How to Ask for Referrals: The 4-Step Framework for B2B Sales

One of the biggest mistakes in the world sales reps tend to make is that they abandon a buyer relationship after a purchase.

After all, what do they have to offer after you’ve already earned a commission from them?

But saying “sayonara” that quickly shuts off your pipeline from the absolute best type of lead in any industry—the referral.

Referrals are easier to close, offer more value, and are less costly to acquire than any other lead.

That being said, a lot of reps don’t know how to ask for referrals. And consequently, they can’t take advantage of all the benefits of this invaluable lead type.

This guide shows how to ask for referrals using a bulletproof four-step framework. We’ll also examine what’s so great about referrals and the five qualities to look for in a referral source opportunity.

Ready to beef up your lead pipeline (and your commissions) using referrals? Then let’s go.

Why Ask for Referrals? 

So, why change up your processes at all?

Why do the work to learn how to ask for referrals when your traditional channels are already working (to an extent…)?

The answer here is simple—referral leads are better than other leads.

Here’s why.

A) They’re The Easiest Leads You’ll Ever Uncover

More than half of marketers (54%) say referral marketing generates more cost-efficient leads compared to other marketing channels. – Social Media Today 

With traditional prospecting, you need to put in a lot of work.

Relentless emails. Unanswered phone calls. Message after message after message…

All that takes time—and plenty of it. Time you could be spending on attracting other leads. And time you could be spending closing on serious deals.

But a referral request are actually some of the cheapest leads to acquire out of any other marketing channel, both in terms of time costs and resource costs.

Your existing clients might be the most profitable way to generate more clients.

B) The Best Way to Gain Instant Influence

Referred leads have a better conversion rate than any other channel—at 10.99% from lead to opportunity, 3.74X the average rate. Compare that to sales prospecting (0.90%, 0.31X), inbound (3.82%, 1.30X), paid marketing (2.98%, 1.01X), and email (0.55%, 0.19X). – Marketo

Simply put, referred leads are more likely to buy. They’re a lot more likely to buy.

And part of that is due to instant rapport building.

When leads come from one of your satisfied customers, you don’t have to go through as much rigmarole on why they should trust you in the first place.

Why? Because they already know you can achieve results.

After all, you did it with the referral source. Why can’t you do the same for them?

C) Easier Closing

70% of sales leaders and 69% of frontline sales reps report that referrals close substantially faster than traditional leads. – Influitive + Heinz Marketing

Sales reps across industries have noticed the buying cycle is getting longer with each passing year.

In fact, 55% of B2B sellers recently reported seeing an increase in the purchasing timeline, according to DemandGen. More than 1 in 5 said the timeline had increased significantly.

That means more time required to bring in the same commissions.

But the overwhelming majority of sales professionals find that referred leads close faster than any other lead type. And for you, that’s more time in your pocket to increase your earning potential.

D) Bigger Purchases

The lifetime value of referral customers is higher than your average customer—16% higher in fact. – Wharton School of Business

As if lower acquisition costs, higher close rates, and faster buying cycles weren’t enough, referral customers actually buy more too.

When customer referrals buy from you, they already trust you inherently more than if you’d brought them in using other channels. You’ve got your referral source to thank for that. And because of that trust foundation, they understand the more they invest, the more value you can generate.

Can you say fatter commission check?

E) Flywheel Referrals

Referred customers have a 37% higher retention rate and are 4X more likely to refer more customers to your brand than non-referrals. – Invesp

Last but certainly not least, referrals beget referrals. Which beget referrals. Which beget… you get the point.

With each referral you bring in, you’re not just earning a single new customer. You’re also expanding your network of potential referrals and boosting the odds that you’ll bring in even more of these high-quality leads. And the more referrals you have, the more referrals you’ll get in the future.

In that sense, creating a referral generating system is building a lead flywheel that runs on its own momentum, meaning even less effort for you.

Identify Your Best Referral Sources

Now that you understand all the shiny perks of referrals, let’s lay the groundwork for how to get referrals. And the very first step to cashing in on a referral system is identifying your referral sources.

