How To Ask for Referrals in an Email: 11 Strategies [With Examples]

Asking for referrals doesn't have to be tough. We cover best practices, strategies, and examples for how to ask for referrals in an email.

Updated August 26, 2020


Recommendations, referrals, and reviews are an essential part of running a business. They help you share your products and services with new clients and grow a loyal customer base. But how do you get customer referrals? One popular way to ask for referrals is through email.

Making a habit of asking for referrals in your emails is one of the easiest ways to create a steady referral stream, and an essential part of a strong referral marketing strategy.

We’ll cover strategies and best practices for how to ask for referrals in an email, along with stellar referral email examples that follow these strategies. Whether you work for a small business or a larger corporation, you’re sure to find referral email strategies that will help you increase your customer referrals.

How to ask for referrals in an email

We’ve got you covered when it comes to perfecting your referral email design and referral email ask strategy. Here are some of the best tips on how to ask for referrals in an email.

1. Maintain an email list

Email lists are a great way to develop a relationship with your customers, as well as keep them updated on things going on with your business. They are an extremely cheap, easy way to bring customers back, which makes them a tool every business should be using. Email lists are also a great way to promote referral programs, which will help you both gain new customers and encourage repeat customers.

Whether you’re running a formal referral program, or simply need some testimonials to put on your website, you can ask happy clients to recommend you through email.

Unlike social media, where messages are easily lost, email messages are sent straight to a customer’s inbox. You can also personalize your messages to include current campaigns and encourage customers to give you a referral or recommendation.

2. Reach out to the right people

Before you even start crafting email copy, you need to make a list of contact information for the people you’re going to email. 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 also find a way to keep track of customer feedback. Which customers are already happy with what you do? These happy customers are the ones most likely to provide you with positive recommendations and be the most willing to refer you to their friends.

For example, if you run a software service, you might reach out to the people who spend the most time on your dashboard. If you sell goods on an e-commerce site, you can contact anyone who’s spent more than $200 with you in the past few months. These customers are actively engaged with your brand and would probably welcome a personal email.

3. Hit them at the right time

Nobody will recommend a product or service they’ve forgotten about. It’s important to ask your customers for referrals and recommendations when they’re most engaged and receiving value from their purchase. In other words, you have to hit them at the right time.

For example, if you were a florist who provided your services for weddings, it would be good to ask for a recommendation shortly after the event. If you wait too long, the bride and groom may have forgotten what it was like to work with you. The flowers will be long gone, and so will your recommendation.

The right time depends a lot on your particular business, and whether you want customer referrals or testimonials. It’s best to experiment with different days and times to see when you get the most positive responses.

If you have a lot of customers and can’t email them all personally, use an email service provider (ESP) to set up triggers or time-based emails. For example, you can schedule an email that asks customers for referrals to be sent 10 days after the product was purchased.

There are a number of amazing email follow-up tools to automate your emails and make sure they’re sent at the right time.

Your customers want to refer you – you just haven’t asked. We automatically ask them at the right time to help word of mouth spread.

4. Highlight your successes in your referral email

When you’re making the ask, be sure to highlight the personal successes and benefits your has customer received. It’s good to reminds them about the positive feelings and reasons why they have a relationship with you in the first place.

If you work as a consultant, you might highlight some of the projects you’ve worked on with the client. If you sell software, you might highlight some of the features the customer has recently used. When determining how to ask for a referral, always keep your industry and strengths in mind.

For example, here’s an email a jewelry retailer might send to encourage the customer to make referrals. Notice how it leads to the benefits of the earrings:

“Hi Lucy, I hope you enjoyed your new gold leaf earrings. The handcrafted style goes with any outfit, and we hope you’ve had a chance to show them off!

I wanted to reach out to see if you might be interested in our referral program.

For every friend that orders jewelry using your unique referral link, both you and that friend will receive 20% off an entire purchase.

Click here to make a referral. Rock those earrings! Chloe”

5. Use email signatures

Your email signature can act as a reminder or ongoing promotion of your referral program, no matter what type of email you send. The great thing about using your email signature as a reminder is that it’s seen every single time you send an email. So even if you’re not asking a customer directly, they will be aware of your referral program (after seeing it mentioned time and time again) and you’ll be the person they think of first when they’re ready to refer someone.

Referral email copy best practices (with examples)

How to ask for a referral in an email, exactly? Now that we’ve covered some overarching strategies on asking for referrals in emails, let’s cover the best practices for writing an email that’s used to ask for referrals. We’ve also included several examples that follow these best practices.

