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We talk a lot about referral generation--and with good reason. Customers or contacts referring new business is an effortless way to gain new customers and prospects and grow your business. No matter what's going on with new channels, technology, or marketing ideas, the concept of using referrals to drive sales is like a fine wine--it only gets better with age. Here are some concepts to help you kickstart your business's referral machine.

Teach customers how to make referrals

This might seem obvious, but it's surprising how many people just never explicitly ask for referrals. If you explain the best way to refer you and why it's important to you, you stand a good chance of actually getting what you want.

Find a way to make referrals to your business easy, and your efforts will be even more effective. The simple fact is that people like helping other people. It's important to make sure that you're explicit about what the next marketing steps will be. For example, let the referral source know the best way to connect you with a new client or who that prospect should contact for more information. Then, find a way to thank them for their efforts.

Offer a great experience

At its core, a referral comes because someone really enjoyed all of their interactions with you and thinks that others will do the same. How do make sure that happens? Take a look at every touch point that you have with your customers and ask yourself, what can I do to make this experience great?

Central to this idea is transforming customers into champions. Champions will go above and beyond for you because you've done the same for them. Simple things like sending someone a discount code for a referral or holding a special event will really make a big difference in letting people know that you really appreciate them.

Convert moments of truth into referrals

Anytime you notice a moment when everything went right, make sure that you get a referral out of it. We spend a lot of time talking about how to respond to negative reviews, but you should also be putting energy into cultivating customers who had a great experience. Recognize and thank them for their review, and then see if you can get a referral out of it. Similarly, if you notice that you've just had a moment of excellent customer service or satisfaction, be ready to ask for a referral.

Engage your current customers

We spend a lot of time and energy being outwardly focused, always asking ourselves how we can introduce more and more customers to our business. While it's great to grow, one thing that is often overlooked is to see how you can better engage the customers that you already have. Customer appreciation events, special discounts, or even just reaching out for things like holidays and birthdays can make a big difference in helping keep your brand top-of-mind, which makes a referral more likely to happen.

Ultimately, creating a referral engine that actually works is about finding a way to be on your customers' minds with regularity, instead of just when they need something from you. Finding a way to do this without being pushy is tricky, but if you can walk that line you'll reap the benefits.