UpPromote - Affiliate Marketing Software

How to Ask for Referrals to Get Results 2024

Learning how to ask for referrals is a skill all business owners, brands, advertisers, and merchants must develop and master. This competency is crucial in growing the consumer base, giving businesses more opportunities to boost revenues. ...

Written by

15 min read
how to ask for referrals

Learning how to ask for referrals is a skill all business owners, brands, advertisers, and merchants must develop and master. This competency is crucial in growing the consumer base, giving businesses more opportunities to boost revenues.

Customer referrals or referral marketing isn’t a novel strategy. We’ve been doing it for centuries, albeit as “word-of-mouth.” It’s a tactic for sellers to appeal to more potential customers. The only difference is technology allows us to connect with more people and expand our customer base with greater efficiency and better results.

So, how do you grow your business by asking for referrals? Read on.

How to Ask for Referrals: The Best Tips without Being Pushy

A thoughtfully planned and well-executed referral program can improve your business’s bottom line. You will have more people to promote high-quality products and valuable services. They are your ticket to entrepreneurial success.

Unfortunately, asking for referrals requires finesse. You might want to encourage people without being pushy. So, how should you ask for referrals? Consider the following tips.

Ask the right people.

Asking for potential clients starts with identifying who you should receive your referral requests. You cannot walk on anybody requesting a name you can promote your products to. Most folks would consider that rude.

Asking the wrong people for referrals is like making cold calls. Nobody likes this strategy, not even marketers.

A Kenan-Flagler Business School study revealed four in five businesses will never buy products promoted through cold calling. Meanwhile, the Keller Research Center said that 72% of people who received such calls either hung up or gave the caller an outright rejection.

Unsurprisingly, cold calling’s marketing success rate is a dismal 2.5%. It suggests that 97.5% of cold call recipients will never buy.

It’s the same thing with asking for referrals. You will want to ask the right people, preferably someone your business is familiar with or has an existing partnership. And for that, your best referral sources are your best customers.

So, how do you zero in on the best customer?

Analyze your customer feedback, client buying behaviors, and other parameters. For example, a client regularly buying over $200 worth of goods from your business is an excellent candidate. People who spend at least 30 minutes on your e-commerce site are more receptive to a referral request.

Here’s a tip! Happy customers make excellent referral sources.

Reach out at the right time.

how to ask for referrals 1

So, you already have a list of potential referral sources. What then? Should you pop the question immediately? Or should you wait for the right opportunity? We’d say the latter.

Unfortunately, identifying the right time to ask for referrals isn’t black and white. You might read the situation wrong and ruin your chances of getting a favorable response to the referral request.

Timing is vital. Although pinpoint timing accuracy is out of the question, you can zero in on the referral person’s most convenient time.

For example, suppose you’re engaging social media users about their experiences with your product. They share how ecstatic they are using it. That’s your cue! Remember, happy clients make excellent sources of potential customers.

You could offer incentives (i.e., a discount on their next purchase or a monetary reward) for referring new customers. Their satisfaction with your product and the prospect of enjoying a reward are sufficient motivation to boost their word-of-mouth referrals.

Another example would be a property manager finding tenants for recently vacated units. You can ask for referrals from existing tenants when receiving payments for their rent. The property manager could offer a cash incentive for every potential tenant existing clients bring to the property. Other rewards could be in the offing, such as free maintenance for the next six months.

The point is to “read” the opportunity. Grab it if present.

Make the referral request natural.

We mentioned that cold calling is dead! You don’t ask strangers for referrals because that rarely works (only 2.5%, remember?).

Asking for referrals from people you just met is unnatural. Sure, you can introduce yourself and your business. But don’t follow it up with a request for referrals. They’ll shut the interaction immediately and turn their backs. That’s a lost opportunity.

Successful referrals emanate from trust. That can only happen over time as a natural consequence of healthy interactions.

Hence, we can consider the referral process vital in building and nurturing brand-customer relationships. You can only ask for referrals from people with existing relationships with your company.

So, when should you pop the request?

