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One of the most effective sources of new business is getting customer referrals. They help your business bring in more clients, thus growing your business. There are many strategies and techniques on how to get referrals, but it starts with some basic principles to establish a strong base of word of mouth.

Word of mouth is the gold standard of a thriving business.  Establishing that strong base of word of mouth marketing can be the gift that keeps on giving.  In short, you want your customers to have stories to tell and feel good about you and your brand.

The customer referral framework

Table of Contents

This age of digital marketing is highly competitive. Customer satisfaction is always the primary goal when a business delivers its products and services to its customers but there are many other customer-centric factors used to get them from satisfied to becoming an advocate that refers their friends.

In this article, we are going to start with specific strategies and steps that can make your business referable and drive word of mouth.

  1. This framework is designed to be a top-down series of steps (i.e. start at the top as they feed into each other)
  2. You don’t have to do them in order and can choose to focus on just one or many areas.
  3. Doing just one or two areas exceptionally well can move the needle for your business. (you can see some great business profiles that do one of these really well to spur word of mouth)
  4. Inside each area, we are going to give you many ways, examples, and ideas to get the engine going and drive more customer referrals.
  5. You don’t have to do all the examples and they may not all apply.  These examples may just give you some ideas to get your own juices flowing.
  6. Sit back and watch the customer referrals roll in.

Let’s get started!

Step 1 – Establish your story and brand

Your business has a story whether you are the one telling it or your customers are.  It’s important for you to influence how you want your story told.  Marketing can do a lot here, but where it really matters is your team and how they treat your customers, which leads to how a customer feels about your company and overall customer experience.

See examples of how story and brand help you get more customer referrals.

This leads us to our next point, customer service and support.

Step 2 – Improve customer service

Now that your team is aligned with your story and brand, offering great customer service falls into line naturally.  Customers remember the service they received and your service alone can get people talking.

See examples of how customer service and customer experience can help you get more customer referrals.

When the great customer service is paired with a great product, your chances of word of mouth occuring are even higher.

Step 3 – Make your product exceptional

Your product is what your customer is paying for.  (If you are a service business, then often times that IS your product, but should be differentiated from your customer service.)

Your product is the benefit your customer is getting by working with your business.  Make sure it’s exceptional.  People refer products and services when they are happy and fulfilled by the promise of your product, they talk about it even more when it exceeds their expectations.

See examples of how a focus on product can help you get more customer referrals.

This next leads us to value, where cost matters.

Step 4 – Give value

The value a customer gets from your business is a feeling.  Value is how your product benefits your customer vs what it cost them.  The value metric shouldn’t be solely tied to money (which is still the dominant factor) but also consider time as a valuable commodity factoring into this equation.

That doesn’t mean you have to be the cheapest product in town (yes, great deals are worth talking about) but saving time and making your business more convenient to work with propels word of mouth.

See examples of how value can help you get more customer referrals.

Now that we have covered some basics we are getting into the more tactical areas with expanding your network, asking for referrals, and incentive based programs.

Step 5 – Manage your reputation

By understanding or knowing how to turn negative comments around, can be quite beneficial to your business. Remember users often talk about the experiences they have with others. By making sure your reputation is solid you are building a strong and trusting foundation for those to refer and also join your network.

See examples of how you can manage your reputation to get more customer referrals.

Which transitions well into our next point, expanding your network.

Step 6 – Expand your network

Customers aren’t the only ones that can give you a customer referral. Participate in communities or start one of your own.  Expanding your network can further guide your business into new unexplored channels and build your name within your niche. It’s about real relationships with people and finding intersecting interests in common.  When genuine, organic, and trusted; these relationships can help send you great customer referrals.

See examples of how you can expand your network to get more customer referrals.

Step 7 – Ask for referrals

Across both your newfound network and your existing steady flow of customers, asking for a referral can add to the flow of new customers.  You don’t have to be pushy about it, like the old school “write down 5 names” but asking for a referral can be done in an organic and natural way.

See examples of how asking can get you more customer referrals.

Step 8 – Start rewards-based programs

Reward and incentive-based programs like customer referral programs / refer a friend, influencer programs, customer loyalty programs, partner programs, and brand ambassador programs are an additional layer on top you can use to drive referrals.  Yes, this involves rewarding referrers but these types of programs can scale and add a layer on top of all your other efforts.

See examples of how incentive-based programs can get you more customer referrals.

Examples of ways to establish your story and brand

Your brand story can be hard to tell, but everything you do tells a story and establishes your brand.  It’s important to be intentional about it. A business with a strong story is easily able to resonate with its customers. Whether that be a strong belief or having strong values that shine through, your story or brand is what will drive people in.

Think of social currency – people share what makes them look good. If you set yourself up to be interesting or to have ties with current events and activities, a consumer might feel confident in sharing you. This is because they will be contributing something to their friends that is both relevant and worth talking about. Making them and you look good in the process.

