Getting Referrals Is Easier Than You Expect

Getting Referrals Is Easier Than You Expect

When I teach people how to ask for referrals, this is the push back I usually get:

“I don’t want to make my client feel uncomfortable by putting them on the spot.”

“I don’t want to look needy or unsuccessful.”

These are two of the million reasons why people aren’t confident asking for referrals and introductions. Look, I get it! I totally understand. I was there. I am still there everyday. I, too, need and ask for referrals.

Here are two important points to keep in mind:

1.   Having the right approach will help alleviate your concerns, fears, and that unpleasant feeling of awkwardness.

2.   Are you willing to get comfortable and confident? If not, then you can stop reading now. Heck, you might even consider other work.

It’s been awhile since I was taught the V.I.P.S. Method by Bill Cates from the Referral Coach Academy, for asking for referrals. It works, and I will explain it to you now. So here goes…

The first part is the “V”

V = Value Discussion

How to ask for referrals

Without a doubt, in my years spent coaching people on how to ask for referrals, the Value Discussion is the most important strategy that you can learn. It’s really pretty simple. First, let your new clients (and even prospects) know that candid, ongoing communication is important to you and the health of your overall working relationship with them and pretty much every time you meet, you’re going to check in with them to make sure everything is okay; that they continue to see the value in working with you.

Second, continually encourage your clients to express frustrations and anything that’s not working 100% for them. And also encourage them to tell you the value they get and/or how you continue to earn their business.

Here are some examples to give you some ideas about how you might ask for referrals:

You: “Justin, we’ve met a few times over the last couple of weeks. We’ve talked over the phone. You’ve been very gracious answering all the questions I’ve had for you. I’m wondering if you could tell me what parts of the process you were most valuable to you?”

Justin: “That’s a good question. Let me see. Couple things I guess. First, I like the way you asked me some deep questions to get me thinking about my financial future. Second, I thought you explained things really well. I feel like I have a much better handle on my money situation now.”

You: “Great! One of your concerns coming into this process was having enough money for retirement, as well as for your children’s education. How do you feel about those issues now?”

Justin: “Actually, I feel pretty good about it now. Obviously, I’m going to have to stick to the plan we’ve laid out. But I’m much less worried about it. It feels good. Thanks!”

The second part is the “I”

I = Treat Your Request with Importance

 When you’re deciding how to ask for referrals, you always want to feel confident. You want to treat the request with importance for two reasons:

1.   You believe the work you do is important

 a.   You believe in the work you do. You know you bring value to individuals, families, and businesses.

 b.   You want to come from a place of confidence, not neediness. If you treat the request with importance, you’re prospects, clients, and centers of influence will respond in kind.

2.   You don’t want to be apologetic or needy

 a.   Again, treat your request with the importance it deserves.

b.   Make sure you have enough time and don’t forget to ask for referrals. Nothing to script here, just make sure you use an agenda for your meetings. Put the words “value check-in” or “discuss value” on the agenda. This will trigger the discussion of value and possible discussion of referrals.

c.    If you met through a referral, remind the client of that.

d.   Move into the request with the words, “I have an important question to ask you.”

Here’s an example (following the discussion of value):

You: “Well, Jim, that’s great. I’m glad you’re seeing the value in the work we’re doing. You know, were it not for Al suggesting we meet, we wouldn’t have done this important work. Guess we both owe him some thanks.”

Jim: “I’ve already thanked him.”

You: “Good. With that in mind, I have an important question to ask you.”

Jim: “Shoot.”

Now you are about to ask me, is it really as simple as that? Yes! It really is. Treating your request with importance is a simple thing and very important. How you deliver this request will determine how they receive it and how they respond. Don’t overlook this quick, but important, step.

The third part is the “P”

 P = Permission to Brainstorm or Explore

What makes a request for referrals feel pushy is assuming your prospect or client is ready and open to the conversation. This is why we make sure it’s okay to pursue this collaborative “brainstorm, no pressure” discussion.

