It’s All In the Ask: Get More Referrals with a Client-Centric Approach

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Knowing how to ask for referrals in sales can boost your bottom line.

  • Referrals are powerful because they provide you with a high level of credibility: You approach a prospect with a warm intro from someone they already trust.
  • Social selling expert Brynne Tillman says you can exponentially grow your list of leads through shared social connections.
  • The key to doing referrals right is keeping your relationships with customers intact.

“Word of mouth is the most valuable form of marketing, but you can’t buy it. You can only deliver it. And you have to really deliver.”

That pearl of wisdom doesn’t come from Seth Godin or Gary Vee. It’s practical advice from none other than Oakland’s own rapper/producer G-Eazy, although it could easily be attributed to social selling expert Brynne Tillman.  

How to ask for referrals in sales…

“The power of referrals is amazing,” says Brynne. “By the time you get to your targeted buyer, you have a high level of credibility, because you have been introduced by someone in your network who they already trust. That’s the magic.”

However, as she shares on an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, you’ve got to make that magic happen. 

Brynne, a best-selling author and CEO of Social Sales Link, talks about how to leverage your existing customers not only to find quality leads, but to best position yourself with prospective buyers as well. She emphasizes the importance of growing and nurturing relationships with clients before asking for referrals – and reveals why the way you ask is everything. 

Just say know

Does asking for referrals seem daunting? Or, perhaps you’ve tried, but it hasn’t panned out so far.

Maybe that’s because you’ve been seeking referrals in an open-ended way: So glad we’ve been able to help you… Who else do you know who we can help?

Those clients may just shrug and say, I can’t think of anyone right now, but I’ll get back to you, or, If someone asks me, I’d be happy to introduce you.

referral sales

That’s all good – inbound referrals are lovely. But they don’t fill your funnel right this second. And although they may mean well, many clients will forget to follow up altogether. 

So Brynne suggests taking a more proactive, outbound-focused approach.

Instead of asking customers who they know, find out yourself. Use LinkedIn to scope out their network and identify prospects you’d like to approach. 

Then you might say: I noticed you’re connected to 12 people on LinkedIn who I’d love to meet. Can I run these names by you and get some insights before I reach out? 

Cue a conversation that helps you narrow down the list even more: Yeah, that guy’s great, or oh, I think she retired

In this way, you’ll learn which buyers might be the best fit, all while leveraging your relationships with satisfied clients to approach new people with confidence and credibility.

Make a to-do-diligence list

To begin, Brynne says it’s crucial to “invest in a bit of due diligence.”

Though you may have 50 or more shared connections with a client, she doesn’t usually go over 20. “It’s really important that we don’t put the client out.” 

Begin by analyzing each profile and choosing who you most want to meet.

“But remember,” Brynne notes, “We’re not saying, Can you introduce *all* of them to me?” 

You’re just proposing a quick review of the list with your client. 

“Twenty may become 16 – or 12, based on who they know well enough for their name to have credibility,” she explains. “That’s really what I care about.”

Zone in on comfort 

We know what you’re thinking: Not all my clients will like this

And even if they want to help you, it may seem like a lot of work and/or use of their valuable time. 

You’re not wrong. But Brynne’s got a script for that.

Here’s a typical opener: 

Hi Ms. Client, I’m so glad we’ve been able to help you with [X] and we’ve gotten [X] results. Typically, we’ve grown our business through referrals from happy clients. I noticed you’re connected to [X] people on LinkedIn who might be a good fit for what my company offers. 

Could we schedule a five-minute call to quickly review themso I can identify, based on your knowledge of those connections, who makes the most sense for me to reach out to? 

Phrasing it that way puts them at ease. You do mention referrals, so you won’t blindside them when you do ask. But it’s clear you’re not after a personal introduction to every single person on your list. You’re limiting the timeframe of the call and just asking for insights. 

You’re making it easy to say yes.

(Name) drop it like it’s hot

referred customer

Once her list of 20 becomes closer to 12, Brynne writes: Thank you so much for your insights on these people. Is there anyone who you’d feel comfortable introducing me to? 

That might feel a little awkward, but framing it this way gives them an out. You’re not asking, will you introduce me. And you’re not asking for a meet-and-greet with a dozen people either.

Let’s say the client is happy to connect you with two prospects. Great! 

Be sure to thank them and offer to provide a brief, pre-written paragraph they can paste into an introductory email, so it’s super easy for them to make a virtual handshake happen.

Now, what to do with the remaining 10 prospects?

“That’s where permission to name-drop becomes really valuable,” Brynne says. 

Ask if it’s okay if you mention the conversation you just had and mention their name when contacting each prospect. 

“Almost every time, they’ll say, oh, sure,” she reports. 

In practice, that could sound like this: Darryl, I was talking to my client Daniel the other day, and your name came up… He thought it might make sense for me to introduce myself and find an opportunity for the two of us to chat. Let’s connect and we can set up a call. 

Brynne’s success rate using those tactics has been about 50%, she says. 

Do the math: If you can foster a warm connection to a dozen people via one satisfied client, you might earn six new conversations. It’s well worth the effort.

KIT or GTFO

To pull this off, you must keep in touch with your customers long after the paperwork is signed. And not just with the person who signed it.

According to “The Challenger Sale”, an average of 6.8 decision-makers weigh in on every enterprise sale. That means there are probably five to eight people you’ve engaged with during the sales process.

“If you’ve done your job well and your company has rolled out a great solution, you’ll have that many people to get referrals from,” Brynne explains. “So, you want to connect with all of them.” 

There’s another reason for that: According to Linkedin, there’s a 24% turnover on average annually among its users –– that’s one in five clients who will not be in the same position next year. 

“When you’re connected on LinkedIn, you can follow their career path,” she adds. “If you just have business cards or information in your CRM, your emails will bounce.”

Plus, when you see them move to a new company or role, you can reach out and say, good luck on the new gig

Stay top of mind, and if there’s an opportunity to sell, you’re there for it.

Time to make the ask

Remember, you can’t buy word of mouth referrals. You’ve got to put the time and effort into it and not put the weight on the shoulders of those you’re asking for the referral from. It’s time to take these tips and put them into play and see your opportunities increase.

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