Do you routinely record or check back on how clients are referred to you? And if so, are you using that information to guide your marketing interventions? With a shift in digital marketing, it’s so much easier to leverage customer relationship systems and marketing automation to track, manage, and scale your referrals. 

Today, I’m sharing principles and practical tips for creating a referral strategy that you can use to work smarter not harder with regard to using your clients and professional networks for lead generation.


If you regularly get people introducing you to others they think you can help, then you have the makings of a great referral strategy to generate leads for your business. These prospects are typically more receptive, trusting and responsive than other new leads coming into your business.

But even taking account of a small commission or finder’s fee, referral leads aren’t costing you much in terms of the marketing and advertising you do for your own lead generation.

So it pays to pay attention …

Do you routinely record or check back on how clients are referred to you? And if so, are you using that information to guide your marketing interventions? With a shift in digital marketing, it’s so much easier to leverage customer relationship systems and marketing automation to track, manage, and scale your referrals.

As you’re networking or doing your initial outreach and info interviews for market research, you will undoubtedly come across people who aren’t necessarily your target market but who can become great referral sources for future leads. It’s important to recognize the opportunity and cultivate these relationships by first understanding how you can add value to that person or company.

When it comes to attracting high-calibre referrals from current customers, businesses can get the competitive edge by utilising a well-designed client referral programme. But just having such a programme in place is pointless if it is ineffective in producing enough referrals to help you reach your objectives.

So let’s dive into what a client referral strategy could do for your business, and the kind of assets and technologies you can put in place to leverage it.

In this episode, I’ll address some of the questions my clients ask and listeners have submitted. In so doing, you’ll get a good grasp first of all on what drives referrals, recommendations and the creation of raving fans. It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised!

Then we’ll walk through some key principles and practices to make your referral strategy successful:

What is A Business Referral?

How Does a Referral Marketing Strategy Work?

Why Focus on Getting Referrals?

How Do You Build a Strong Referral Network?

How should you ask for referrals, and when?

Architecting a Simple Client Referral Process

Leveraging technology to support referrals

10 Top Tips to Get More Business Referrals

Final Words


What is A Business Referral?

A business referral is when a potential client suggests you or your company to someone in their network. It could occur naturally in the course of a discussion or as the consequence of a referral marketing plan.

A referral strategy for your business essentially means you lean on using existing clients and contacts to get new ones. And as long as you’re giving the greatest service possible, the majority of people will be delighted to rave about you to their friends and family, to their business acquaintances whatever is appropriate to the nature of your business.

Since they know and trust the referrer, referrals tend to be much warmer prospects for your business. This is a super important distinction to any leads that you may generate yourself from scratch.

It’s crucial to regard referral marketing as a business strategy, and a very significant one at that, even though some individuals might feel a bit awkward about asking for a review or a reference in case they come across as desperate.

How Does a Referral Marketing Strategy Work?

A referral strategy operates as follows:

First, you want to identify important people in your sphere of influence (existing customers, business contacts, even family, friends or friends of friends.)

When you consider the six degrees of separation – the idea that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other, you’ll realise we know a lot more people than we think. This means we don’t have to rely just on serendipity to tap into that wider chain of acquaintances.

Secondly, when you nurture and invest in those 1st, 2nd, 3rd degree connections, you want to be going above and above for them whenever you can.

And remember we’re talking not only face-to-face in-person networking but everything you do online: what you publish, share, comment on that adds value to people and gets you noticed.

And a third thing that happens then is that they may recommend you to their clients, colleagues, and friends. Point three may be simpler to state than to implement, so you have to be a little proactive, get your timing right, but it’s okay to ‘Just Ask’.

In fact, that’s the title of the book of one of my acquaintances, Andy Lopata, who I’ve talked about before and who I interviewed as one of my first podcast guests – check out episode 3 on leveraging professional relationships. Andy shared some really great insights and advice on how to go about this in the right ways.

Why Focus on Getting Referrals?

Because it’s the shortest path to getting clients! Bob Burg wrote a terrific book called Endless Referrals, which is well worth getting if you think referrals are an untapped marketing strategy for your business.