1. Provide a great customer experience

Satisfying your customers can help you develop a large and reliable customer base. It can also help strengthen the pool of customers you can count on for repeat purchases (which are the best kind of customers). Therefore, creating a good customer experience is vital for having satisfied customers.

By doing such, you’ll also pave the way for things like offline marketing to happen.

2. Tell Your Story

To tie everything together, you have to tell your story first! People love hearing about how things started and came to be. And, by nature, people are storytellers. People love listening to stories, and often it’s the stories they hear that will translate into the conversations they will use to tell their friends about you.

3. Align with your customers’ values

What do your customers value? For example, do they value transparency? Sustainability? Commitment to bettering the community? Ideally, your brand should share those values; at the very least, you shouldn’t directly contradict them.

Once you have established your story and brand, people will expect you to stay consistent with these values in everything you say and do. And constantly delivering on what you promised allows you to stay consistent with their individual values.

4. Stimulate customer’s emotions

Creating emotion can go really well with creating your story. Think of companies that went fought through turmoil and made it out on top. Or a business that started because someone had a dream or vision of helping a specific cause.

These types of instances tug at people’s heart-strings. And People are more likely to talk about a brand to their friends that has a good backstory. People share the things that make them happy or upset (think of any viral video online – it probably plays with your emotions in one way or another).

5. Share behind the scenes

People value companies that are transparent with them. Honesty can help you build both confidence and trust within your customers. And many customers will come to respect you for being open with them.

So sharing what goes on behind the scenes or owning up to a mistake can actually give you a leg up in the trust department. And this also shows customers you respect them and like their support. They will likely reciprocate the action and continue to have your back.

Shutterfly, the popular online photo printing service often allows cameras to go behind the scenes. They have done numerous news interviews and tours in local cities that are home to their warehouses.

By allowing people to come ‘in’ they are building their repertoire with their communities, as well as allowing customers to see their operation. Which many might find both interesting, but also welcoming. Leaving customers to feel good about their choice to shop there.

6. Provide unique content

Whether you have a blog, vlog, or simply a social media page. Sharing unique content with your customers can provoke them to share your message too.

If you’re a small DIY art studio, you may find that sharing quick art tips and tricks can be beneficial to your customers. You may even find that your customers will share your tips with others in their circle.

For example, a teacher who happens to be a customer of yours may share your tutorial of an easy holiday craft with other teachers at his school. Which can result in your name getting out there, and possibly funnel more new customers your way.

Creating content, is an easy way to dive into even more channels. You never know who might be researching what you have to offer. And if you offer advice or have content relating to your field, you’ll be even easier to find and you can better establish yourself within your industry.

If your clients are from the same industry, you can write a useful industry trend on a paper, a blog post on how to deal with recent regulatory changes, Q&A session targeting new businesses, or inviting referrals to a free seminar.

7. Create fun or informative visuals

It’s no secret that people share things that make them look good, or smart, or funny. Therefore, people like sharing videos/infographics. If you create visuals that benefit the customer in some way, whether it be to be helpful or entertaining, it’s possible some might share it.

This is a customer indirectly referring you. They approve of your message, and are sharing it along – with your name attached!

8. Develop a weekly email newsletter

There is no better way to stay top of mind than by sending regular email newsletters to your clients. Plus, if they are helpful or insightful, you can provide an even better customer experience for everyone.

The trick is to not be overly annoying. So, keep the amount of newsletters at a reasonable rate (especially if you are sending other types of email campaigns). You want to provide insight and value to your customers, what you don’t want is to have every email trashed as soon as it hits their inbox.

By keeping content in newsletters interesting and helpful, as well as not over sending, you will be able to provide customer service on a more passive, yet still appreciated, level. All of which can lay down a strong foundation of trust and create loyal and referring customers.

9. Focus on your brand awareness

Pinpointing the best ways to increase your brand awareness can help you build loyal customers, increase repeat sales, and create a lasting impression.

The more recognition you have in your niche, the more effective you’ll be at building a solid story for yourself. Here are some great brand awareness tools to consider.

Some ways to do this are:

Examples of improving customer service and support

A great way to increase your business’s word of mouth is to offer excellent customer service and support. By providing great service you enhance customer loyalty and increase your chances of referral to happen. This in return helps you provide customers with fuel to tell others about you. After all, word of mouth happens because people have a story to tell.

A lot is riding on how well your customers are treated. Do you have checklists or any damage control guidelines? (Separate note, but if not, then you may want to work something out).

But customer service isn’t just how you go about talking to individuals. It’s how you offer to help. Great support can come in many forms. If your business is big enough, you may even have a dedicated team. Regardless of your size, you’ll find that all the best businesses of today are offering support through multiple channels.

For example:

  • In-app chat
  • Phone support
  • Knowledgebase articles
  • Blogs
  • Video meetings
  • Tutorials
  • Demos
  • FAQs

Are all examples of how one business can offer support through various channels. These

The fact of the matter is, great service can carry you a long way. It can help you fill in the gaps and provide a better experience, even if your product is still new or up and coming. You may find that businesses that go above and beyond a consumer’s expectations; treating them how they want to be treated, tend to be backed by an army of loyal customers.