1. Keep your email concise

When asking for a referral or recommendation by email, don’t waste time with extra words and irrelevant information. Keep it short and sweet, and get to the point as quickly as possible.

American Apparel sent a very simple email asking for referrals. The messaging is concise, clear, and straightforward. It’s obvious what American Apparel is asking their email recipients to do – share with friends. Follow American Apparel’s lead when sending your own emails.

american apparel referral program

2. Make the available rewards for referring clear

When you ask customers for referrals, they’ll be eager to know what’s in it for them. Your email should answer this question and motivate them by clearly stating how they will benefit from making a referral. Will they earn cash? A gift card? A free product? Let your customers know.

Here’s an enticing offer with a short and simple email from uCraft, a website building tool. Notice how it states the benefits outright: “Earn 6 months free uCraft website plan and also give your friends 30% off when they use your link to buy something!”

ucraft referral email

YouFoodz, an online food company, also makes sure its customers can clearly tell the benefits of sharing. The YouFoodz referral email starts out with an enticing hero image that broadcasts the reward: “Refer three friends and get a week free!” Their email body then further explains the benefits of referring:

“When someone makes their first Youfoodz order using your unique referral code, you’ll both score a free meal! The more you give, the more you get!”

The brand’s tiered rewards are also pretty enticing. Notice how one successful referral earns the customer a free meal, two referrals earn the customer two free meals, and three referrals earn the customer an entire week of free meals. This motivates the customer to keep referring. Even if the customer is not able to refer three friends, at least they can aim at referring one person with a reward of a free meal!

youfoodz referral program email

3. Make a stunning first impression

First impressions do matter in email marketing, and they matter even more when asking for a referral. Create something that will linger in your customer’s mind long after they opened your email. To do this, use images combined with design and copy to create a visually engaging email.

Poprageous, an apparel brand, makes a striking impression by including models dressed in their products in its referral emails. This makes the brand’s email instantly eye-catching and engaging, and draws a customer’s interest.

poprageous ambassador program

4. Create a compelling call to action

Your call to action can make or break your referral emails. When a customer is done reading your email, they’re deciding between making a referral, doing nothing, or deleting your email. Make your email and offer impossible to ignore, and create an impression of urgency with a clear call to action.

Concisely state what you want your customer to accomplish, and share what’s in it for them. Then, make your call to action easy to find. Consider making it bold, using a bigger font, or placing it front and center on the page.

It’s also a good idea to include an enticing call-to-action button that takes customers straight to your referral landing page. The button should be a color that stands out from the rest of the email, and (again) clearly states what you want the customer to do.

Kiwi, a travel booking company, uses a very clear call to action: “Refer a friend to book with” This is followed up with a green call-to-action button that advertises the reward for sharing.

Kiwi call to action

5. Personalize the email

Make the recipient of your email feel special and you’ll create a deeper connection that will move them to share your product. One simple way to do this is to include their name in your email or subject line.

Toy company Riff Raff & Co sends personalized emails to its customers immediately after they purchase a toy online. The email informs them that their toy is on their way, and also offers a reward for any referral they can make. This email feels very personal, as it is sent immediately after the customer’s purchase and includes their name as a greeting.

“Hi [Customer’s name],

Thank you… get 5 of your mates to purchase and get a second Riff Raff & Co sleep toy for free!”

riff raff & co referral email

You don’t have to stop at using the customer’s name, either. Personalizing your email as much as possible can greatly increase email engagement rates.

6. Use your best email etiquette

No matter what industry you’re in, you need to use your best email etiquette when sending emails asking for referrals or recommendations. Here are a few quick tips on how to ask for a referral in email.

  • Use compelling subject lines. If clients don’t open your emails, they’ll never get a chance to see what you have to say. Be sure to use the most compelling email subject lines.
  • Don’t buy email lists. This is a spammy practice and an all-around no-no. Just don’t do it.
  • Make sure emails are mobile-friendly. A lot of people open emails on their smartphones, so make sure all the messages you send are mobile-friendly.
  • Use an email marketing software (like Campaign Monitor or MailChimp) if sending to a large list. If you’re sending emails and referral requests to a large list, it’s best to set up a triggered or time-based email campaign using an email service provider (ESP).

Wrapping up

The popularity of your brand, product, or services does matter. But at the end of the day, your business is competing with other emails in your customer’s inbox. Use the above examples as a guide to asking for referrals through email. And for more on creating referral emails, be sure to check out our article with referral email design examples.

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