Most of the reasons for getting referrals are obvious, so I’ll just rattle off a list of benefits here and we’ll move on. Referrals are a means to:

  • Have other people bring potential clients directly to you with no acquisition cost
  • Create more sales in less time
  • Overcome your prospecting fears
  • Generate warm, qualified leads fast

Remember, just ask!

How Do You Build a Strong Referral Network?

You want to be intentional about building professional relationships, yet you don’t want all your networking to be about what you’ll get out of it. The intention to leverage relationships you’re already developing through your regular networking activity is a key thing of importance here.

This struck me hard during my conversation for the podcast with Andy. When I first started my podcast, and I can’t believe it’s two years ago now, as I said Andy was the first ever guest I interviewed. I’d only known him a short while via a Facebook group about podcasting that we were in together, both looking to start a podcast, so we had each other’s back. I approached him to come on my new show, and to my delight he said yes for sure!

I had a sense he was super switched on and high in integrity, which I admire, and he’s a speaker whereas I’m not much into formal speaking, so I thought I’d learn a lot from interviewing him.

It hadn’t occurred to me at that time how valuable having his connections would be. Because I didn’t ‘just ask’ for that reason. My intention was to have someone I liked and trusted as my first guest.

And Andy shared so graciously and openly and the topic was very much on-message with the podcast theme of leverage. It was one of our very first episodes and one of the highest downloads to date.

If you’re looking at building and leveraging relationships, there’s more to this “just ask” concept than meets the eye. I’ll give you the link in a Show Notes for this episode, and it will be in the article version as well.

Although you can hope your networking conversations may result in a referral, if you’re only out to see what you can get, it’s a real turn off for people. If it’s someone you don’t know already or don’t know too well, go in curious to see if you share the same values. Because if you don’t, it’s likely you won’t want clients from them anyhow!

This brings me to another couple of questions I’m often asked about asking for referrals.


How should you ask for referrals, and when?

As a business owner, it’s important to maintain relationships with your network — both those who might become clients and those who might be able to refer clients to you. Similar to attending networking events, building time into your weekly schedule to reach out and stay in contact with your connections is important.

How you can get started is to:

  • Identify 3-4 groups to sign up with (online or offline or preferably a mix of both) that you regularly show up to so people get to know, like and trust you

  • Produce a daily or weekly plan to follow up with X # of people in your network and look for ways to add value for them.

What I mean by adding value is by sharing resources, sending them a referral, or other useful and timely news. In so doing, you’re creating a strong sense of trust between you.

Let’s now move on to the practical ways you can create a referral strategy.

If you need some help deciding if this is the right strategy for where you’re at in your business, then book a free Strategy Discovery Consult with me and we can review.


Architecting a Simple Client Referral Process

The referral experience needs to be a natural and simple process for your clients. But you can harness technology to support that process, and ensure you’re taking consistent action and reviewing what’s working. Referral marketing systems can help you do that.

The way businesses market online, particularly when it comes to word-of-mouth, has undergone a significant change. To assist marketers in tracking, managing, and scaling activities throughout the company, referral marketing automation is essential.

You will want to cultivate a consistent practice of networking and following up with leads, and look for ways to add value to the members of your network through resources, referral exchanges, or other means.

Decide if you will provide referral fees or affiliate commissions for those who refer clients or customers to you, and how to deliver those payments. Usually, that’s at the point of sale not at the point of referral.

And it’s also important to have a way to follow up and say “thank you” for any new leads that are sent your way.

In terms of what needs to happen, there are some initial high-level steps you’ll need to work on.


#1 – Get Super Clear on Your Offer

Are you clear on your offer? If not, refer back to episodes …9, 16, 38, and 68 of the Leveraged Business Podcast.

There’s very little point creating a referral strategy if you’re not clear yourself how to articulate what you do. Use your existing clients to help you find that unique value proposition, there’s some tips at the end of this episode to help too.

And related to this, particularly if you’re in the B2B space, is to ensure your brand positioning and target audience for your core offer is clear and up-to-date on your website and LinkedIn profile.

In particular, you want to be able to answer a question referrers may ask you, especially if they’re really keen to help support you with this. The question, sometimes in two parts is: what would be make a good introduction for you, what kind of clients are you looking for?

