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Best Way to Get a Customer Referral

Nine simple steps to build your customer base--with the help of your best customers.

Referrals are always your best source of new customers.  Unfortunately, many people ask for referrals from the wrong people, in the wrong way, at the wrong time, and with lousy follow-through.

Here's how to do it right, based upon conversation with Joanne Black, author of "Pick Up the Damn Phone," one of my 5 Best Sales Books of 2013:

1. Understand what you're asking.  When you ask for a referral, you're actually asking your source to put his or her reputation on the line in order to endorse you as a person worthy of a colleague's attention.  It's a big deal so treat it accordingly.

2. Earn trust first. You're wasting your time asking for a referral when you first contact a prospective customer. If somebody hasn't bought from you and confirmed you're worth a colleagues attention, you aren't going to get a useful referral.

3. Be specific about who you need. Rather than asking for "somebody who needs my services," define (for your source) the type of person and company who's most likely to need what you have to offer.  Better yet, have a specific individual in mind. (Hint: use LinkedIn.)

4. Ask for an action not a contact. Rather simply asking for name, phone and email, ask your source to call or email the prospect. Make it clear what you'd like your source to say and confirm that your source will be comfortable saying it.

5. Get a commitment for a confirmation. Ask your source to get back to you (or copy you on the email) so that you're certain your source has taken the action that you've requested... before you follow up on the referral.

6. Immediately thank your source.  When your source agrees to take action on your behalf, offer your profuse thanks and appreciation, before your source has taken any action! This is not only appropriate but reminds the source to actually take the action.

7. Follow up on the referral.  Since your source has already endorsed you, you've got the inside track. Use it well.

8. Thank your source again.  After you've followed up on the referral, call or email with your thanks and a brief status report, like "You were right; Fred is a great guy."

9. If you make a sale, thank your source again. If the referral generates a sale, send another thank you to your source. This is not only appropriate, but also encourages the source to continue to refer other prospects!

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Last updated: Jan 14, 2014


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

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