Ask For Referrals
Ask For Referrals
Ask For Referrals

Word of Mouth Marketing gets a lot of attention, but how many small businesses are actually deploying a successful Word of Mouth Marketing strategy?

Certain businesses and their products are a natural. They are cool and worthy of talking about. Think Apple. They just make products that people love to talk about, and they even get folks who don’t like their product to talk about them. But what about the other 99% of the products that fall closer to mediocrity? They are solid offerings, but they just aren’t sexy … or at least we don’t think so.

You Have to Ask for the Referral 


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Image by Benjamin Ellis via Flickr

Small business marketing expert John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has devised a whole system of Referral Marketing, which is really just a planned approach to help you start to get your customers talking about you and your product offering.

“The power of glitzy advertising and elaborate marketing campaigns is on the wane; word- of-mouth referrals are what drive business today. People trust the recommendation of a friend, family member, colleague, or even stranger with similar tastes over anything thrust at them by a faceless company.

 Most business owners believe that whether customers refer them is entirely out of their hands. But science shows that people can’t help recommending products and services to their friends—it’s an instinct wired deep in the brain. And smart businesses can tap into that hardwired desire.”

John’s point is spot on, and although asking for a referral is awkward for many business owners and their front line staffing, it can pay big dividends. People love to talk about their purchases, and share their favorable experiences, and when given a subtle nudge become excellent brand evangelists.

The Hidden Benefits of Asking

One of our clients, a local furniture retailer with seven locations in Metro Detroit, has experienced remarkable ROI by adding a bit of Word of Mouth and Referral Marketing to their arsenal. Originally designed to help build a strong Facebook fan base, Gardner White Furniture added some branded content to the delivery paperwork when the customers furniture is delivered that encourages the customer to snap a picture and share it on the Gardner White Facebook Fan Page. What happened was a bit of a surprise. Not only did customers become Fans (with fairly strong engagement and pictures of their new furniture) they also added testimonials of their shopping experience to each Facebook post.

We repackaged the content to stream on the company web site, as well as an iFrame application back to their Facebook Page so that the testimonials were all grouped together. All in, they have received about (250) detailed reviews and just under (7,500) Facebook Fans!

So, the moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral, and if executed in a planned and meaningful way, your happy customers are more than willing to talk about their experience with you and your company.

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About the Author

Eric Brown
Eric Brown's background is rooted in the rental and real estate industries. He founded metro Detroit’s Urbane Apartments in 2003, after serving as senior vice president for a major Midwest apartment developer. He established a proven track record of effectively repositioning existing rental properties in a way that added value for investors while enhancing the resident experience. He also established The Urbane Way, a social media marketing and PR laboratory, where innovative marketing ideas are tested.
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  • Jcx713713

    You have to ask. Once I started making time to ask for referrals I started to see results. When I looked back over the past year to see what sources my business was coming to me from, I was surprised to see about half my business was from referrals, simply because I started asking. Happy satisfied clients are the best source with the highest ROI. I have found good results asking via email. I use and find it to work well for my situation.

    Just make the time to ask and you will be surprised how well that works.

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  • Great article – thanks for posting. I do agree that asking for referrals is a a good thing (as long as there is a mutual benefit to everyone). They could also use something like to create and manage formal refer a friend campaigns.

  • I am missing something here – but I am not seeing where Gardner White asked for referrals.  They asked for pictures and commentary to be posted on Facebook, and they got wonderful pictures of their products in the homes of satisfied customers with nice testimonials.  But I don’t see where the customers were asked to refer others…

    And regarding Peter’s comments, I completely agree.  Make it simple to refer someone.  Thank them for the referral.  Let them know the outcome.  And if it doesn’t work out because there wasn’t a good match, you should use the opportunity to help this client better understand your ideal customer so the next referral is a better match.

    • Pat – I absolutely *love* your idea to use “failed” referrals to better understand customer needs!  We will try to work that into our Referrals 2.0 product at some point. I’ve added it to our requirements system.  THANKS!

  • As now many firm and websites provide people to earn money on their community. And people just have to refer the other people on the community and this way they earn money. So by this matter , one can assume that how much it has be increased the technique of the referrals. Thanks for sharing this whole thing with us.

  • If you ask something you find difficulty in it then you must be answered that thing but if you don’t ask to any one you can’t answer because nobody than knows that what problem you are facing. So ask to solve your problems.

  • Wendy_reisen

    interesting. as
    always:)research paper example

  • very nice post thank you so much for posting this for us

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  • Anonymous

    I think that businesses should invest in trust marketing… in building relationships on the Social Web and having referrals can be a great way to boost that ‘credibility factor’ for your brand – but, these referrals must be real and transparent.

    • “…real and transparent”.  A very important point.  So I have a question (for you anyone who reads this thread):

      If a customer refers a friend and the friend receives a discount/coupon as part of the referral (but the customer does not necessarily get any incentive), is that “real”?  Or is that cheapening the referral?  

      I ask because we’re tweaking our new online referral tool and I’m considering making this process the main implementation:  Customers make the referrals to help their friends get a coupon/discount if they come to the business the customer likes.  

      What do you think?

      • Good question, Peter. I think it’s really a matter of how you present the information. If you’re transparent about referrers getting a coupon to refer, but you spin it that they get a benefit from sharing their love of the brand, etc., then it can be positioned as a win-win-win. You win, they win, the referral wins.

        I don’t know that I would be too stressed about people reacting poorly to the referral coupons. Does it make the referral more “fake”? Maybe, but I don’t think most people will pay it a bit of mind.

        Good luck!

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  • Interesting case, but what has happened to the Facebook page? The links are broken?

  • I respectfully disagree with Steve on this one.  Asking for referrals
    can be done in a respectful, appropriate manner.  The key is to really
    know what motivates your customers and make it easy for them do make the
    referral.  These two components are where most referral marketing
    fails.  Not everyone is motivated by a discount or reward.  Many people
    just like to be influencers or are truly happy with the business and
    want others to know about it.  But if a referral is not suggested by the
    business – or it’s hard to do – most people are too busy to take the
    initiative themselves.

    Gardner White made it easy – that’s why it succeeded.

  • Swershing


    Your reference and story are totally on target but your point is exactly wrong.  You should not ask for referrals.

    I consult on referral marketing in the financial advisory business, and one of my primary messages is that you have to stop asking for referrals.  There are many reasons why clients refer, and why they can’t help it. But asking for them disrespects the process and violates the social contract we have with our clients.  We don’t allow it to happen, we attempt to force it to happen. 

    That’s why Gardner White’s idea was so brilliant – they got people talking without asking them to do it.  They asked for a picture, and the process naturally grew out of the situation they created.

    If you read Jantsch’s other book, The Referral Engine, he describes many ways to bring up the idea of referrals in conversation.  That’s a good idea, and you can do it without asking.

    Provide people a memorable service, get associated with a particular solution or experience, and get people to talk about it.  The referrals will come, and you will never have to make your client uncomfortable by putting htem on the spot with the “who do you know?” question.

    Steve Wershing


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