How to ask for a Referral Without Looking Desperate


I just finished giving a talk to a group of business professionals. The theme in the room seemed to revolve around how to get more referrals. Asking for referrals is crucial when you consider that one study by heinz showed that 82% of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral. My sense from the questions I received is that people are scared of asking for referrals. They feel awkward asking and it’s costing them a lot of money.

In his fantastic book Anatomy of Buzz Emanuel Rosen explores why people refer others in the first place. A lot of research went into this to say that people don’t refer people because they’re great. They refer people because they want to protect their friends from making a bad purchase decision elsewhere.

There’s 3 keywords here that are important.

1. Protect

Sometimes it’s less about adding something and more about removing something that may be interfering with your referrals. Is there any way in which you operate that makes people feel uncomfortable? No one wants to throw their friend into a pressure sales situation. No one wants to send their friends into a commitment they can’t get out of. Make sure it’s as pressure free and as easy as possible to get a taste for what you do.

2. Friends

One study by Nielson showed that 92% of people trusted referrals from friends as the number one source of finding out about products or services. They’re not doing it for you, they are doing it for their friends. That’s an important distinction in the language you use. Are you giving your clients examples of people like your customers friends that you’ve helped? Have you showed them how other clients have referred you friends and are happily seeing results? Have you asked them who they know that could use your help? Always remember that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Focus on their friends.

3. Elsewhere

There’s a timing component to referrals. If no one in the referee’s network has an immediate problem, they will have no one to convince to join. It’s only when the problem arises that they will have a chance to suggest a referral. That means that the more friends someone has, the more connected they are – the better the chance of them actually knowing someone with a problem. A well connected person can bring you 10+ quality referrals while others who stay in their office may have the ability to give you one or two. Find the connectors and get them in your business.

Now once you understand that it’s about their friends and not you, there’s many ways on how you can approach asking. But first you have to believe in what you’re doing. If you truly believe in the benefits your providing for people, then why wouldn’t you want to share that with as many people as you can. If you believe in it, you have to push beyond your discomfort.

One way I’ve found to be successful is to discuss it at the beginning when you’re talking about goals. You can say “If I help you reach your goal could you help me with mine.” Make a deal.

If that’s too intense for you or doesn’t work in your type of business wait for the compliment. There’s no easier time to ask for a referral than after someone says how happy they are with you.

One quick tip is to use who VS do language and to be specific.
Don’t say “Do you know anyone that could benefit from my service.”

Instead say “who do you know that has X problem and that you would love to see get better?”
When you frame it properly it’s easier for the person to think about the right person.

Now what amazing professional or business owner do you know that could use more referrals?

Please share this with them.

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