Unfortunately, no clear-cut answers exist. Everything depends on your relationship with your customers. Loyal customers can willingly refer potential clients without substantial convincing. Others might be less receptive, depending on where they are in the brand-customer relationship continuum.

The trick is to “feel” the relationship. Remember, timing is everything.

If you think (or feel) the brand-customer relationship is far enough in the spectrum, go ahead and make the referral request. Ideally, the interaction must be intuitive, not pushy or awkward. It must flow as naturally as possible in the customer-brand relationship.

Offer incentives for referrals

how to ask for referrals 2

Businesses with employee incentive programs can boost performance by nearly 50%. Moreover, two in three employees will want to remain with the company.

Although referral sources aren’t employees, we can derive meaningful analogies to a successful referral strategy.

Offering incentives or rewards increases willingness to refer potential clients. It’s the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick strategy to entice people to act. It gives people a reason to refer others to your business. That can grow your client base.

What can you offer?

Incentives for a referral source vary across businesses.

For example, you could give free items, store credits, gift cards, discounts, or cash to a loyal client who refers someone to the business. However, the referral must buy something from your store for the customer to earn the incentive.

You could also give the same incentives to the referral or whoever the customer refers. This trick leverages our relationships with friends. Instead of banging their heads thinking about a gift, they could encourage their friends to buy from your store. Your rewards or incentives will be the gift.

Please don’t forget to highlight the intangible benefits of referring. For example, products that address customer pain points are exceptional incentives. Referrals can also ensure a stronger connection among friends.

So, think about the benefits of referring from your customers’ point of view. What’s in it for them? What does your business have that can encourage customers to become your brand ambassadors?

Keep in touch with your customers regularly.

The secret to an effective referral mindset is having robust and mutually beneficial customer relationships. Loyal clients or customers are more receptive to requests from their favorite brands. And you can leverage this to find other potential customers.

Even new customers would be willing to refer potential customers if their interactions with your business are positive. That’s key! That’s why maintaining open communication with customers (new and old) is vital.

Impeccable customer service is necessary. Consumers value brand relationships and customer experiences as much as high-quality products.

how to ask for referrals 3

Did you know that 83 in 100 consumers factor in customer experiences in buying decisions? That’s impressive. And it underscores the importance of maintaining customer relationships.

Here’s another statistic worth pondering. Nearly 40% of customers with excellent brand relationships or experiences with customer services will recommend the business to their contacts. That’s nothing short of referring to a trusted friend.

Serving customers doesn’t end with the latter availing of your services or buying products. For example, just because customers already paid for a software service doesn’t mean you can abandon them already. You might want to continue serving them and maintain contact to ensure loyalty to your brand.

You might want to know that finding new customers can be 25 times more expensive than employing tactics to retain existing ones. Moreover, loyal clients will continue supporting your brand, including referring new customers.

So, how do you maintain contact with customers?

You can follow them on their social media accounts to stay updated with life events. Connect with them by sharing, tagging, liking, and commenting on their social media posts. And if you have an email list, formulate a comprehensive email sequencing strategy to deliver the latest updates, initiatives, offers, and news to your subscribers.

Whatever strategy you can think of, your goal is never to lose touch with your existing customers. They’re your best sources of high-quality referrals. That’s how to ask for referrals like the pros.

Use referral materials

how to ask for referrals 4

Asking someone for referrals isn’t a walk in the park if you don’t provide sufficient information. Although highlighting the referral’s benefits or incentives can arouse interest, individuals require more. They need marketing materials and other resources to promote your business.

Imagine you are the customer asked by a brand to refer potential clients. Sure, you know the brand and understand its offerings. However, your contacts (target referrals) might not. Hence, you need resources to make referral identification and encouragement more effective.

Business cards remain a company executive’s most significant referral material. This small paper contains your brand’s name and logo, your name, business contact details, and other information a referral might need to decide whether to accept the invitation.

You could also give brochures, flyers, leaflets, and other printed materials. These resources can help customers spread the news of you finding new potential customers.

