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Referrals can be an essential part of running a business. They can help build customer relationships, and of course, bring in new customers.

The easiest way to get a customer referral is to ask. Asking for referrals directly can sound like asking for favors. It is probably not the best way to grow your customer base if you come across too salesy or begging your customers to share. However, if you learn how to do it correctly, you can grow your customer base dramatically. Let’s cover the basics on how to ask for referrals effectively

Do you already ask for referrals?  If so, you’re ahead of the game.

How to ask for referrals

Reach out to the right people

Before you even start crafting your referral email template, you need to make a list of the people you’re going to reach out to. You might reach out to a large list, or just a few choice customers. Either way, you need to be deliberate about who you ask.

You should be already keeping track of customer feedback. Which customers are happy with what you do? These customers are likely to provide you with positive recommendations and would be willing to refer you to their friends.

If you run a software service, you might reach out to the people who spend the most time in your dashboard. If you sell goods on an e-commerce site, you might reach out to anyone who’s spent more than $200 with you in the past couple of months.

Hit them at the right time

how to ask for a referral. Tip: ask at the right time

When is the best time to invite customers to your referral program? Well, there is really no right or wrong answer. There are, however, ideal times that lead to better conversions.

One of the essential elements of a referral program is to get customers to join. Therefore inviting people at certain times can often lead to great benefits. You want to make it as easy as possible, and you don’t want to make it seem like a chore to do. So picking the most convenient times is key.

For example, if you’re a property manager looking to find new tenants for empty units, you can send your current residents a message as they’re paying their monthly rent through a property management portal software, offering them a monetary reward for referring new residents. The referral bonus will be more enticing as it is presented at the same time they’re paying rent, and encourages your current residents to generate more word-of-mouth referrals.

It should come naturally

Asking for a referral should be a natural progression.  It shouldn’t be the first thing you lead with by any means. Really, who likes to be asked to do or join something right after meeting someone new? If I came at you with a “Hi, I’m Megan… want to sign up for our referral program?” It may leave a sour taste in your mouth, right? It may make it seem like the only reason I’m talking to you is to get you to sign up for something – no one likes that hassle. With that being said, referrals do not happen on their own.

Asking for a referral is all about timing. Really it’s an art. A simple art but regardless there is a technique to it. Referrals can do a lot for your business. The sole purpose is to convert people to customers. Studies show that referrals provide the best customer conversion for B2B businesses, as mentioned by Shea Bennett (find him on Twitter). In fact, referrals are so good that they are actually are 2 times more effective than the brand’s own website, impressive right?

The best time is when they are happiest

The absolute best time to mention your referral program is when your customer is their happiest. The customer just purchased, the customer just had something installed, the customer mentioned how happy they were. Or as mentioned before.

Always stay ready to help your customers. No matter what service or product you’re selling, after making your customer happy and satisfied, you can ask your customer for a referral.

Asking a question like “Is there anyone else you know I can help?” after your customer is satisfied with your support can lead to “foot in the door” effect. Two Stanford researchers, Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser referred this as once someone has agreed to a small request, that person is more likely to agree to a larger request. Their study showed 52.8% of them actually complied with the second request.

It works because the customer acknowledges the value of you or your product. Meaning these are times when it’s okay to downright ask them to join the referral program. How you say it is up to you, but avoid being too pushy. You can heavily suggest something without making it seem like they ‘have” to do it. Typically in these happy situations, someone will agree to join your program and they may even mention a name or two right away.

When else should you invite?

Aside from physically asking customers for referrals, you can ask a few other ways. You don’t always have to ask them when they are right in front of you. Sometimes, it can be better to casually remind them or to slip the invite in at a later time.

Sure, these are passive ways of inviting people. But, it still works. So what are these passive ways? They are follow-up emails, phone calls, social media posts, business cards, you can even use your email signatures. Some of these ideas are not necessarily based on the perfect timing. These are the more passive ways to invite people to refer their friends. Some of these don’t necessarily have to happen at “WOW” moments.

Your customers want to refer you, you just haven’t asked. We can help by automatically asking them at the right time to get word of mouth to spread.

How to ask someone directly for a referral

Sometimes you need to be direct. In fact, asking for a referral directly helps you better connect with customers. However, to make this scalable you have to pick and choose your battles. Use segmentation to sift out the cream of the crop or the ones who will mutually benefit from being asked.

In order to ask directly, there are a few things you will need to consider.

  1. Have a reason to contact the customer – The reason for contacting the customer matters. People are busy, so don’t contact them just for the sake of doing it. Look for a good opportunity,  one that isn’t forced.
  2. Be sure to personalize your message – Differentiate your brand by relating to the customer with personalization. Be sure to do your research, and learn a little bit about your target. You can bring up who they have talked to, when they first contacted you, or even past orders. On top of knowing just a little bit of their history and how it relates to your brand, be sure to learn their name.
  3. Don’t go overboard on personalization – You don’t want to be creepy. For example, if their first contact with your brand was a few years ago, that would be a bit creepy to bring up. Or if their recent purchase was something that people generally keep a secret don’t go blabbing to them about it. Definitely, don’t use it as a subject in an email or letter. Going overboard with personalization can be a big turn off, and make your customers uncomfortable.