“Customer Experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020”. Walker

The bottom line is great customer service can save you from a bad product experience and result in a positive outcome for your business. Not convinced? Here are some great customer service statistics to help further persuade you. The most significant source of genuine and long-term referrals is by providing excellent services, above and beyond what your competitors offer.

Here are some ways to amp up your customers service that will help you ultimately increase customer referrals.

1. Allow clients to say ‘no’

You must honor the decision of the client on whether they are willing to issue your referrals or not. In case your clients fail to provide referrals, try asking them to become a case study by giving a short text testimony or video. Consider reviewing your services online to satisfy your online audience. Fill out a survey to discover how your clients discovered your company.

2. Make it personal

We are in the day of automation. Which means you probably have all the tools you need to make interactions personal, and people are counting on it.

This also means that adding personalization in conversations, be it a phone call, face to face or in-app, is essential. Just by using their name or mentioning their interests you can build your relationship with them, and that can translate to more customer referrals down the line. This is why you might find that opening your world to relationship marketing, in this sense, can be beneficial.

3. After a positive customer encounter

Use a good positive customer experience as fuel for conversation, asking for a referral, and building a relationship.

When you receive praise from your client about work well done, instead of just saying “you’re welcome,” you can transition that praise into a referral. In fact, satisfied customer is an easy one to ask. So ask them to tell a few of their friends or contacts who might need your services. This should become an automatic part of your customer support process.

4. Ask customers for feedback

If you’re going to provide great customer service and work hard at being a customer first business, you may want to do a little digging. By finding out how they think you’re doing, you can leverage yourself to be even better or at least help yourself stay on track.

This might not seem like a direct way to get a referral, but if you can find solutions to common concerns, you have a direct way of making customers happy. And if you go above and beyond expectations, you may just see some referrals.

Remember, a customer who is satisfied but not blown away by your service might continue to be a customer, but they probably won’t go out of their way to recommend you.

5. Surprise customers

We’re talking good surprises!

Within your word of mouth marketing strategies, your customer’s experience is very important.

People like to be surprised, to get better-than-expected care, or even a simple unexpected thank-you. Delivering something more and maybe even a little surprising is a great way to encourage customers to speak positively about your brand.

6. Thank your customers

To play along with the last tip, a simple “thank you,” can do so much for you. And regardless of how you do it, be it email, a phone call, a letter, or public recognition on your social sites, the important thing is to thank the customers, especially those who are already talking about your brand.

People will see this and appreciate it and your business even more. You might even spark them to keep sharing and you might get others to join in to get recognition too. People love feeling appreciated.

7. Keep your customers in the loop

Stay in touch with your customers by informing them of specials. You can do this by sending them coupons once in a while, simple flyers, or a quick email. This will help them stay in tune with your business and perhaps increase their visits to your business.

You can also inform them of changes and updates within your business. People are nosy and like to be in the know. Especially when it comes to learning about new product updates and your vision. Engaging with customers online is a great and easy solution. You can provide quick updates and blast it out for all to see at their own leisure.

And when customers are in the know – they like to share the knowledge. For instance, think of when Bath and Body works has a sale, or when Kohl’s is giving out Kohl’s cash, you might have a friend or family member that fills you in.

8. Look for opportunities to go above and beyond

You should look to create an over the top/above and beyond experience for customers. If possible, make the customer feel special. Whether it be letting them in on a ‘secret’ or by just offering your best customer service. You may even find that sending or giving a special gift can create an eager and pleased customer (and that can create a story to tell).

For example, Chewy.com, a popular pet care and supply website, has a few feel good stories floating on the web. One that comes to mind is a story of a repeat customer who received their subscription paid pet’s food as expected. But the pet had passed away before they were able to open the bag. So the customer called Chewy to explain. Chewy issued a refund and told them to donate the food instead of sending it back. Then Chewy went above and beyond, they sent the customer condolence flowers. Stories like this create customer loyalty – and draw people to continue shopping and supporting the brand.

Examples that make your product exceptional

Once you have your customer service in check, you’ll be able to focus more so on your product. You’ll want to think of how good is the product compared to competitors. Is the product able to do something unique or solve a need in a simpler or more intuitive way than others on the market? Most importantly does it take away a pain point that the customer might have?

A business with a good product is able to fulfill a customer’s needs and wants. Zoom Video Conferencing developed their product to achieve all that is mentioned above.

Here’s how to use your product to get more referrals.

1. Should exceed expectations

Your product has to be good, especially if you’re in a crowded market. You must delight the customer to win their loyalty, this means both providing good customer service and having a good product. If your product or service can work better, easier, or does something a little extra, you may be able to exceed customer expectations, and move yourself into ‘you gotta try this’ territory.