Referral sources are (as the name implies) whoever you can use to generate referrals. These are the buyers you’ve worked with in the past.

But the best referral sources aren’t just any old customer. Instead, they’re the ones that demonstrate five key qualities.

1. A Recent Buyer

History can be a powerful leveraging tool. Harkening back to the old days with former clients kindles a warm, fuzzy fire of nostalgia. But unfortunately, that often doesn’t mean crap when it comes to great referral sources.

Instead, you’ll want to focus on recent buyers. Who have you closed with in the past quarter? The past year?

Not people who have recently consumed marketing materials, not buyers who gave you customer feedback that made you smile 4 years ago. Recent buyers.

These are going to be the best referral sources specifically because their experiences with you are fresh in their minds. And that means they can speak more accurately (and more passionately) about why working with you is such a great idea.

2. Great Rapport

Piggybacking on that last point, you’ll also want to focus on your buyers with which you have particularly great rapport.

Rapport is vital when it comes to referral marketing.

Even with the most high-performing, value-boosting, revenue-skyrocketing product, a low-rapport customer isn’t going to put in the (minimal) time it takes to connect you with a colleague or peer. Why? Because they don’t like you. Why would they care?

So don’t even waste your time on them in the first place.

But high-rapport buyers are going to be 20X more likely to pass on your info. And that means they’re fantastic referral sources worth focusing on.

3. Agree On Your Value

This one is key. And we’ll go through the necessary steps to confirm this value agreement later.

But at the initial stages where you’re identifying primo referral sources, you’re going to want to look for buyers who already agree on the value your product offers.

Maybe they’ve sent you enthusiastic messages after purchasing. Or it could be a five-star review. Any indicator of love for your product or service is a great jumping-off point here.

Now, this referral source quality is a bit flexible. Just because a buyer hasn’t confirmed that they love your product doesn’t mean they won’t give you a referral. They may see the value but just haven’t given you any signs yet. And maybe they don’t see the value yet (more on that later).

But the point here is to pick out those enthusiastic clients first. Only then should you move down the list to your less fervent past buyers.

4. Knowledgeable of Your Product 

Enthusiasm is one thing. And yes, it goes a long way towards getting referrals to sign on to a discovery call. But your referral source needs to also have a keen understanding of your product or service’s value proposition in order to make an impact.

You can control some things in asking for referrals. And this guide includes a few templates to make this process even more foolproof.

But what you can’t control is what the prospect thinks of the referral source. Do they think your source knows what they’re talking about? Do they believe they understand the industry and the product sufficiently to know which products are valuable and which are scams?

Focusing on referral sources that can adequately and intricately explain your unique value is a surefire way to get your prospect on board rather than dismissing your source.

5. Well Connected

The bigger the social and professional network, the more valuable the referral source. And arguably, this quality may be the most important as a result.

Sales is often a numbers game. The more connections you make, the more opportunities you get to close a deal.

That’s why you want to focus on referral sources with a sprawling network first. You know, the social butterflies of the industry. And when you’ve exhausted those options, then you should move on to the more modest networkers.

LinkedIn, of course, is a great tool for assessing which referral sources have the most valuable networks to tap into.

The More Referrals Framework

We know why referrals are so valuable. And we know specifically what to look for in a referral source.

Now it’s time to dive into the meat of it all—how to ask for referrals.

Whether you want to know how to ask for referrals on email or how to ask for referrals on LinkedIn, it’s always going to be a delicate procedure. After all, your source is putting their reputation on the line here. If your relationship with the prospect doesn’t pan out, their trust in the source could be irreparably harmed in the process.

That’s why I’ve found the best way to ask for referrals is by following a four-step process—I call it The More Referrals Framework.

  1. Confirm Your Value
  2. Ask “Who Else?”
  3. Make a Specific Ask
  4. Use the 1-1-1 Follow Up

1. Confirm Your Value

Let’s face it—most people are wrapped up in their own little world. And even if you’ve delivered everything they’ve asked for on a silver platter, they’ll still forget what you’ve done for them very quickly.

