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How to succeed at asking current clients for referrals

July 12, 2010

When was the last time you got a referral from an existing client? Last week, last month, last quarter or last year? Most partners that I work with get a handful of these kinds of referrals a year. These kinds of referrals are usually among the best kind of referrals you can receive because there is pre-established trust, no competition, no proposal, and it’s a quick and painless sales process. So, if these are the best kind of referrals to get, what are you doing to get more of them?  

Some would say that “the referrals will come when they come” – do great work and your clients will refer you when they have an opportunity. But what if you could implement a process that would increase the flow of these types of high-quality referrals from clients? Here’s a great process that should put you on track to get more of those highly coveted client referrals.

Your Process for Success

Step 1: Do truly excellent work, worthy of a referral.  It takes more than just “good” work to get a referral. Provide excellent value in your services, understand and exceed client expectations, be proactive with ideas, be highly responsive to inquiries, build a strong relationship, and communicate effectively. If you don’t succeed at this step, there is no sense in going any further. For more on how to do truly excellent work, worthy of a referral read The Ultimate Question, by Fred Reichheld.

Step 2: Educate your client on the types of referrals and introductions you seek. How many crappy referrals do you get every year from clients who thought they were doing you a favor by referring you a $200 1040? The fact is, if you get those kinds of referrals it is your fault – you have not effectively educated your clients on what types of referrals you desire. So, here’s an example of a specific and effective phrase that will educate your clients on precisely how they can help you:
•    “I’m looking to grow my practice and have a passion for and expertise in working with business owners of $5 to 20 million closely held distribution companies…do you know anyone who I should meet, or can you introduce me to a contact of yours who runs in these circles?”  

Step 3: Ask for referrals after delivery of a successful engagement, particularly any engagement where you delivered value in excess of your fee. This is the key, right here.  This is the BEST time to ask for a referral. If you’ve done great work, first of all remind the client that you’ve done great work. Then, ask for a “favor” or their “help.” Most people want to help others, especially a client for whom you’ve just delivered great results. Try this:
•    “Can you help me out?  I hope you’ve felt like you have received excellent value and great results out of the cost segregation project I just completed for you. To that end, I would truly welcome an introduction to someone else I might be able to help in a similar way. Do you know of any other specialty manufacturers or distributors who have recently done a significant renovation, retrofitting of an existing building, or construction of a new facility?”

Step 4: Treat the referral like a golden egg and find a way to reciprocate. Don’t let this referral fall through the cracks – or you may never get another referral from that client again. Make sure to “over-thank” your client.  If appropriate, let them know how it is going with the person they referred you to. And finally, if appropriate, make sure to reciprocate. If you don’t have a potential client for them, make introductions to possible good referral sources for them who are within your network, or send them tickets to a sporting event, or a nice dinner out with their spouse.

Step 5: Repeat. If you make a habit of asking your clients for referrals after delivery of every successful project, you will get more referrals.And, don’t be afraid to circle back with those who haven’t produced a referral and ask them if they could introduce you to anybody that could help you build your network. Trust me, no matter how great your client is, they don’t wake up in the morning wondering what they can do to help you – you have to initiate this conversation.

I remember the first time I got a referral from an existing client who was highly satisfied with a project I did for them. It felt like a “freebee.” It was as if the pizza delivery man from Calo Restaurant showed up at my door with a free pie with my favorite ingredients (cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and onions). So what I do now? I dazzle my clients to the best of my ability – deliver excellent results - and then I ask for their “help.”   

Art Kuesel is a director of consulting services for PDI Global, Inc. and works exclusively with CPA, law, and financial services firms across the country meeting their most significant marketing and business development challenges. He currently works one-on one with more than 30 CPA firm partners in a coaching capacity helping them build, sustain, and enhance their personal marketing efforts. He also enjoys gourmet cooking and travel with his wife, Colleen. Art can be reached at  or 312-245-1745.

Comments (2)
These are some great points you've made.
Good referals are a great way to generate new business, and these new clients already have somewhat of a confidence in your services. I also definitely agree on educating and informing your clients you are seeking, this can definitely prevent less than profitable clients and drive in more of what your looking for.
Posted by vbpoutsourcing | Thursday, July 15 2010 at 4:55PM ET

This is great stuff! My coach has been pushing me to ask for more referrals, and I've even set up a system to put the calls on my calendar so I'll make them on a more regular basis.

It's working - we do it when we've delivered a great product, and the client is glad to oblige.


Jason m. Blumer, CPA
Posted by JasonMBlumerCPA | Wednesday, July 14 2010 at 11:47AM ET
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