Get a Referral Without Being Awkward

The Steps to Asking for a Referral Without Being the Obnoxious Pushy-Salesperson

Step 1: Be Excellent

Before you even think about asking for a referral you have to do be excellent at what you do. If you’re not, the cilent would is unlikely to be motivated to spread the word about what you do and how well.

Step 2: Be the Ultimate Connector

Be the ultimate connector. Think about referrals before you begin and afterward. Be the person that connects others. Doing so helps grow your reputation as a generous person and this will encourage others to reciprocate your generosity with referrals.

Step 3: Start Early

Remember the prerequisite to any referral: you have to deliver excellent service. This means that you first have to work diligently and ensure that the client is not just satisfied, but thrilled that they had you for support and not your competitor.

After you delivered a big “win”, casually raise your performance and ask for your client’s feedback. If they have issues with you, make sure to immediately rectify these issues. It’s better to solve the perceived or real problems before you move on or you risk not getting a referral and, potentially, gaining a client who spreads negative rumours about you. Follow or modify this short script to un-awkwardly raise the performance question:

You: It’s clear to me that you have a sharp eye for value. I’ve promised you that I’ll deliver excellent value – may I ask you a quick question?

Client: Sure.

You: At this point, is there anything you’d like me to do better?

Client: No – it’s going great so far 

You: Great – I want to make sure that you get the support you need so that you can hardly contain sharing it. 

If the client says that you need to improve certain areas, say this:

You: Absolutely, I’ve taken note and will deliver. After all, I want to make sure that you get the support you need so that you can hardly contain sharing it. 

Step 4: Remind Your Client of Your Value

After the service has been delivered and before the bill is sent, give your client a call to ask for a referral. Start by reminding them of the work you’ve done and how thrilled they are and were with having you on their “team”. Try the following approach which Rick Roberge, blogger and advisors to rockstars and the like, loves to use:

You: You told me you’re happy with my work thus far. Have you told anybody about what we’ve done together?

Client: No.

You: Is it because you’re not pleased with the outcomes?

Client: No, we’re pretty happy.

You: Well then, do you think what we do together would be beneficial to any of your vendors, business partners or clients? 

Client: I don’t want you working with my clients, but maybe some of my vendors.

You: Your vendors then — do you have a favorite? Do they sell to other people you know?

Client: Yeah, we have a good relationship.

You: But you haven’t mentioned that you were working with us yet.

Client: I haven’t, but maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

You: Do you remember why you hired me?

Client: To find a new place that’s affordable and makes sense.

You: And are any of your favorite vendors trying to grow their businesses?

Client: Yes, a few in particular.

You: Okay. In that case, if you called or sent an email and said ‘I’ve been working with [your name] for six months, and she’s delivered on her promises. I know you’re looking to  [XXXX] so I thought I’d put you two together,” would they like you for that or not like you?

If the client is comfortable with providing the referral, send her a template to use or a script if she prefers to make a call. Here’s an example slightly modified from HubSpot:


I may have mentioned this when we last spoke – I’ve been working with [salesperson] for a few months to [achieve X]. Since you’re looking to do the same,  I realized that I should put you two together. So…

[Referral], meet [Salesperson, with a LinkedIn profile URL].

[Salesperson], meet [Referral, with a LinkedIn profile URL].

Can I leave the rest to you guys?

Talk to you both later.

If they hum and haw, however, tread carefully as you don’t want to come across as a pushy and money hungry. Emphasize that your purpose is to help and not to be an obnoxious salesperson. Then drop it.

Step 5: Follow Up with Your Client

Follow up with your customer a week or so after you make the request. If they haven’t made the referral, don’t push anymore. If they have, but you weren’t copied to the email or you haven’t heard from the referral, ask if the referral responded with a “not interested – ever”. If they did, cross them off the list and move on to Step 8.

Step 6: Make Sure Your Client Has a Great Reputation and Relationship with the Referral

Know your client’s reputation in the industry and with whom they have a great relationship and not just who know. I’ve been a victim of this in my past younger years – I’ll never forget the time when I called a referral assuming that they’d be thrilled to know that I knew Mr. S0-and-s0 and that we should connect etc. etc.. The referral had nothing to say but a chain of expletives about Mr. S0-and-s0 and told me to do the same. It turns out that Mr. S0-and-s0 had a terrible reputation in the industry and offended many people in the past. Needless to say, the referral didn’t work out and I laid low about knowing Mr. S0-and-s0.

Step 7: Get in Contact with the Referral, Listen First and Be Casual

Referrals are not cold calls. These are not strangers and so you shouldn’t treat them a one. Talk to them as you would to an acquaintance. You’re already part of the inner circle, so act like you’ve made it and that you’re an expert in your field. Confidence – with the goods to back it up – can go a long way.

Step 8: Say Thank You – NOT in an Email

Say thank you – NOT with a lame email, but actually write out a thank you note and mail it to your client and include a small gift card. We all like to get mail that isn’t junk or a bill. Compare the feeling to getting a small gift and handwritten note to getting yet another email in your inbox.

Thank you and updates are also important because no one likes to waste time on fruitless ventures (hence the sunk cost fallacy that compels us to throw good money after bad just because we don’t want to admit we wasted time). Rather, we all like to know if our efforts were valuable or a waste of our time.

These small steps will not only improve your service delivery and rapport with your client, but will also increase your level of success and help prevent the pipeline from going dry.

For some other great tips, visit this Hubspot blog.