Email copies and templates are excellent resources. You can create a customizable template ready to send to a prospective client. Telemarketing scripts, web text, and hyperlinks can also accomplish such objectives.

We must emphasize that customers need adequate and relevant promotional materials to find new customers for the business.

Add a referral functionality to your website.

Over 237 million companies (71%) out of 334 million businesses worldwide have a website. Websites are businesses’ “faces” in the virtual world, allowing them to communicate with customers globally. Besides the digital representation of your company, websites are excellent tools for inviting more potential customers.

Adding referral functionality to your website makes perfect sense. After all, over five billion people use the internet daily. And this number will grow to 6.5 billion next year (2025).

That’s an impressive number! It underscores the prospect of forming mutually beneficial relationships with potential customers. That’s why creating a referral strategy or program is ideal.

Referral programs are like affiliate marketing programs. Customers can join the program and receive referral links (like affiliate links) that they can embed into their blogs, emails, social media posts, video posts, text messages, and other digital channels.

When a potential customer clicks on a link to referral program, the unique code attributes the action to the referrer. You can give incentives, like cash rewards, special discounts, loyalty points, and other benefits to the referrer (like paying a commission to an affiliate for every verified sale or lead).

You can also incentivize the referral’s action by giving identical benefits as the referrer. It will strengthen their relationship because they (referrer and referral) receive perks from the transaction. Win-win!

Why You Should Ask for Referrals

how to ask for referrals 5

Asking existing clients for referrals is essential for growing or expanding your business. Although traditional methods work, referral programs are more effective. This strategy leverages people’s trust in others they know.

A 2012 Nielsen study revealed that 46 of 50 consumers trust family and friends more than brand-initiated advertising or promotional campaigns. Nobody knows you better than your loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and social circle members. So, they will listen and act on your recommendation more quickly and decisively than brand advertising.

Referral programs and strategies increase brand awareness. This strategy creates a ripple effect, allowing you to leverage your customers’ social circle beyond your target audiences. It’s like discovering new audiences and tapping them to grow your business.

For instance, suppose each customer has 50 friends they can refer to your business. And each friend has 50 contacts in their circles. That’s 2,500 potential new customers.

Leveraging mutual connections can also improve customer retention and brand loyalty. We mentioned that giving incentives to referrers and referrals can increase referral success.

But that’s not all!

Your customers will stay with your business and continue buying products. Their referrals will do the same, especially if you observe and ensure total customer satisfaction. Please remember delivering exceptional customer experiences and services is crucial for nurturing brand loyalty.

Why else should you ask for referrals?

How about minimizing your marketing costs? Referral strategies are cost-effective solutions leveraging traditional yet proven word-of-mouth marketing. People trust recommendations within their inner circle. And you only give incentives for every verified referral they bring.

Referral strategies are not only cost-effective marketing solutions. They are also perfect for boosting customer lifetime value. Because such programs leverage trusty relationships, customers will continue patronizing your offerings. That translates to more revenues in the long term.

Imagine a customer referring to ten people, and each buys a product. Suppose these ten customers spend about $500 monthly average each on your website. That’s $60,000 in annual revenues from a single referrer.

Lastly, referral programs allow you to collect and analyze vital consumer data. For example, you can gain insights into customer preferences, decision-making processes, and buying behaviors. You can use the date to modify and boost marketing efforts, ensuring more successful results.

How to Recognize Referral Opportunities

how to ask for referrals 6

Referrals are an excellent lead-generating strategy, allowing businesses to discover new customers. It leverages people connections and professional relationships, turning customers into brand advocates or ambassadors. So, how do you recognize referral opportunities?

Identifying brand advocates is key. These are individuals who can become spokespersons of your business. We mentioned that happy and satisfied customers (past and current) make excellent brand advocates. They are your sources of countless referral opportunities.

We must point out that prospective customers can also provide referral opportunities. They aren’t paying clients, but their positive experiences with your business can prompt them to refer you to others.

Businesses that want to recognize referral opportunities conduct a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey. It’s a metric that assesses how happy customers are with your offerings.

