Referrals from happy clients are one of the most effective ways to generate growth. B2B sales reps, whether you're an outbound SDR, sales executive, or account manager, are all perfectly positioned to ask customers for referrals.
According to the Wharton School of Business, a client who comes through as a warm referral from an existing customer has a 16% higher lifetime value as a non-referred customer. Not only is the customer lifetime value (CLV) of a referral-based client higher than those who come through other means, they cost significantly less to win.
So why do sales reps not ask for referrals every time? Why are referrals like gold dust, when they should be coming in all of the time? As long as you have happy clients, referrals should be a normal part of every sales process. In this article, we’ll explore the power of referrals and how sales reps can ask for them to get real results.
Why and When Should Sales Ask for Referrals?
Every single customer is a referral opportunity. Imagine over a three-month period if every client referred another client your way. You’d double your customer base within a single quarter!
Of course, it’s usually not that easy. Asking for referrals is a tactic that involves picking the right moment, asking in the right way, and having an element of persistence. Not every client is going to know another potential client. And if they do, it might not be the right time for a referral. Building a referral strategy will help you identify the “when” and how to act upon it.
5 Tips for Getting Referrals in B2B Sales
As every salesperson knows, persistence and effort usually pay off. But getting results takes time. So where do you start? Here are five actionable ways B2B salespeople can ask for referrals to increase conversion rates and win new clients:
1. Identify potential advocates.
When asking for referrals, think about your customers first. Asking for referrals is tactical, timing-specific, and relationship-based. Some customers are more valuable than others, and whether your business is service or product-based (e.g., software, SaaS, etc.), there will always be those who benefit more from your solution.
Clients who are gaining more value, worth more annually, and happy with the service are always more likely to give back. In this case, you are asking them to freely offer potential new clients as referrals—leveraging their own network, and therefore, reputation, to send you customers. Pick these advocates wisely, and time your “ask” well.
Try to identify these partners early on. Aim to always ask within the initial phase of working together, such as in the first three months, and put a reminder in the CRM to ask. At the same time, you can make the strategic move to ask for a testimonial or case study to help build your client base.
2. Ensure a client is happy with your services first.
Before seeking a referral, ask yourself the following questions (and record the results in the CRM):
- Have we delivered on or above expectations in the first few months of working together?
- Is the client happy with the service we have provided?
- Are they wanting to keep working with us (whether or not there’s a contract)?
- How well placed are they to provide referrals (e.g., do they have sector-specific or regional name recognition, how connected are the people we are dealing with, etc.)?
- Do we have supporting materials and an email template to make this an easy “ask”?
If you've never asked for a referral, now is the time to create a call script or email template that can be used for future referrals. It can be adjusted depending on how well clients respond when asked.
Better yet, referrals should be personal. This means connecting with your client over the phone or in a Zoom meeting before making the request. For example, if you're a project manager, your weekly call with the client might be the perfect moment to ask for a referral, particularly when a campaign is going well. The most important part here is to start showing value to the client, then identify the correct timing to ask for referrals.
3. Create supporting materials for referral partners.
Supporting materials should be specific, actionable, and useful for a potential referral partner. Most of these will be clients. Others, however, could be connected and well-known people in your sector who will want to send referrals, potentially in exchange for a commission or other incentives.
In either case, it will make referrals run smoother when partners and clients can send you quality leads quickly and easily. Make this process frictionless and as simple as copying and pasting an email with a few links.
Here’s an example of an email that CIENCE gives to clients to make the referral process easier for them:
You can also refer clients to simply fill out a referral on your website if you have a dedicated page for this type of information.
4. Be specific and reciprocate whenever possible.
When asking for referrals, remember to be specific. If you have an ideal client in mind that another customer is connected to, or may know personally, then ask for a specific referral. It’s also useful to reciprocate whenever possible. Give clients referrals, or something of equal value, such as a partner who could refer clients.
5. Ask for referrals several times a year.
Don’t only ask once. Keep every sales agent in a referral mindset. Once referrals start working as part of the sales process, ensure everyone asks every viable client at least four times a year. Ask a minimum of once every quarter, and more often whenever the opportunity arises.
Be mindful of asking too often, of course. Or asking clients who’ve said “no.” And those who only send disqualified leads are perhaps not worth asking again. So, be selective. But for those who are clearly happy with the working relationship and want to send referrals, make a point of asking more than once.
Here’s a quick checklist for you to reference throughout the year:
Build Your Referral Leads in B2B Sales
Referrals are considered to be one of the most valuable and effective lead sources out there. When B2B clients are asked for and are actively sending referrals, they generally are not looking for incentives. It usually works out that this is simply an extension of a healthy working relationship—a “thank you” for the great work your company does and the value you deliver.
So keep this in mind when your B2B sales team gets ready to go after that referral—and make it a practice ask. You’ll find, with the help of our tips, that your next quality referral will be much easier to achieve.