2. Needs to satisfy customers

A happy customer is likely to develop better relations with you. Jeff Thull, President and CEO of Prime Resource Group and author recommends that you ask yourself the following:

  • Do your customers enjoy the interaction?
  • Do you listen to your customers enough to understand their problems?
  • Do your clients believe you are providing professional guidance?
  • Are your clients sure that your products and services will meet the required standards?

If you don’t plan on satisfying your customer’s needs, why even bother being in the market? A satisfied customer is likely a happy customer.

3. Create a trigger that makes you memorable

Can you support something outside of how your users use your product? You can create your brand or product to link to ideas or environmental factors, that way people may talk about you in a broader sense, aside from just what you ‘do’.

LiveChat mentioned, “you can design products that are often triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking your products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment”.

If people remember you or are triggered to remember you, they just might talk about you. That is an easy way to have a successful referral program.

4. Should be creative and innovative

You might be entering or working in a crowded market. By being innovative in your segment, and by having original ideas, you may push yourself ahead. You can try doing this by offering a new or specific product, using an unusual marketing idea, or even by having a creative company culture.

You’ll want to draw attention to yourself, in good ways. By being unique, you can do just that.

5. Be a benchmark in your industry

You need to be able to get clients to trust you. You can do this by showing them that you have knowledge on the subject, and maybe even solutions to their problems that are slightly beyond your direct product capabilities.

This does require a certain level of effort, but surely the long-term benefits will outweigh the dedicated effort. When your brand becomes a thought leader in your segment, word of mouth will soon appear.

6. Honor your product/service promise

If you say you’re going to do something or offer something, follow through with it. Consistent alignment with your messaging. If you say you’re the fastest.. then product and service should reflect that, or live up to your promise.

By living up to your promises you exude trust and that helps build word of mouth down the line. You may find that getting customer feedback can help you move your product forward, while still offering exactly what your customers want and keeping your promises. Good NPS software can help you get and decipher feedback.

Examples of how you can give more value

Businesses that offer something of value deliver a great return for the user, better than what the cost is. Thus, leaving the customer feeling like they would choose to pay more for the service if asked.

Your business is thinking high ROI, while the customer is just happy to be paying good money for an even better product or service.

If you establish yourself with a few people, they will share the experience with friends. Many people know that sharing valuable information makes them valuable too. Great customer service in addition to a great product can help you up to your value on top of offering something for a good deal.

Take Southwest, for example, their customers will rave about their value. No, they aren’t considered the luxury airline, but for their price point and the level of customer service they offer, they make customers happy. And those happy customers share their experiences with others.

Source

Here are some ways to instill value into your brand, and build referrals.

1. Be generous with your clients

Being generous is one of the most underrated things you can do in your business.

Whether you’re giving “extra work” that is outside of the scope of your agreement, or sending a small gift to your clients as a gesture of appreciation, generosity can go a long way.

You could also send a card on their birthday or during the holiday season. Especially if you write a personalized note on it and you invest in good quality materials.

Go the extra mile with your clients and they will want to give back to you in any way they know how. It’s human nature. It’s the power of reciprocity.

2. Leave something on the table

You’ll want to keep wanting more. Better yet, you’ll want to create something that keeps people coming back, time and time again. CrossFit is a great example of this. This type of workout has been driven by the immense support of adopters.

Source

In fact, you’ll know a CrossFitter when you see them because they will likely let you know they do it. Whether it be by talking about it or wearing some CrossFit merch, people swear by it. Best of all, many people who CrossFit can do so within the comfort of their own home. Though, most CrossFit gyms can attest that customers love meeting up to workout together too.

This sort of community has taken a practical approach to the gym world, and as a result, is booming in popularity worldwide. They corporation part of it doesn’t often have to do too much marketing. In fact, they just mention a meetup or new routine, and the word of mouth about it spreads organically – because people are wanting to stay in the know.

So leave people a cliff-hanger, get them talking, and then deliver.

3. Align your pricing and packaging around value

Take a look around online. Most SaaS type businesses offer different pricing plans. You’ll likely find the same thing when it comes to salons, membership type stores, and even rewards clubs. Value-based pricing allows you to price your product at what the consumer thinks it’s worth. Even better is if you allow or use different packages – which allows consumers to pick which package deal makes the most sense for them.

Take a SaaS business, for example a customer might not need to use every single piece of the tool being offered, so instead of paying full price, they pay a lesser price for just a portion of the tool.

Canva, a popular editing tool offers everything from a free version to a pro plan (and enterprise beyond that). This way they can offer the tool and limited functionality to users who may only need light use of the tool, but also offer a little more to paying customers. For them, customers from each category like the tool so much, they often share their experience with it to others. And a non-paying customer can easily refer a potential paying customer – because the tool is priced to be valuable for all.

4. Give discounts and refunds with little friction if warranted

Think of Amazon Prime. Before Prime, Amazon was already a popular online shopping option. But with Prime, they have become even more cult-like. Why? They offer special shipping, they save time, and they are just super convenient.