That’s why it’s vital you get your referral source to confirm the value you provided before asking for a referral. The best way you can come to an agreement on that value is by pointing to the results you’ve helped them achieve. And that takes documentation.

I’ve talked about the benefits of relentlessly documenting your client results in the past. And here again, being particularly scrupulous with your documentation pays off.

How to Confirm Value (Mini Framework)

Now, let’s look at what confirming this value looks like in the real world.

  1. Document the following:
  2. Problems the buyer had when they started working with you.
  3. Results you promised to deliver.
  4. Whether you delivered those results.
  5. Things you’ve done above what was promised.
  6. What you want to improve next quarter.
  7. Set up a call with your buyer and run through your documentation.
  8. Be sure to email the documentation ahead of time (to give them time to look it over).
  9. Go through each step on the call.
  10. Confirm value.
  11. At the end of the call ask, “So it’s fair to say that we’ve delivered/over-delivered on what was promised?”
  12. Optional: Follow up with, “For my records, if I send you a quick email, can you reply and confirm that again so that I can share it with my boss?”

With this mini framework, you’ll walk away with a verbal (and even a written) confirmation that you’ve delivered value to your referral source. And now we can leverage that to start bringing in referrals.

Pro Tip: Think of it in terms of upselling. Just as with upselling, you first need to show the buyer that you actually can bring value to the table. Only then will they be willing to trust that you can offer even more value. 

And the best way to prove value is by having quantifiable benefits (your documentation) that you’ve earned for the referral source in the past. The more number-oriented those benefits, the better. 

“Every single move you’re going to make, whether it’s a renewal or an upsell of any type, starts with identifying and documenting results, anchoring and justifying their faith in you.” – Interview with Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer of Corporate Visions

2. Ask “Who Else?”

If there’s one thing that unites practically all of humanity, it’s that no one likes to do work. We tend to choose the path of least resistance every time.

That’s why we’re going to make it exceptionally easy for your referral source to reach out to other prospects.

Now, this step can follow directly from your “confirming value” call. Or, if you prefer (or if you think your source needs more warming up), you can return to this conversation every quarter or so.

No matter what you do, the important thing here is to follow the “Who Else” script below.

The “Who Else?” Script

When you jump on a “Who Else” referral call, all you need to do is follow this script:

  • Seller: “Is it fair to say that we’ve solved X problems, with Y solution, and you’re happy with it?”
  • Buyer: “Yes, that is correct.” (If they say no, refer them to your previous documentation that they have agreed to)
  • Seller: “Do you know anyone else who has X problem? I’d love to see if I can help them solve it too.”

Then you shut up.

No kidding—don’t say anything else. Let the buyer think about it on their own and don’t help them out. Don’t point them in the right direction. Don’t say a word.

It might be awkward for a minute or two. And that’s okay.

But remember—you’ve made a promise and delivered value to the buyer at this point. They’ve agreed to it. And now it’s time that they do you a favor in return.

After the buyer gives you a name and their contact info, don’t give up there. Instead, say:

  • Seller: “OK great. Is there anyone else?”

Don’t be satisfied with just one name. Keep going until the buyer really has tapped out of potential referrals they can introduce you to.

After that, you can move on to step #3.

Pro Tip: Stay consistent when reaching out to referral sources. I’ve found that having these conversations every quarter is a fantastic way to generate regular, reliable referrals that keep my pipeline topped up. 

Plus, the more you build this framework into your scheduled processes, the more likely you’ll be to actually stick with it. So put in the work and stay consistent! 

“Success isn’t about working harder, because people go, “I’ve got to work harder.” It’s not about that. It’s about doing the consistent action on a daily basis” – Interview with Marx Acosta-Rubio, Founder of Onestop & Business/Lifestyle Strategist

3. Make a Specific Ask

As a sales rep, you know you need to make the ask to close the deal. And the clearer you are, the more definitive your results are going to be.

That’s why step #3 is to make a specific ask.

Here’s the difference between a regular ask and the specific one we should be aiming for:

  • Bad Ask: “Is there anyone you think you could introduce me to?”
  • Specific Ask: “Can you introduce me to Barry Jones from ACME industries, via email? I can send you a templated introduction email if that would make things easier.”

