How to Build a Simple, Effective Referral Program

Set your goal, time your request, and ask in many different ways.

Most small businesses can tell you the best way they attract new customers—but most of them aren’t taking steps to do so.

Sound odd? Welcome to the sometimes misunderstood—and vitally important—task of generating business referrals. Business consultant Michael Rozbruch polled several thousand small businesses, and 63.4% told him that half their revenue came from referrals. Despite acknowledging their importance, 80% of those companies said they had no system for generating referrals.

That’s lots of money left on the table. A sound referral program doesn’t have to be hard. Here are six steps to building one:

  • Set a goal. Rozbruch recommends keeping referrals top-of-mind. Target asking six to eight people a day for referrals, and keep at this for 21 days. Three weeks of such repetitive behavior will make asking for referrals a habit.
  • Time your request. Service providers such as accountants should request a referral from a client at the first meeting, according to Rozbruch, since it might be their only face-to-face interaction. Others suggest a referral request should come at “a happy moment”—immediately after a client has expressed gratitude for your service or purchased a product.
  • Spell it out. Delineate who your ideal client is and how your products/services would benefit them. This makes it easier for people to know who to refer to you. A tax attorney could send a letter to clients explaining his range of services and offer a free consultation to anyone the person refers—that gives the referrer the good feeling that he is doing a favor for a friend.
  • Ask in many ways. Rozbruch recommends asking for referrals in person, through letters or phone calls, and via your website (include a large button that says, “Refer a Friend”).
  • Track your progress. You should track your referral program to know how effective it is. Create a simple spreadsheet with:
    Existing client’s name
    Person’s name they referred
    Date of contact
    If you connect with people online, automate the process.
  • Thank the referral. If someone sends you a referral, thank them immediately via email or personal letter. A tangible reward, such as a discount on a future purchase, also is important.

Kelly Newsome, president of ConnectRoot, a networking platform for people in the financial industry, likes referring friends to her online marketing provider; both she and her friend get a free month of service, and the provider sends her an immediate thank you—which reaffirms her belief in them.

A referral program can work hard to build your prospective customer pipeline. In addition, it’s a valuable extension of your customer service, building loyalty among current customers, who view it as a perk. To that end, it makes sense to amplify your customer service benefits in any program description you might create. The Optimum Business Service Commitment, for example, is a promise built on exceptional service. It includes several key benefits, including providing a same-day service guarantee, no annual contract, and 24/7/365 live local support plus more.