Source

They’ve also made return shipping a breeze. By offering easy shipping methods and locations (like Kohl’s – which offers its own perks for Amazon returns), they have beat the market and become the first choice for many shoppers.

Examples of how to manage your reputation

Understanding or knowing how to turn negative comments around can be quite beneficial to your business. Remember users often talk about the experiences they have with others. So if the experience was bad, adopting strategies to reverse the situation becomes urgent and necessary. See more on reputation management.

A good review can act as a referral. When someone is looking for a product or service, they would likely prefer visiting a store recommended to them by a friend or a store they are quite familiar with.

That is how you score new valuable clients. When a customer gives you a five-star review, more new customers are going to gain confidence in your business and build loyalty and evangelism. Meaning more and will come in to buy products or get served. A good reputation management tool can help you manage your brand across multiple review sites and platforms.

1. Negative feedback care and reputation/review management

Much of word of mouth marketing is based on the dissemination of positive, interesting, and relevant information about the brand. In other words, the experience of the users… or the reviews of them. And the reviews you have can actually encourage or discourage a sale.

With that being said, taking a handle on your online reputation is a must. It’s up to you or your online reputation manager to be aware of what is being said and to do damage control if necessary.  Here is a guide to brand reputation management.

2. Manage reputation on Google

Most businesses can be found via a quick Google search. And many businesses search results will yield reviews. Therefore claiming and updating the information listed on your Google My Business page are beneficial. Plus, you can host reviews there!

As you can see, a simple Google search for a nearby dog groomer will show some of the top picks, as well as their reviews and overall rating. So if you aren’t doing damage control, you may not make a great impression (or even make it to the snippets).

3. Be sure to manage Yelp reviews

There are a ton of business listing sites out there that breakdown the business, as well as provide reviews and insight to future customers. Yelp is one of the big ones. In fact, many people still go directly to Yelp to do a quick service business comparison.

So make sure your name looks good on sites like Yelp. Otherwise, a bad review, that you might not know about can live there and prevent potential customers from checking you out.

4. Manage and claim your profiles on social media

Building your profile on social platforms can help you further execute your brand message. Plus, it’s a good thing to be where your customers are.

More and more people (of all ages) can be targeted on popular social media sites. Meaning you can easily connect with a ton of potential customers whether you’re B2B or B2C. But, you have to provide them with all the tools to connect with you. Social media drives word of mouth.

So build up your profile to be branded and helpful as possible:

  • Use a branded image for your feature or cover image
  • Make sure your company name is your Twitter handle/ Facebook name
  • Use the same protocol (as you would with in-app chat) when talking to customers via direct message
  • Make sure your website is linked
  • Use your company logo as your profile picture

Twitter

With Twitter, brands (of all sizes) can easily get into conversations and be discovered. Twitter can help you learn whats going on in your niche, as well as provide you a platform to talk about it (with others who are actually interested).

“Twitter lets you have an open conversation with your prospects and leads”, as mentioned in this article by Statusbrew.

As you can see, retweets are simple and effective. Plus, they yield further communication and connection – helping you increase your network!

Easy Twitter tips:

  • Be sure to use relevant hashtags – but don’t overdo it
  • Try to tag your sources & give shout outs
  • Be sure to follow people back (your business profile should seem well engaged)
  • Your business Twitter page’s handle should be your business name
  • Twitter works best when you are active – so be sure to share, retweet, and post often
  • Post visuals – they can be more engaging
  • Share at the right times – according to Buddymedia’s study, “Apparently no industry has users that are engaged on Mondays or Tuesdays”.

LinkedIn

This platform gives more to the networking feel than other social platforms. It’s the platform with business in mind. But, tagging relevant people in the articles and content you share can help you broaden your network, and maybe even develop some new partnerships (or find a great employee).

Because of this, it has great potential to promote your business! And if you create a company page, your employees can then become a sort of ambassador – and your name is essentially shared with their network.

As mentioned by MeetEdgar, “There are so many potential strategies to reach a relatively untapped large and engaged user base”, when using LinkedIn for your business.

Quick LinkedIn tips:

  • Give shout outs when relevant
  • Be sure to make connections – if you tag them, add them as a friend too
  • Use notification suggestions – LinkedIn will alert you of work anniversaries, new positions of your contacts, and birthdays. And will provide you a quick response message!
  • Share your content here too. Often forgotten, but so worth posting content here as well

Facebook

Like the other social platforms mentioned, Facebook is a great tool for lead generation and building brand awareness. Also like the other options, with just a little work you can gain momentum for free, or speed it up with paid Facebook ads.

Unlike the other platforms, this one is great for a large variety of people. Meaning you can find partners but also everyday customers. The biggest advantage is that people often search for recommendations from friends and groups they are in on Facebook. So, by having a business profile set up, you can easily be shared or recommended. And you can even use the search bar to find stores/businesses near you (just like a Google search) and filter by places your friends have visited.

