last week, we published The Art of Referrals (Part 1). If you haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, click here.

Now, we’re going to delve even further into this important selling skill.

How to Ask for a Referral

Knowing what to say is half the battle.  First, qualify for their interest in referring people to you.  Here are some ways to do that.

  • “How do you feel about helping me grow my business?”
  • “How do you feel about helping me tell my story to people who might have an interest in what I do?”
  • “I want to build my business through referrals.  I have a goal for the quarter to secure ten new clients through referrals.  If I can help you so it takes very little time and you are confident that I will represent you well, would you be willing to help me?”

 Asking “who do you know…?” (an open-ended question) as opposed to “do you know anyone …” (closed-end question) is a far more effective way to get referrals. 

Here are a few options.

  • “Who do you know who would benefit from my product or service?”
  • “Who do you know that has plans for the future that require what I do?”
  • “Who do you know that is facing the same kinds of challenges that you are?”

Your Ideal Client Profile

Salespeople will experience more success if they can be specific when asking people for referrals.  After all, it’s easier for the referring source if you can take the guesswork out of referrals.  If you can clearly describe the title of the Key Player or company you are looking for, your referring source will find it easier to focus on someone that fits your ideal profile.  This will result in better quality referrals, and more of them.

Finally, Give More to Get More

Referring should not be a one-sided activity.  The more referrals you give, the more you will get.  There should always be something in it for your referring source. 

Try to provide them with referrals in return.  Make a point of asking your clients whom they would like to be introduced to and see if you can help them.

You might provide a reward such as lunch or small token of appreciation.

Mastering the art of the referral is a proven way to effectively build your sales pipeline without having to rely on cold calls. Do you have referral techniques that have helped you build your business? If so, we’d love to hear about them. Send emails to

Referrals are the best way to increase your sales.  When you begin to build your business through referrals, you lessen your dependence on having to make cold calls and other less productive (and frustrating) prospecting activities.  Yet getting qualified referrals is not automatic by any stretch of the imagination.  There is a prerequisite.

The most important concept to understand about referrals is that you must provide outstanding service, superior products and be professional in every way in order for anyone to consider providing you with referrals.  No one will want to refer friends and business associates to you if they are concerned that their referral might have a bad experience with you or your products.

The vast majority of professional salespeople who do provide outstanding service and quality products still do not get nearly the number or quality of referrals that they should, missing out on the easiest way to build their business.  As a result, they work too hard, have to resort to other, less productive, forms of prospecting and their business and income suffers. 

Why Don’t Salespeople Get Referrals?

If referrals are the easiest way to build business, why don’t salespeople get more referrals?  It’s not always due to the lack of quality or professional standards, but rather other factors, and this chapter will address them all.

  1. They don’t ask for them
  2. They don’t know how to ask for them
  3. They don’t tell the referring source what they’re looking for

Our experience is that most salespeople don’t know how to ask for referrals and as a result, when they do, they hear things from the potential referring source like, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do, I’ll call you.” 

When someone asks you for a referral, what is your typical response?  If you normally say, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do…,” then you are very susceptible to having what might be called “referral avoidance empathy” – a belief that your client feels the same way you do.  Then your subconscious thought process goes something like this:  I normally don’t give referrals myself and suspect that he doesn’t either, so why bother asking?  If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re done; it’s over.  No referrals for you.

There’s a lot we could say about referrals, but simply understanding the following will help you improve your referral business.

When to Ask

     The best time to ask for referrals certainly depends on a lot of factors. But here are a few ideas.

  • Set the stage early in the relationship.  (“At some point when you’re totally satisfied with us as a supplier, I’d like to ask you for referrals.  How do you feel about that?”)
  • After you’ve just completed delivery of your solution and your customer is satisfied.  (“Who do you know…?”)

Dos and Don’ts

  • Ask them about their willingness to give you referrals.  Don’t assume they will.
  • Begin the question with “Who do you know that…………….?”  Don’t ask, “Do you know anyone ….?”  It’s too easy for them to say, “I can’t think of anyone right now, but if I do……”
  • Ask to be introduced to their friends and associates.  Don’t ask to be recommended – it puts too much pressure on the prospect and is presumptive.
  • Focus your question on the end result to the client – a benefit or problem you can solve.
  • Phrase the question as though the referring source will be doing the friend a favor.
  • Tell your referring source exactly what you will be doing with the referral.  Don’t forget to keep the referring source informed of your progress.

Click here to read Part 2: including how to ask for a referral, what your ideal client profiles are, how to “upgrade” your referrals, and finally how to give more to get more.