If you can’t clearly answer that, then work on your ideal client avatar and messaging.


#2 – Use Customer Engagement to Encourage Referrals

Both B2C selling direct to clients and B2B businesses selling into organisations serve customers who want to engage and interact with their brands. In today’s super-connected arena, they form relationships that go beyond email or social media marketing. By giving your clients/customers the tools they need to promote your brand, service, and experience, you’re tapping into what people who like, know and trust you naturally want to do.

By incorporating this into your entire customer engagement methods, you can begin to harness the power of genuine word-of-mouth to bring in a constant flow of top-notch referrals and increase sales.

Your referral programme helps to encourage your customers to recommend high-quality prospects, but customer satisfaction ultimately has a stronger impact on the process.


#3 – Make it easy for people to refer you

Consider how busy your clients are before asking for referrals (since being overloaded may be a key reason why they hired you). Rather than asking politely and hoping they’ll do it, be proactive in your approach and do some of the heavy lifting for them.

One way to make it easy for people to submit referrals for you is to create an easy-to-fill-out template or include a link to a form on your website. If you’re asking for a review, you can draft it out for them and ask them to edit it to suit their viewpoints or style. That way they’re not starting from scratch, which is often why we procrastinate on things, even if they’re things we want to do, and are doing willingly.

Experiment asking for referrals at different times and in different forms. For instance, rather than ask for names directly, you might ask them if they would write you a review or a testimonial, or help you put together a case study from the work. You can make it part of the final evaluation and reflection or debrief you do at the end of a project or program.

Those materials are all things you can share on your website and social channels, and will boost the appeal of your brand.

It’s quite common to ask for a referral at the end of a job, especially if it’s gone well. but don’t do this at the same time as you push your invoice in front of them. That probably isn’t the best time to ask, because the client is thinking about the cost of you not the value of your services. They may also just forward it on to accounts rather than read and see your request.

Outline the referral fees or affiliate commissions you will offer (set this in writing, per product or service, if applicable)


#4 – Consider Adding Social Sharing for Greater Impact

Having your clients spread the word about your referral programme may seem a little strange, but it actually works.

The advantages of having a social sharing option for your referral programme are that once your customers start sharing it on their LinkedIn and other social media, they can attract the attention of their connections, friends and followers on those channels. It will also encourage the connections of your clients to learn more about your business and eventually become paying customers.

Given the significant reach social programmes have, this method, if properly applied, can undoubtedly provide amazing results in the shape of a large number of recommendations coming your way in a short amount of time.


#5 – Implement Dedicated Referral Marketing Automation Software

Using a referral marketing software system allows you to automate much of the heavy lifting. Manual referral management may be tedious and complicated for many businesses and so a referral software is the optimal solution in such a scenario.

A referral software makes the referral management process easier by providing complete control across each of the steps involved.

While you still will need to identify your initial potential referrers to put them into the system, you can use the automation to set up reminders, email workflows and run reports to ensure you’re executing your referral strategy consistently and efficiently.

Since on the leveraged business podcast here, I’m all about helping you work smarter not harder, let’s dig a little deeper into …


Leveraging technology to support referrals

You’re possibly already familiar with Customer Relationship Management systems, CRM systems that help you record and track contacts, so you can keep abreast of the status of a prospective client and have it trigger you to take action following up.

There are also systems and tools that support you to track joint venture partners or affiliates and pay out commissions and finders fees. I’m not going into the tech piece here, needless to say you should think about what you’d need a system to do, specific to your business referral arrangements and then research the tools that fit that specification best. You may need to compromise on one or two things, so make sure you’re clear on what are absolutely essential and what are ‘nice to haves’.

A referral software running in sync with the program can work wonders for your brand when it comes to drawing new leads via referrals.

Well-designed tools rely on the referral information registration and require little to no setup. When you have robust and dependable marketing technology in play, you’re really understand the power of referrals and what can be achieved for your business.

In particular, I love the reports they can produce. They’re amazing because they show you not only your top referring partners (you know, like a leaderboard), but they also show you how much revenue is tied to those referrals.