You also have a way to share great content and answer customer inquiries. So it’s really a win all around.

Simple Facebook tips:

  • Fill out all your ‘about me’ section – people want to know how to reach you and when you’re open
  • Add your story to the ‘Our Story’ section – gives some additional insight into your branding and image
  • Be sure to like other business pages too – especially partner pages and those you have mentioned in your content
  • Be sure to share visuals – this will help you stand out when new content is shared
  • Be sure to claim your vanity URL – get rid of that random number you’re automatically assigned
  • Be as responsive as possible and get yourself the ‘very responsive’ badge
  • Add a CTA that jumps to a specific part of your website
  • Share at the right time

Buffer found engagement rates are 18% higher on Thursdays and Fridays: “the less people want to be at work, the more they are on Facebook!”

Examples of how you can expand your network

Make friends, help out others, and support other businesses. You’ll find that this is an easy recipe for expanding your customer base.

As you expand your network, you are deepening your roots into other territories. Meaning you’ll likely expand your network of people who are willing to vouch for you.

Fortunately, there are a ton of ways to expand your network and develop referable relationships.

Spela from Databox, for example, often shares roundup articles on LinkedIn and tags all the contributors. This leads to more sharing and has probably grown her connections (as well as for Databox) as she attributes the sources within the article.

1. Partner up with other service providers

Seek partnership with companies that provide complementary services for referral programs, e.g. book-keeping and accounting practice, can team up to promote their services. You can offer discounted prices for every referral client.

2. Share your client bucket-list

Every business has its goals. It is time to make that list of companies you would love to work with. Make inquiries from your clients about their experience with that company. It is possible to find a match and secure new clients that easily.

3. Create a list of buyers you want to work with

Check out their LinkedIn profiles to see whether you’re connected in any way. If so, reach out to them via your network—whether it’s an individual, a company, or a group.

4. Treat your clients as partners, too

Let them know you view them as a strategic partner, and tell them you hope they’ll do the same with you. Create formal channels to share referrals.

5. LinkedIn Outreach

Use LinkedIn’s Advanced Peoples Search feature to improve your odds of success instead of searching blindly. It saves you time to make a sit down with a customer to tell them about the connection. LinkedIn is the best source of second-degree connections for specific keywords, locations, industries, etc. it is easy finding a reliable referral candidate to give to your customer.

6. Join a referral networking group

Business networking groups are where local business owners gather once a week or so to practice their elevator pitch, socialize, learn a new skill, and give each other referrals. It can be time-consuming, but it’s one of the best ways to get new referrals without really having to ask. Use Meetup to find a group near you.

Remember it’s not just about you. So share your wealth (and network) with others too!

7. Engage in their work

You can show your clients that you sincerely care about them by commenting on their Facebook status or blog, championing one of their causes or new products, mentioning problems that you notice (like their website not loading quickly enough), or backing their Kickstarter campaign.

8. Spread knowledge in your industry’s community

Consumers are 43% more likely to buy a new product when they learn about it through social media, and that’s true around the world. Information really is power, especially in today’s world where everyone can do a quick search in an instant. By becoming a trusted resource in your industry you can provide people with knowledge in your field. And they can then use that to make better and more informed decisions. And when a customer feels confident, they are more likely to share that knowledge with friends, family members, and colleagues.

9. Try evangelization

The process of evangelization is all about finding out who the natural ambassadors and promoters of your brand are. You might be surprised, but these people do exist. They are the people who are knowledgeable in your field, and users of your type of product. They may even admire your product specifically. All of which makes it easy for you to engage with them and encourage them to spread the word about you.

Finding these types of influencers and leaders is important because they have an influential pull in your market. They usually have a high power of persuasion with their audience and following and that can be great for your business.

10. Form different online and offline communities

A great and inexpensive way to increase visibility and reach of your brand is to create a community or communities of common interest. By creating such platforms you are enabling people to talk about products (yours and those related), exchange views, tips, ideas, and even possible improvements.

You may even find there are already groups all about your niche on social sites (score!), which you can join and pave the way to your product too.

11. Use Twitter

Like LinkedIn, Twitter is a great place to meet people and businesses who are like-minded. You may find that you can even build a ton of traction to your site by sharing your thoughts and expertise on your Twitter page.

Twitter is another great platform for you to share your knowledge. And typically speaking, if you are sharing ‘good stuff’, tagging people when due, and using a few relevant hashtags, you can find a whole group of people who might benefit from what you have to say.

Examples of how you can ask for referrals

Referrals are similar to customer reviews. If you offer high-quality services, you may not even have to ask for referrals. Here are some quick tips to get in the right mindset.