See the difference here?

The best way to make this step more successful is by doing a lot of the work upfront. And that means passing on a template the referral source can use.

Simplify the Ask With a Template

With an email template, you minimize the effort your referral source needs to put in to connect you to the prospect. That makes it more likely they’ll actually make the connection.

And to make things even easier on you, you can use the template below:

Hi [NAME],

I’ve been working with [YOUR NAME] and [he/she] has helped us with [COMMON PROBLEM].

I know they have really useful content and insights that they can send over.

Does it make sense for me to introduce [YOUR NAME] so they can see if they can help you out too?

Thanks,

[BUYER]

This template also proactively deals with one of the most common objections a prospect will make—“Just get them to send me some information.” Instead, we’re immediately rebutting it with the push for permission to be introduced upfront.

Pro Tip: This step might feel uncomfortable at first. But remember—you’ve already proven your value to your referral source. In fact, you both confirmed that value during step one. 

And as long as you’ve provided sufficient value to your buyer, try to think of this step like getting the referral you’ve earned, not like you’re asking for a favor. 

“You don’t necessarily ask for referrals, you have to earn referrals.” – Interview with C. Lee Smith, Author, Speaker, & CEO of SalesFuel

4. Use the 1-1-1 Follow Up

Don’t get lazy after you’ve gotten buy-in from the buyer—you’re not finished yet. Now you have to work on your referral source follow-up.

People rarely take action the first time you ask them. That’s why it’s up to you to create a system that ensures your buyer is making good on their promise.

I’ve found the 1-1-1 Follow Up method is the best way to stay on top of your referral sources. Use this schedule to follow up after your initial ask.

  • 1 Day – Follow up with the buyer and ask if they’ve sent the email.
  • 1 Week – Follow up with the buyer and ask if they’ve sent the email. Add the potential buyer on LinkedIn. Your introduction message should mention the previous buyer.
  • 1 Month – Follow up with the buyer again. Now start prospecting the potential buyer, regardless of whether the introduction has been made.
Tracking Your Referrals

Keeping on top of referrals is tough if you don’t have a system. And the 1-1-1 method is a great start. But you’ll also need to be even more organized if you want the best results.

That’s why I recommend documenting your referral process in a spreadsheet. This will help you keep track of who you need to follow up with and when to do so. You’ve already put in a bunch of hard work at this point. Don’t let it all go to waste by dragging your feet on this portion.

For an even more foolproof system, most CRMs offer automatic lead follow-up reminders. HubSpot, for instance, gives you a task reminder option right at the bottom of your email. Just set the days to wait and forget it!

Pro Tip: When you do hear from the referral, get them on the phone. No sending them content. No social selling. No procrastinating and putting things off even longer. 

With a referral, you already have a rapport and social clout leg-up that should let you take things to the next level immediately. And the longer you wait to make real, meaningful contact, the less beneficial that leg-up becomes.  

“A video or phone call is worth a thousand emails.” – Interview with Erica Dhawan, Award-Winning Keynote Speaker & WSJ Bestselling Author

Wrapping Up

Without a doubt, referrals are the best leads you’ll find in any industry. They’re less costly to acquire. They’re already primed for rapport-building. And they’re easier to close, more likely to buy more from you, and generate even more referrals.

You don’t need to implement a company wide referral program to make this happen either. An indivdual salesperson like yourself can drive dramatic amounts of new customers from simple referral requests.

What’s not to love?

But the only way to generate such fantastic leads is to 1.) offer real value to your customers and 2.) strategically ask past buyers for these referrals.

The Reliable Referrals Framework is the best way I’ve found to generate consistently high-quality referrals with past buyers.

Just follow the four simple steps:

  1. Confirm Your Value
  2. Ask “Who Else?”
  3. Make a Specific Ask
  4. Use the 1-1-1 Follow Up

It really is just that easy. And the more you do it, the easier it gets each time.

When you follow this simple framework, you can reliably pack your pipeline full with infinitely valuable referral leads from your past buyers.

For you, that means easier deals, more lucrative deals, and (yes) an immensely higher earning potential.

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