Armed with this list, you can reach out to those contacts and make sure they have all the information they need to confidently continue recommending clients to you. Such information may include referral cards that list your contact information, direct phone numbers for dedicated schedulers, pass-along pieces about specific programs or services.

This direct communication can further solidify the relationship and establish you as a true partner in extending the client experience. The goal is to communicate that your referrer can provide a seamless transition for their clients, delivering a complementary or further level of service.

With dedicated website links or tracking codes, not only can a referral system reveal which of your clients or partners are referring people to you, but it can also see how other referral sources are performing. For instance, if you ran an ad in a local magazine or hosted a community outreach and awareness event, you can track them in the same way.

A sound marketing tool can show exactly how many clients you acquired as a result of these initiatives. When costs are entered into the system, you start to appreciate the ROI, allowing your business to accurately determine or forecast key financial performance indicators like cost-per-acquisition and compare strategies for whether to invest in referral support or run a particular advertising or marketing outreach campaign.

Once you decide that leveraging referrals is working for you, then referral marketing and management software combined can really ramp up your efforts. In fact, referral software serves as the perfect customer referral program that most brands are looking for to expand their customer base through quality referrals.

The SaaS company ranked the leader for referral programs is PartnerStack. Look them up. They even help you easily track their programs impact and accordingly make changes to it if required.


10 Top Tips to Get More Business Referrals

Here are some top recommendations and strategies to try out to assist you in creating a business referral strategy from current clients as you go forward with your referral plan.

These tips are roughly divided into two categories, one: ways to remind your clients and contacts how amazing you are, subtly of course so when they do talk about you or share something of yours, they know how to articulate your unique value. Two: ways to make it easy for them to do that, creating shareable material. And, three is about picking your timing.

Let’s quickly run through all ten, and then there’s one additional tip that I’d like to share that’s a bit more nuanced.

  1. Regularly ask your customers to feedback on their experience working with you, and specifically ask what they feel makes you uniqueCapture great things they say about you and the results they’re getting, and ask them to tell others who they feel could benefit

  2. Ask them what they would be comfortable sharing, and see if you can finda place for their positive feedback on your website or social channels

  3. Develop a referral mindset: that of asking questions, giving and receiving, follow up, initiating cross-promotions, and turning sales calls into referrals – that point where you acknowledge they’re not a fit or the timing isn’t quite right, so you say something like: ok so it’s not for you right now, who do you know who would also be interested in having a conversation with me about this and would get a lot of value out of the call?

  4. Let current clients know about all the goods and services you provide (not just the ones they use; this links to repeat business strategies too!)

  5. Make telling people about you a simple and quick task, that is: don’t ask for too much

  6. Produce material that can easily be forwarded to others

  7. Provide people with a variety of ways they can share and advocate

  8. Choose the ideal moment to ‘just ask’ for their support

  9. Treat each client as a collaborative partner, and find other providers who are complementary to you and suggest cross-referring.

An additional option is to offer an incentive – this can be monetary or a case of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ kind of favour exchange. I’m not a huge fan of incentivization because it runs the risk of some loss of integrity or authenticity, but some businesses do it quite well and are fine with it.

At its extreme, you starting entering a different territory altogether – more of an affiliate or commission arrangement.

So, that’s what I got for you today, creating a business referral strategy. Some of it is very straightforward and some of it you can go to town and set up systems, and processes and automations to go the whole hog. So first decide if it will suit your business, test it works, and then decide and ramp things up. 

If you need some help deciding if this is the right strategy for where you’re at in your business, then book a free Strategy Discovery Consult with me and we can review.

Just some final words and we’ll call this a wrap…

Final Words

For me, new customer acquisition is the soul of business expansion. If you want to grow and scale, you want to have your leads coming in without as much effort as when you first set up in business. So it’s actually a really big deal to shorten the time it takes to acquire a new clients. Usually, you do that by warming them up and nurturing.

Making that process as fast and the customer journey as short as possible is highly significant for small, midsize and large businesses alike. Having someone referring you can save a lot of time and money and speed the process up significantly.

Given budgetary constraints, the question of how to acquire high quality leads remains an area of marketing my clients are keen to find answers to. Creating an intentional process and dedicated customer referral program is the solution to that challenge businesses face in expanding their customer base via referrals.