  • Make a straightforward deal with your customers to give you a referral if they are satisfied after service.
  • Be specific – If possible when asking for a referral, recommend to the customer who your target audience is, e.g. companies, civil servants, high-income individuals, etc.
  • Don’t just accept any referral – request your customers to recommend high-potential customers who will be interested in what your business offers. Don’t request low-quality referrals.
  • Offer something, before asking or taking – It’s a two-way street, and no one wants to be on the road with someone who is hogging the whole lane.
  • Be sure to ask at the right time – Timing really is key. Take advantage of opportunities when your client has been impressed by your work. Consider asking for a referral after completing one stage before proceeding to the other. Avoid asking at the end of a job or when you have inconvenienced the client.

Here are more tips on how to ask for referrals. If you’re looking to optimize your referral growth, you might want to learn how to ask the right questions when asking for referrals.

Remember it can be beneficial to be specific. When requesting a referral, be specific in regards to what kind of referral you’re seeking. If you’re looking for individuals with a high net worth, say so. If you’re seeking out companies, mention that. Tell your customer who your target audience is. That way, you won’t waste time pursuing referrals who won’t yield you the results you want.

Let’s dive into more tips on how to ask.

1. Make it a requirement to ask for referrals

The biggest mistake companies make is that they aren’t asking for referrals in their sales process. Most of the time, if you have a salesperson or some sort of onboarding strategist, those individuals are working directly with your client. And asking for a referral can come up naturally in the conversations they are likely already having.

You greet your potential customer, you understand, evaluate, and suggest the best possible solution, and then let the close of a sale hang. When in reality, this is the perfect moment to take action.

You don’t have to ask directly either. You can phrase it in a way that isn’t too pushy.

2. Don’t always be direct

Speaking of not being direct… Some clients are uncomfortable or not allowed by their employers to refer. In that case, you need to think outside of the box.

Can they leave a review or testimonial on your website or review site? Are they willing to be a part of a case study? Those are ways that they’re endorsing and recommending your business without giving a direct referral.

It can be difficult to get them to let you know who else they are working with (especially in a B2B, or when client confidentiality is in play), but you can spin it so that instead of asking for a person or business’s name, you can give them the resources to send someone your way instead.

Many companies miss out on referrals simply because their customers aren’t even aware that they are looking for them. The odds are good that you’ve missed out on an opportunity to let your customers know that you are open to referrals.

A few ways to do this:

  • Mention referrals in the transactional emails you send to customers
  • Send a personalized greeting card to your customers, thanking them, and then asking for referrals
  • Include information about referrals on your business card.
  • To be even more indirect – Your email signature is prime real estate to ask for referrals. A CTA can prompt them to send you lead information ‘Refer someone now’ or you can create a CTA to help them send your information forward “Forward my contact information”. Either way, your customer knows how to easily refer you.

3. Ask prospects to become a customer reference for you

Nearly every salesperson has at least one customer who loves them and their company. These are the perfect people to recruit as a reference, assuming that they’re coherent and presentable (this is important because they will be helping you represent your business).

Ask your “best customers” whether they would be willing to serve as a reference for you. It’s highly unlikely they will turn you down, especially if they believe in you and in what you’re doing.

Now that you have a reference or a testimonial, you can use them as part of your pitch to new prospects, they will also be empowered to serve as a referral source for you. If you can recruit multiple people or companies to serve as references, you’ll start seeing the difference not only with your conversions, but also with new referral business from your biggest fans.

4. Add a link to a form on your website

If you want people to know you want referrals, make it evident. A customer may talk about you, but never actually write down or give your information (other than your name) to others. This can turn a lead cold. As they might forget about you, or move on to another source that they have information on.

But, if you remind customers to refer on your website, or in their login portal, you are giving them the information they need to send people your way. And providing all the relevant information to the potential customer.

5. Ask a new customer

“Ask for them” is one of the most common answers you’ll hear from old school sales managers and trainers when you question them about how to get more referrals. It’s a fine answer: you should definitely be engaging your customer base to try to easily gain new business.

But we’d like to make one slight tweak to this old way of thinking: Don’t forget to ask new customers too.

Why them? For one thing, since they just agreed to exchange some of their hard-earned money for your product or offer, it’s likely that they still have a positive view of your organization. And since they are new, they probably haven’t referred anyone to you in the past. Their network is completely untapped.

Be reasonable about it: you don’t want your new customers to receive a referral request immediately after they click the “buy” button. Also, when you reach out to ask them for a referral, check in with them first and see how they like your service or product so far. You have to work the relationship otherwise it looks like a one-sided relationship.

6.  Ask over email

Maintaining a good email list is a great way to continually develop your relationship with customers. Not only will you be able to send them updates and vital information, but you have a list of people to ask for referrals.

You’ll have to figure out which people are the right ones to ask, and focus on when to ask, so segmenting your lists is a good thing.

You also want to be sure to use your best email etiquette, as you don’t want to annoy them or come off as being spammy.

At the end of the day you are competing with others for their attention in their inbox, so be wise with how you ask over email.

7. Ask a lost customer

If a customer decided not to go with you because you weren’t a good fit, you can turn it into an opportunity.  You can end these relationships on great terms, but they still may know someone that could be a good fit.  Don’t be afraid to ask them.