For example, the survey might contain a question about the likelihood of them recommending your brand to a family member, colleague, or friend. Respondents rate their answers on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest.

Customers who rate your business 9 to 10 are your promoters or advocates. Detractors will score your brand 1 to 6. Hence, your referral opportunities rest with customers (and prospective clients) who give you a value between 9 and 10.

You might want to know that NPS advocates or promoters (customers with an NPS score of 9-10) can produce more value for businesses than NPS detractors (scores 1-6). These customers bring six to 14 times higher customer lifetime values than detractors.

They are your goldmine of referral opportunities.

How to Write a Referral Email

how to ask for referrals 7

A referral email is an excellent method for reaching out to potential brand advocates (customers with an NPS score of 9-10). It leverages a customer’s professional network, allowing businesses to qualify leads and broaden their reach. But how do you write a convincing referral email? Here are some tips.

Personalize your email.

No two customers are identical, even though they buy the same product. That’s why personalization is necessary. You must write the email as if writing to a loved one or a friend.

Although you can use a referral email template to make your job easier, we recommend changing a few details to accommodate the customer’s unique attributes. For example, you could hint that going to the same university or college makes you believe in their abilities.

Hence, you will want to analyze each customer you send a referral email to. What do they like? What are their interests?

Show specific interactions with each recipient.

A vital aspect of personalizing a referral email is highlighting specific interactions you share with the customer.

Check your social media engagements. Maybe the customer is the most active in commenting and liking your social media posts. You could highlight these.

For example, suppose your interactions focused on fishing. You could share fishing spots for their next angling adventures.

Highlighting these interactions in your email messages strengthens the brand-customer connection. It should make asking for referrals easier.

Get straight to the point.

People’s attention spans are getting shorter every year. Studies show that people spend about 13.4 seconds to read a single email. That was in 2018. As of 2022, email read rates are at 9 seconds.

That’s understandable. After all, the average person receives over 120 business-related emails daily. That excludes personal and social emails.

So, keep your referral email simple and short. Try to read it if it fits the 9-second window. If the message extends beyond 10 seconds, rewrite it and make it more concise or direct to the point.

Keep a friendly tone.

how to ask for referrals 8

We must point out that asking someone for referrals is a request, not a demand. Hence, your message must be polite and respectful. Keep it light and cordial without extending beyond the 9-second mark.

Email recipients should not feel like you’re obligating them. That’s meaner than obliging them. After all, you’re asking email recipients a favor.

Select a convenient time to send.

Timing is crucial. You will want to send your referral email at the most convenient time to increase the chances of your recipient opening the email.

Studies show the best day to send emails is Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday follow. However, some reports suggest that Tuesday email opening rates are the highest at 27%, followed by Monday (19%) and Thursday (17%).

Despite these variances, one thing is clear. You might want to refrain from sending emails on weekends.

As for the time of day, most marketers find engagement rates exceptionally high between 9 AM and 3 PM.

So, you might want to schedule your email-sending activities during these days and times.

Include the right content.

Short and simple emails with a friendly tone are effective in requesting referrals.

However, you might also want to consider the content, including the right incentive or reward and a clear call-to-action. And please don’t forget the referral link.

5 Referral Email Templates to Apply in Real Cases 

how to ask for referrals 9

Let’s look at several examples of referral emails to appreciate the tips we mentioned above. We will include email templates to facilitate better understanding.

Ask for a referral from a new customer

Requesting referrals from new customers can be challenging because the interactions between your business and them are not as robust as existing clients. Ideally, you will want to time your email to leverage a positive customer experience. Pop the request while the customer is “high” on the experience.

For instance, suppose your team helped the new customer address issues about their purchase. You could send the following email as an example.

I’m delighted to learn that your initial interactions with our support team have been nothing short of stellar. They are amazing people, full of amazing surprises.

I know they’ll make your experiences with us more worthwhile, and I will always be here to answer your questions. Meanwhile, please let me know if you know anyone who might have the same issues that our support team was able to help you with.

