If a picture is worth a thousand words then a referral must surely be worth a thousand somethings. Perhaps a thousand customers? A thousand orders? A thousand public appearances? A thousand mentions by analysts? A thousand job offers?

Perhaps ‘thousand’ is a stretch in some cases but there is no doubt that referrals are important.

We all ask for and get referrals when it comes to things we need. I ask for book recommendations, doctors in new areas when I move, restaurants offering a particular fare or even something to do on a weekend. But are we proactively asking people to refer their network to us? What part of our conversations is spent ‘leading the horse to water’ (asking for referrals) vs. being led to water (getting referrals)?


A personal story

I just returned from my second oral surgery with Dr. Sherwood in Danvers, MA and while I may be uncomfortably gauzed up and not the slightest bit excited about the fact that I just had my mouth operated on for the second time in two months, I would be happy to refer anyone that needs an oral surgeon to him. Why? Because he goes out of his way for patients and is completely honest even in the direst situation and I really respect a doctor who doesn’t try to BS me.

I met Dr. Sherwood about 3 months ago after my dentist referred me to him for a wisdom teeth extraction surgery. During my first visit, he laid it out flat and it wasn’t pretty. Fact was, I waited too long to have my wisdom teeth out and my options were slim if any. But I really enjoyed the fact that he didn’t try to hide anything or be wishy-washy in his approach (doctors hate to make claims or state facts due to fear of malpractice).

He had my referral at ‘Hello. There is no easy way to say this but the situation with your wisdom teeth sucks.’

Dr. Sherwood knows that his business is run primarily on referrals from dentists and his patients. He has signs all over his office asking for the referral and thanking his patients in advance for it. He makes it a point to ensure you are satisfied if not overly satisfied because he knows that word of mouth means something (no pun intended).

Referrals may just come to you, but more than likely, you need to do something to either earn them or solicit them.

I am shocked by the number of businesses that don’t offer a referral program or are not even asking for one yet they are swarming with eagerly satisfied customers. I see several reasons for this:

  1. Too nervous to ask for a referral
  2. Not confident that the person will be receptive to referring anyone
  3. Doesn’t realize customers are as satisfied as they are
  4. Doesn’t need any more business
  5. Doesn’t want to pay for referrals and believes you need to offer an incentive

Have you ever felt insulted because someone who provided you with great service said ‘if you enjoyed this, we appreciate your referral’ ? Probably not. You may or may not refer anyone to them but they asked and that’s what’s important.

Referrals can fuel a business with new business as John Jantsch can tell you from the many examples in his book ‘The Referral Engine’ and they can also fuel your business with repeat overly satisfied customers for years to come.

Clipik.com shares how a customer sharing a story via social media can drive just as much traffic as a media story. When compared to the traffic generated from a media story, a satisfied customer sharing their experience in the social networks performed just as well.

Consider how to ask for referrals and develop easy ways for your customers to share their stories about your brand. Promote your referral program on your site, in your store and during your conversations. Be cognizant of the fact that while your satisfied customers may refer you or mention their experience without you asking, they are more likely to do so when reminded to.

How are you enabling your customers to share their experiences with your brand? Do you have a formal referral program in place? I would love to hear your experiences as a consumer or a brand.