8. Ask after a positive review

Those who write positive reviews are obviously fans of what you do. Use this as an opportunity to ask for a referral. You can send them a thank you card, email, or comment and mention that you’d love to be passed on.

Chances are, since they are happy with you (enough to write about it), they will likely be happy enough to share you too. And they likely won’t be annoyed when you ask either.

Examples of reward-based programs

Incentives and rewards don’t necessarily mean cash and discounts. There are many ways to incentivize an advocate to give a referral.

Requesting your clients to find your referrals implies no direct benefit to them. That quickly makes them forget to hunt for referrals. You can motivate your clients by tying a reward to referrals, and they will put more effort into bringing you more referrals. Choose a reward that fits your values and one that motivates your clients, e.g. vouchers, discounts, free swag, or items to collect.

Creating a reward-based program to get more customer referrals is not the only reason to create a program. A program also gives you signals, to see how referable you are. This allows you to measure and affect customer referrals and turn your word of mouth efforts into a marketing channel.

Below are great types of rewards based programs you can run with some examples:

1. Customer referral program / refer a friend

Using customer referral programs wins the confidence of your customers, and they will be comfortable to share your information all because your info will be organized in one place. It also improves the credibility of your business.

Most referral program software provides you with ways to run, invite, manage, and reward referrals. Making your referral program a smooth addition to your existing marketing strategy.

Example

The Shutterfly referral program takes a spin on the ordinary referral program. It offers a set gift for the referral and the person referring to them. The gift is a free photobook, which is one of their hot commodities, so it’s a  great incentive to refer.

2. Loyalty rewards program

Repeat customers may be more likely to tell their friends. Plus acts as an advertisement for some in spreading the word (think of a smoothie shop – a person might go there in the morning before work, and their coworkers may see their smoothie cup and ask where they got it, etc).

Check out some of the top loyalty program software tools out there, it makes incentivizing customers to return quick and easy.

Example

Dunkin’ is one of the most recognizable coffee and donut places out there, and their Perk’s Program is gaining a lot of traction. As soon as you download their app and add money to it, you are motivated to return to buy your morning brew. And after just a few purchases, you’ve earned a freebie, which continues the chain.

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3. Influencer programs

People trust influencers and ambassadors. It’s part of the appeal of social media marketing. People like looking up to these people for ideas and guidance on what to do, wear, and eat. So, if your business makes sense, try one of these types of programs to rev up your word of mouth.

Influencer marketing software provides a platform for influencers and brands to meet. And it helps brands run a smooth program – while laying out expectations for the influencer upfront.

Example

Localfluence is a platform that connects local businesses to actual locals. Which helps build a strong community around local communities – and helps give businesses better quality content as influencers (even if they have a smaller following), can influence people who live in the area to visit. Rather than a typical influencer who may have a large audience, but might not have many of their followers in the same city.

4. Brand ambassador program

It’s no secret that people trust recommendations from friends. And the next best thing is an ambassador. Why? These people love your brand and aren’t afraid to share it and tell you about their genuine experience using your product.

Manually searching social media for people who have mentioned your brand can be time-consuming and frustrating. Brand ambassador software can help you find people who have used your branded hashtags, or who have tagged you in their posts.

Example

The Xbox Ambassador program is community-focused. They connect gamers together and look for experts or those who appeal to certain communities surrounding particular games to connect with other gamers.

Ambassadors can unlock rewards by completing certain missions and entering sweepstakes.

5. Partner program / affiliate program

Partner businesses can be so important in building your network. Most partners have similar customers, and the best part is you’re a non-competing business. And if you can both satisfy or fix a pain point for the same customer, it’s an easy win for everyone.

This type of program helps businesses build a larger network by sending customers between preferred or partnered businesses. It’s a form of recommendation that a consumer can truly trust.

Example

Dreamstime, a leader in stock photography, has a great example of an affiliate program. If a subscriber refers to another person or company, they will earn 10% of that new customer’s payment.

6. Advocacy program

Affiliated sources can be a great way to spread brand recognition and build yourself as a trustworthy source. And you can churn up some serious word of mouth. Here are some great advocate marketing software options.

Example

OpenText offers an advocate program that rewards advocates with points towards rewards. Things like attending seminars, referring partners, and beta testing can earn the advocate a reward. The key here is that the advocate is helping build the product to be the best is can be, not just by sending people to it, but by offering ideas as well.

Customer referral wrap-up

There are quick wins and easy tactical ideas to implement but at the end of the day, customer referrals come to those that deserve it.  When someone gives a referral, it ties their reputation to you and uses their social currency.

To get more customer referrals, your best bet is to develop a customer-centric mentality as a business. In the end, every one of our steps in the framework above provides for better customer experience.  If you are doubling down on your treating your customers how they want to be treated, it’s hard to go wrong.

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Posted by Josh Ho

SaaS Founder CEO @referralrock I know about building a growth minded #remotefirst #bootstrapped #startup