How can we get happy clients to actually give referrals?

We are a B2B Marketing Services agency. We also have extremely happy clients (directors / managers of marketing) that are happy to provide a raving testimonial, but as soon as we finish a project -- they're pretty done with us. Out of sight, out of mind. When we ask "Could you connect me with a few people I should talk to?" we get the typical response of "let me think about who" and then you never hear back from them. To combat this - we've tried to share our ICP or even go through their Linkedin to ask for a specific person. No response. I believe it happens this way since marketers are focused on one campaign at a time and when our services (badass animated video for sales and marketing) aren't needed - we're not a priority (we don't do retainer business; that's another story)). Often, these people come back for repeat business in 6-12 months. As soon as they need another video, we're friends again and communication with us is a high priority. We have a monthly marketing email to TRY to help keep us top of mind with these folks.


You need to make referrals a condition of doing business with you and do it upfront. Also, automate the referral ask. More details on "how to" below.

To do this: During your first interactions with a client (NOT after you have delivered or closed the sale, that's a rookie mistake), you can tell them....

"Listen, it's our job to treat you guys so well that you'll not only come back to us over and over again when you need's our job to treat you so well that you'll feel comfortable with us enough to send your friends and colleagues our way when they need our help. Does that make sense?"

When they say "Yes" (and they won't say no) you say, "OK great, the way we do that is through referrals. So once you're happy and successful with us, we'll occasionally ask you for a referral. So, you get great work from a team you know and trust and you also get to connect people in your network to a service that you know works well so you look like a rockstar to your network.I want to make sure we can agree to that upfront? This is how we do business here and it holds us accountable to you and makes sure we deliver the absolute best product/service you've ever seen. So once you're happy will you send us referrals?"

Once they agree, you now have permission, and a verbal contract that they will send you referrals. Now, treat them like gold with this mentality that you not only want to give them a great finished product, but you want them to refer you. That should drive the work.

Once you've delivered...ask for the referral. Don't make the rookie mistake and just say one-time "hey do you know anyone that you could refer us to?" That will rarely work.

Instead, ask "Hey, do you remember when we started this project and we both agreed that if we delivered and made you both happy and successful that you would refer us to people in your network?"

Pause, shut up and listen, and let them say "yes".

Ask them first "So are you happy with what we've delivered?"

Pause, shut up and listen, and let them say "yes".

If they hesitate at all, they aren't happy and won't refer. Don't hold back and dive-in deep here. Say "I sensed a little hesitation. What's up? What are we missing? I want to help."

Figure out what's wrong, fix it, then ask them if they are happy.

Then say, "well I've been looking at your connections on LinkedIN and I noticed you are connected to (enter 2 names and company names here). Can youintroduce us so we could have a conversation and get to know them?"

The above means you have to do the research. You have to do the work. But the work upfront is much easier than dealing with a cold prospect. Most salespoeple/organizations just don't respect referrals enough to make them a priority. It's their loss and your gain if you follow this simple process. It's work. Just do the work and you might also find you get to know people and enjoy it. These are your customers. Treat them like people. Take care of them and they'll take care of you.

Once you make the ask, continue to mine referral leads and ask once a month. Follow-up until they answer. Follow-up until they tell you to stop. Phone is best but email works too. Use it as an opportunity to maintain and develop the relationship. Truly care about your clients and they will never tell you to stop following up. It will be like talking to an old friend and often this process leads to more sales from your past clients as you stay top of mind.

Want to automate this process...


If you want to automate the referral ask, try ReferralRiver. It's free and uses artificial intelligence to automatically research who is in your client's network and make the referral ask at the right time every month. It reduces your work significantly while you just Cc'ed on an email from your existing customers to new referral leads. It's freaking magical.

There are other services out there as well like LeadDyno (more of an affiliate program). You should try it all but the truth is that you have to make the agreement upfront and you have to get serious about making referrals a priority.

Book a call with me if you want to ask me any questions. Happy to help.

Answered 8 years ago

Have you thought about providing clients with a dual benefit to referring other clients? For instance, offer them a discount on future videos if they provide a referral (when that client purchases). That new customer would get a discount as well. Win-win.

Also, consider the "ask" time; seems like you are asking them after service is rendered. I would try asking when those customers come back for their second video: "Refer someone and we can take a discount off this video you need right here."

Happy to do a call if you wish to explore this more. Good luck!

Answered 8 years ago

Do it right as you deliver the final product. That is the apex of their happiness with you.

Include it as the conclusion of your meeting with them to discuss the final product. Make sure they know this is coming and are set up for it. Provide a highlight script for them to follow. You don't want word-for-word, but you do want sample sentences around which they plug in their own experience.

Eg. "We were in Tough Situation #1 when we found Supplier J. One of the most amazing things about working with Supplier J was {fill in the blank}. What we love most about our video is {fill in the blank}. Now that we have the help from Supplier J, we've moved out of Tough Situation #1 and are able to {fill in the blank}."

This qualifies viewers of the testimonial who are in the same bad situation as your client was.

Get this done by video: you're the pros at this so you should be able to figure it out, and make sure it is completed right then. Not later. Don't let them off the hook. Set it up as the expectation of the conclusion of the process and have them ready to do it.

