Asking for referrals and actually getting successful referrals are two separate things. If you are relying on your customers to tell others about your business, simply because you asked them to, you’re essentially asking your customers to do the work for you. While some customers may do this on your behalf – because they’re thrilled with your services, or because you’ve developed a friendship – the wiser approach is to put some work into soliciting referrals.

The referral process should take some effort and time, but by breaking it down into Who, When, and Where, you’ll be putting a framework around your process. Read on to get our tips for successful referrals.

Who should you ask for a referral?

When asking for referrals, know who you want before you ask. Instead of merely asking your customers if they could pass your name along, first research who your customers know. Google is your friend here, as are professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.

Start off by identifying who you want to have as a customer. From there, work backwards. Who does that person know that might know your customer? Start identifying potential networking circles that they share in common. Are they on a board together? Perhaps they went to the same university, and they are part of an alumni association. Do as much homework as you can on your target dream customers, and then you can confidentially go to your current customer and say, “I hear you’re a friend of so and so. I’d love to meet them. Do you think we could all go out for lunch one day?”

By knowing who you want to go after, and first doing your research, you will be increasing your odds of success; you won’t just be asking for a referral, you’ll be asking for an introduction.

When should you ask for a referral?

Knowing who to ask is step one. Your timing for when to ask is step two. Let’s say you’ve identified your dream customer. You’ve been working closely with your current customer who knows this dream customer, and you want to pull the trigger and ask for a meeting and referral. Before you take this step, time it appropriately; wait for the window.

The ideal time to ask for the referral and introduction is when your customer is thrilled with your product or service. Catch them when they are complimenting you or when they indicate that they are pleased they chose to work with you. Take the moment to acknowledge the compliment and ask them if they would be willing to introduce you to their colleague. Ask from a position of confidence and trust — by doing this, you’re affirming their choice to work with you.

Where should you ask for referrals?

Step three is knowing where you should seek your introductions and networking moments. A great tactic is to attend special events and extend an invitation to your customers and their colleagues whom you want to do business with. Look for engaging, entertaining venues that your customer and your customer’s customers would enjoy attending. Chef’s dinners, charity fundraiser events, or even golf tournaments are opportunities for you to get to know your potential customers. Investing in tickets – even if they are expensive – will save you time and money you would have otherwise spent on marketing, and if the cause is a charity event, all the better.

Referrals are the best compliment in business, but they rarely just “happen”

Increasing your business leads by using your current network is one of the smartest moves you can make in business. However, expecting customers to market on your behalf rarely happens. Put some research and strategy into the Who’s, How’s, and Where’s of asking for referrals, and start getting the leads you are after.