How to Win Clients: just Ask for the Referral

Do you ever find yourself repeating yourself and asking the same question(s) of people?

I do. I do. I do ……

(If you can remember the lyrics go for it; I think it is a classic ABBA number).

And you know when people have had enough of being asked – no not the … I do. I do ….. – when they engage on a superficial level or there is a forced smile; and possibly some looking at the floor and lots of “Umm, yes, umm”, but nothing even remotely challenging coming back the other way (someone raising their voice and showing some passion once in a while would be nice).

I am not surprised, in the slightest, though.

The question is so trite that it is hardly worth asking.

The question:

“Do you ask your clients for referrals? If not why not?

[sorry that’s two questions; but I just couldn’t resist for fear of the post being very short – the answer is a simple “No”.]

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a rant (no truthfully it isn’t), but I just want to highlight a problem that afflicts nearly all front-line people in professional services.

Why does no one ask their clients, in the correct way, for referrals?

Picture this.

Client: “John that was an awesome job that you did. Thanks. I wish we had come to you sooner.”

PSF: “Oh that’s really kind of you [Mr/Miss/Mrs] Client. I really enjoyed working with you and am delighted with the outcome.”

Client: “I won’t hesitate if we do have another problem like that to give you a call.”

PSF: “Thanks. Can I just ask you a small favour [Mr/Miss/Mrs] Client?”

Client: “Name it.”

[A nervous] PSF: “Do you know anyone who might be interested in my service?”

LONG PAUSE (not sure how you write that…)

Client: “Sorry, [Mr/Miss/Mrs] PSF I just can’t think of anybody right now but I’ll be sure to refer them your way if anyone needs your service.”

[A relieved] PSF: “Ok thanks. No doubt we will catch up soon.”

Six months later and surprise, surprise, no referral has come your way.

Before we move on, just let this little vignette sink in.

Actually, I think if you found people doing this you would be pretty lucky. In fact, I don’t think people come close to this. Instead referrals are a matter of happenstance. It just seems so alien to a lot of people not to say excruciatingly embarrassing to ask the client outright for a referral.

I had the pleasure of reading the first chapter of John Jantsch’s book the Referral Engine (it is free). I had already ordered my copy based on the recommendation of Bob Burg, the author of Endless Referrals and the co-author with John David Mann of the book The Go-Giver.

It was a great read and I can’t wait to get my copy but the most shocking statistic in the book was this:

“Before we move on, I want to share something that I find astonishing about this referral business. In preparation for writing this book, I conducted an informal survey of several thousand small business owners. Unsurprisingly, I found that 63.4 percent felt that over half their business came by way of referrals. But of that same group, 79.9 percent readily admitted that they had no system of any kind to generate referrals.” [my emphasis]


My point is simple: Just think what might happen if there was a system in place to give people confidence to know how to correctly ask for referrals and more importantly to generate them.

Over the course of the next few weeks I intend to formulate some specific strategies and programmes to show you how to ask appropriately and successfully for referrals but for now I would be really interested to learn from you why you think that referrals are like old tins of fruit stuck at the back of a cupboard. You know the sort of thing we come across once in a blue moon, dust off (we might check the sell-by-date) and then put back, to be forgotten about until the next time we clean the cupboard out.