How to ask for your referrals

When asking for a referral or recommendation, don’t waste time with irrelevant information. Keep it short and sweet and get to the point as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways you can ask for a referral.

1. How to ask for referrals in an email

referral email sample

It’s common for businesses to send follow up emails to customers. This could mean sending them a thank you email a couple weeks post-purchase. It could also mean sending a check up email a week or so after their installation or service. After the initial message, you can add a few sentences asking them to refer a friend. An email asking for a referral is one of the easiest ways to ask. If you want to take a more direct approach, send out an email directly to your customer specifically about the referral program. Make sure you personalize the email so they know it isn’t another email that has been sent out to a sea of people.

Here are some simple examples of asking for referrals in an email. Try using them towards the end of the email as a nice closing statement. Or add the question to a fun image and link it to the referral program.

  1. Do you know a friend who could use our service?
  2. Do you have a friend who would also like our product?
  3. Is there someone you know who needs what we have?

When you’re focusing on how to write a referral email, the trick is to keep it simple. These referral email samples probe the reader to think about it, without feeling too pressured. This makes them feel like you are asking for the help, rather than demanding it. You could make this part of every email, that way if a customer is always reminded that they can refer a friend.

Additionally, if you are using referral software to run a program, you can add a link right in your email. How handy is that?

Want to know more on How to Write an Email Asking for a Referral?

2. How to ask for a referral on the phone

Asking for a Referral

Similar to email, if you make follow-up phone calls try asking towards the end of the call. This works especially well if the customer has mentioned how great your product has been. You may want to stray away from asking for a referral from an angry person. But if they are praising your service, product or company go ahead and tell them about the referral program. Here are few examples of how you can ask for referrals:

Education approach

Be an expert before you talk like one. Before you try to educate your customer, you must know what you’re talking about. If you provide an educational answer you’ll build that person’s trust in you. And once you answer their queries and to satisfaction, you can ask for a referral.


“Do you know anybody who wants to learn about this subject/topic”?

Empathize and solve problems

Some of your customers might be looking for someone who can understand their problems. Empathize with your customers by assuring them you truly understand what they need. Once you are sure that your customer trusts you, you can ask for a referral.


“Do you know anybody who is facing similar problems?”

Give special attention

You don’t want any of your customers to be ignored. No matter how busy you are, treat every customer with care and pay special attention to his needs. Once you’re sure that your customer is able to express his concerns freely and gets what he expects, you can go ahead and ask for a referral.


“Is there anybody else you would recommend for my services?”

Idea: Send a thank you email a few minutes after the call. That way you can thank them again and remind them that they can send a referral at any time.

3. Asking referrals on social media posts

This can be directed at a specific person or it can be a general post. If you have a social media profile for your company, be it Twitter or Facebook, you should use it! When someone posts on your wall that they had a great experience with your company, reach back out to say thanks. Use this opportunity to also ask for a referral.

Use social media to also promote your referral program. Jar people’s memories every once in a while and mention that your company has a referral program. You could even do shout outs about your referral program. Ex: Wow, we’re so thankful for our customers. 3 new referrals today! This may get some attention and remind people to send you referrals.

Additionally, if you use referral software, post a link to your referral program in your bio. It’s a great way to always promote your referral program, and customers will be able to join whenever is best for them.

4. How to ask for a referral using business cards

It’s not unusual for customers to give their friends business cards. You can probably think of a few times that friends have said “You have to check this place out”, as they hand you a card. That usually leads to purchasing products. I actually found my dog’s groomer this way. The groomer asked how I heard about her. I then dropped my referring friend’s name. Then my friend got $15 off her pet’s next grooming service. It was such a simple transaction that all happened because of a business card.

For example Dog groomers typically operate this way.  A groomer may give customers some business cards to give to their friends. Then if a new customer comes in, the groomer will likely give a discount to the referring dog owner. 

You can make your business cards referral related, by providing a referred by line. Or, if you write a small blurb about your referral program on your card it could lead to referrals. Something as simple as “Don’t forget to send us your friends!” could work. Plus, as you’re handing your business card to a customer you can reiterate on referring friends. You’ve probably heard… “Here’s my business card, and here’s another to give to a friend”.

Let’s sum it up

how to ask for referrals

Determining how to ask for referrals can be hard. Knowing exactly when to do it is key. Especially if you are asking face to face.  The ‘ask’ needs to be as genuine as possible and it has to happen at the right moment. This moment may come at different times for every customer, it all depends on when that customer seems happiest. Telltale signs are when the customer is telling you they happy. It could also be when they are thanking you for your help. It’s at any moment the customer realizes the value in you, your company or your product.

Need some awesome client referral template ideas? Here’s an article to get you started.


Posted by Megan Mosley

Megan Mosley is a writer for Referral Rock. You can find her poking around online or tweeting about marketing, small businesses, SEO, or even sharing funny memes. She is addicted to coffee and uses it as a fuel to keep her going through the day.