Ask for a referral from a loyal customer

Your goal is to keep loyal clients happy and content with your brand. You will want the customer to feel you’re determined to build and nurture the relationship. Hence, ask for referrals only when you’re certain they are happy and there’s nothing else you can do to improve their experiences.

Check out this example.

I’m pleased to learn you’re happy with your experiences with our company. We never doubted delivering the results, and I’m glad you appreciate the outcomes.

Seeing that everything is working beyond expectations, I wonder if you know anyone who would benefit from our service/product. I would be more than willing to extend the same service to help them achieve their desired results.

Ask for referrals on social media

how to ask for referrals 10

Engaging customers on their social media accounts can open many opportunities for finding high-quality referrals. You could analyze customers’ social media profiles to appreciate their passions and interests. It will help you customize a referral email.

Social media referrals require a different approach for requesting referrals from an email list. You will focus on social media engagements, including comments, shares, and likes. It’s also more informal than conventional emails.

The trick is to engage other users on the customer’s social media account. You will want to highlight to the customer that another user could benefit from your products or services. And you would like the customer to connect you to the user.

You could write the following as an example.

I love your LinkedIn post about boosting employee productivity using innovative technologies. And I was able to learn the viewpoints of your followers in the comments section, particularly Mr. X. In our conversation, I think Mr. X’s business could benefit from our employee productivity services like you. And since our working relationship has been exceptional, could you introduce me to Mr. X more formally? I would appreciate it very much. I would love to hear from you about this request.

Ask for a referral from a partner or affiliate

Affiliate partnerships are excellent sources of referrals. They could be affiliate marketers, complementary businesses, third-party vendors, advertisers, and affiliate networks. These relationships are mutually beneficial. They allow parties to leverage each other’s strengths and boost their goals.

For example, a high-performing affiliate marketer drives high-quality leads and sales to a business, allowing the latter to generate revenues. In turn, the affiliate earns hefty commissions. Sometimes, the company also gives additional bonuses and cash rewards.

It also works with partnerships involving a complementary business.

Your goal for writing a referral email in such circumstances is to deliver value to the partner’s contacts or customers. Let’s look at how a referral email would look in such a partnership.

I observed that our customers using your innovative solutions are delighted with the outcomes. They experience fewer problems while improving efficiency. I believe Company X (you) and Company Y (partner) are an excellent combination.

I wonder if you know anyone who can leverage your innovative solutions and experience the same results as our customers. It would honor me to help them.

Ask for a referral from a competitor 

how to ask for referrals 11

You might think asking for a referral from the competition is counterproductive. After all, no business would want to share potential customers with a competitor.

However, the trick is to identify gaps in competitors. Some market segments are too broad that businesses specialize or target only a certain demographic. For example, some realtors might target first-time buyers, while others focus on clients with problematic home-buying histories.

Your goal is to identify potential overflows in non-targeted clients. For instance, suppose you have clients with a history of property foreclosure. They don’t fit in your first-time home buyer model. Assuming a competitor has the opposite experience, here’s how to leverage that.

I noticed your company specializes in home buyers with a history of property foreclosures. I had several clients I turned down who could’ve benefited from your services. I’d be willing to send similar clients in the future to your company because I cater to first-time home buyers. If you encounter first-time home buyers in your client interactions, my company can provide them value and offer your company $100 for every qualified referral. I hope to hear from you. 


Referral marketing isn’t new. We’ve been doing it for ages, relying on social connections to get what we want. It’s the same with companies looking to grow their businesses or advertisers hoping to boost brand awareness.

People are more trusting of individuals if they have a personal or professional connection with those persons. Referrers are bridges between businesses and an untapped audience. It’s like affiliate marketers connecting audiences to brands. That’s why many brands have referral and affiliate programs.

Ellie Tran, a seasoned SEO content writer with three years of experience in the eCommerce world. Being a part of the UpPromote team, Ellie wants to assist Shopify merchants in achieving success through useful content & actionable insights. Ellie's commitment to learning never stops; she's always eager to gain more knowledge about SEO and content marketing to create valuable content for users. When she's not working on content, Ellie enjoys baking and exploring new places.