As soon as you let them get away without providing the testimonial at this point, as you've noticed they don't need you anymore. So while they may be well-meaning and want to help you, you just aren't that great a priority anymore. They have other fires to fight.

If you miss the opportunity, you're probably going to have to orbit until they return for a new video. Then get the testimonial before you get to work on that new product.

Getting testimonials is a HABIT, like walking for 20 minutes after work. People say, "Oh, I'm too busy" and the like but that is absolute nonsense. Once you start making time for this important marketing tool, you'll find it is a natural requirement and you can't proceed without getting it.

Answered 8 years ago

I have worked on this with other clients and we had better success asking for referrals early on in the process rather than after or at the end of the process. It also helps to be specific in your ask. Rather than asking to be connected to people, ask if they know companies in (industry) who have (specific problem). Being specific triggers names far better than a general ask which is almost always met with them thinking about it.

Answered 8 years ago

Have you considered asking them to create a video testimonial for you that you can then share on your social media sites, thereby giving them more exposure (including for their company and for themselves personally)?

One of my clients also provided very nice thank you presents to referral partners (i.e. gift cards to Nordstrom). That really kept referrals coming!

Answered 8 years ago

Let me start by saying I own a marketing agency, so I feel you on this.
First of all, when they come back to you wanting more work, ask them for a testimonial if they didn't give one before, ask them for recommendations on LinkedIn, ask them for reviews on your FB page and Google Business page and remind them for referrals. Send them postcards or flyers to hand out to friends or other nearby businesses. It's also important to not ask people to do too many things in these email blasts, so make sure each email is only asking them to do one thing, such as review FB or refer a business.
We successfully send out individual emails (not email blasts) to our clients once projects are finished and ask them to review us on Google, and provide instructions on how to do so. Between 25% to 50% of them follow through, which is great.
You obviously want to have (and maybe already do have) a referral program where you give clients a discounted or even free service for any referrals that turn into customers. Be sure these people know about that.
For other ideas, we have to think outside the box. Some ideas include:
-Send customers an email about an eBook or a white paper or inforgraphic that would be really helpful and beneficial for them to read, and have the lead capture form include fields for the contact info of another one of their business-owning or marketing director friends, so then they get the ebook or white paper, as well.
-You can make a video tutorial or even host a live video on FB about how to do something in Photoshop or how to make a Case Study in Word or something easy that this audience could do, and tell them to share it with their friends in the industry, since it's free helpful info.
-Similarly, you could host a webinar or even a live event in which people have to sign up and give you their email addresses, so you can ask your customers to inform their friends and peers about this event, which can give you more leads.
-You could even hold a contest and send out an informational and promotional email about yourselves to your customers and ask them to forward it to their peers or nearby business owners, and to BCC you guys on the email, and then after a couple of weeks, you will randomly select one customer who did this and send them a $100 Visa gift card.
These were just some unique ideas I thought up. We get a ton of business from refferals but you also want to make sure you're doing other lead generation tactics to expand your reach and drive more people to your website. Best of luck!!

Answered 8 years ago

Sounds like you have the basics right -- a quality team that can deliver solutions. I think you'll find better "referral" opportunities on your own, using data and some smart content marketing.

Start with what you do best. Create content showcasing problems or pains you've solved for your clients. If you can get permission, show your client brands and video testimonials. This can also be published to your owned domain (blog) to build up search equity. Once you've built your content hub, you'll need to explore some paid promotion. We're not talking thousands--experiment with small amounts to figure out what works best.

Here are some ideas to explore:

1) Consider using LinkedIn paid ads, using your existing client base as your targeting or modeling criteria. Like Facebook, you can use an existing client email list to target similar potential customers. Use pre-recorded testimonial videos as the ad content, as these past clients are probably known names in your area.

2) Explore doing likewise on Facebook. See above.

3)Tabula, Outbrain or other native distribution networks are offering some great options.

If your promotion budget is on the bootstrap level, give email marketing a try. This is also one way to reduce the friction for referrals.

Here is a high level outline of how to set up a n email referral program:

1) Set up a "referral" form where your clients can easily and quickly enter a few email addresses, and should include an appropriate non-salesy pre-written note written as if from your client, inviting new leads to explore your services. Make sure you are explicit about your privacy policy and about your use of those emails. No one wants to be that friend that put your email into a "spam list".

2) Set up an appropriate incentive. It could be "winner chooses a charity to get a donation" or something as simple as "win an iPad". You could also do something more on brand, such as give away tickets to a local film festival.

3) The last step might require some technical help, but basically when a client clicks on your email, you'll want to track the referrals they enter. If any result in new business, you'll want to acknowledge it appropriately, and also deliver on your prize.

A more simple version of the above would be to include copy in the email that invites your clients to forward to s friend. You'll just need to figure out how to track who referred who.

You might be doing this already, but consider submitting some of your work to awards or other contests. Every marketing manager loves getting the recognition for their "work", and they'll be more likely to share with their network. Basically, give your clients good reasons to share and be excited about your work.

Answered 8 years ago

We are a marketing agency similar to yourself and we have the exact same situation. To overcome this, we "gamify" getting testimonials with a Charity tie-up.
Here's how it works [and it does]:

Answered 8 years ago

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