I often get the question, “Aren’t you giving them the opportunity to say “no?” Of course I am! What kind of muttonhead are you? The absolute last thing I want to do is pursue a conversation they don’t want to have. Listen carefully and determine their perspective to see if you can re-frame any incorrect assumptions. If they don’t want to do this, then neither do you. Period.

Keep in mind research indicates that simply the request alone for introductions can plant a very powerful seed, producing introductions later in your relationship with your client.

The last part is the “S”

 S = Suggest Names and Categories

Come prepared to ask for referrals

When you ask for referrals, come prepared and let your client know you’ve come prepared. This will give you more confidence and produce better results.

There are a number of areas in which to brainstorm. Here are some very short scripts that hit the different areas. Each begins at the same point, i.e., permission to “brainstorm” or “explore” or “think about” or “put our heads together.”

Specific Names

”Thanks, Al. You mentioned your sister and brother-in-law last week. Let’s start with him. Do you think they should at least know about what I do? Can we craft a way for you to introduce me to them that will feel comfortable for all concerned?”

Categories of Names

“Thanks, Justin. I know you’re very active in your industry association. In fact, I think you said you were on the board of directors. Let’s start there. Who do you think might spend a few minutes with me, just because you asked them to?”

Trigger Categories

“Thanks, Fred. I have a few categories of what we call ‘life events’ that often trigger people who should know about the work we do.” Now you suggest some categories of life events and/or money-in- motion events that might help them identify one or more people who should at the very least be aware of what you offer.

Ideal Client Profile

“Thanks, Al. Here’s a profile of the type of people I’ve learned I serve the best. People a lot like you, actually. You’ll see the first characteristic is people who know the value of professional advice. I don’t expect you to know all the details of someone’s financial situation, but you probably have a sense. That’s good enough for this purpose.”

Your “Hit List”

Some people call this a “target list” or “prompting list.” Your hit list can come from different sources. It could be a list of successful people you identify in your community/city. It could be a list of business owners and executives in and around your client’s office building or industrial park. Or, it could be a list of your client’s neighbors. The hit list is usually employed:

1. As the starting point for this discussion; just to get the pump primed
2. If your client can’t think of specific people
3. After you’ve gotten some names and still have some time
4. As the relationship has grown, you’ve asked and gotten some referrals, and the client thinks they’re tapped out of people they can refer to you
You can have fun with this list, first asking your client, “If you were me, whom would you NOT want to talk to?”

“Bob, thanks for this referral to Mary. And thanks for telling me a little bit about her. Before I go, I wanted to show you a list of some folks I am planning on calling. I thought that if you knew any of them, you might be willing to provide an electronic handshake for me. Just send them an email introduction and cc me so I can sensitively follow up. Can we look at this for a second?”

Referrals to Centers of Influence (COIs)

Not only do your clients know people who should be aware of—and benefit from—your important work, they also know potential centers of influence, e.g., CPAs, attorneys, religious leaders, community leaders, HR directors, and all the kinds of people who make good COIs for you. Just as with referrals to their friends, family, and colleagues, clients can refer you to useful COIs.

“Bob, in addition to discussing who I might be able to serve with the work I do, I was hoping you might be willing to introduce me to your CPA. It’s always good for me to know your other advisors and there’s a chance Eddie and I might be able to help each other in some professional ways. Are you open that?

Referrals to Opportunities to Speak for Groups

Many of your prospects and clients are members of business groups, clubs, and other organizations that bring in value-oriented speakers. This is often a very easy introduction for your clients to make.

“Bob, here’s an idea. I know you have that professional study group you meet with every month. I was thinking we might do a little lunch and learn about them. We could spend about an hour going over a checklist of important financial bases one should cover to minimize financial risk and maximize the opportunities. Do you think the group would be open to something like this? I could even provide the sandwiches if you like.

I know that this is a soft approach. That being said, it is a very proactive approach that can create curiosity on their part, leading to the names you really need.

Closing the Circle

I am aware that some people will tell you, “You shouldn’t ask for referrals.” That’s hogwash! The key is doing it the right way and having the right strategies and the right language at your fingertips.

This article is just the tip of the iceberg on how to ask for referrals, so if you want more, just reach out and we can discuss it further.


Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.