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Referrals are the holy grail of marketing. There’s simply no better way to attract your ideal clients, shorten your sales process, command premium fees, and dramatically increase customer lifetime value. And yet, while over 80% of people say they’d be thrilled to refer businesses they love, less than 30% actually do. That referral gap represents a huge, untapped opportunity for growth.

After working with thousands of business owners, I’ve discovered the 7 most powerful keys to bridging that gap and turning your company into a referral engine. Let’s dive in!

Present a referral offer to every client.

Most folks need to stop passively waiting and hoping for referrals. Instead, you need to plant the seed by making a clear, compelling offer to every client. Your offer could be a direct “if you do X, I’ll give you Y,” an implied reward for spreading the word, or a tangible gift certificate they can share with others.

The keys are to get creative with your rewards (think beyond cash to experiential offers that highlight your brand), make it a win-win for the client and their referral, and communicate the program consistently. Building in a referral ask during your sales process is also highly effective.

Action Steps:

  • Brainstorm a unique, brand-aligned referral offer
  • Create a page on your website explaining your referral program
  • Write email templates your clients can use to refer you
  • Craft a referral request to include in your sales process
  • Develop a unique onboarding sequence for referred clients

Related: A Rewards Program. 3 Secret Reasons Why Your Brand Needs One.

Create a referral champion program. 

We all have those “raving fans” – the 20% of clients who are already singing our praises to anyone who will listen. Imagine how many more referrals they’d send if you poured gasoline on that fire! Identify your top referrers and create a thoughtful champion program to nurture those relationships.

Some specific ideas: Ask them for referrals to a target list each quarter, equip them with valuable, shareable content, host exclusive events to appreciate them, and have them appreciate each other. Shower love on your champions, and they’ll reciprocate tenfold.

Action Steps:

Related: Build Long-Term Customer Loyalty With These 3 Relationship Marketing Strategies

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Offer client benefit calls to their trusted advisors. 

For my B2B folks, this one’s pure gold. Your clients likely work with an ecosystem of other professionals – think consultants, financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, etc. With your client’s blessing, set up a call or meeting to educate these advisors on your developed marketing strategy.

Walk them through the “why” behind your approach, and demonstrate the massive value you’re adding. When these professionals see you making their clients more successful, the referrals to their other clients will flow naturally. It positions you as a peer and partner while tapping into a huge new referral base.

Action Steps:

  • Map out the other advisors your best clients work with
  • Get your client’s permission to do an advisor strategy session
  • Schedule a call/meeting to walk through their marketing plan
  • Demonstrate how you’re solving their challenges and driving growth
  • Suggest ways to keep the advisor in the loop on progress/results

Enlist your entire team

Referrals don’t just come from clients – your employees and contractors are an often-overlooked goldmine. They already know your business inside and out. With a bit of training on how to communicate your unique value, they can send a steady stream of ideal prospects your way.

Create an internal referral incentive program, arming your team with tools like shareable gift certificates, email templates, and pricing/offer guides. Publicly celebrate and reward them for bringing in new business and talent. Make referral generation a fun team sport!

Action Steps:

  • Train your team on your referral program and unique value prop
  • Provide them with referral tools (emails, offers, content, etc.)
  • Set up tracking and rewards for employee referrals
  • Celebrate team members who bring in referrals
  • Encourage referrals for new hires, not just clients

Related: How to Build Your Own Community and Create Raving Fans for Your Brand

Build a strategic partner network.

Even your most loyal clients likely can’t send more than a handful of referrals. But the right strategic partners – who also serve your ideal clients – could potentially introduce you to hundreds of perfect prospects. It’s time to get serious about developing your dream partner team.

Identify a list of 8-10 “best-in-class” providers for the other services your audience needs. Reach out to them with a “Perfect Introduction” letter, offering to share how they can best help your clients. As the relationship grows, devise ways to add value to each other’s tribes through co-marketing, exclusive offers, guest content, etc.

Play the long game of building deep trust and adding real value. The referrals will follow.

Action Steps:

  • Identify 8-10 potential strategic partners
  • Send them a “Perfect Introduction” letter to open the door
  • Suggest ways to feature them to your audience (and vice versa)
  • Co-create a valuable lead magnet, webinar, event, offer
  • Become a customer and refer them when possible

Related: How Your Small Business Can Take Down Goliath

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Launch your own networking hub

Hosting your own networking group is the ultimate way to stay top-of-mind with your community and stimulate referrals. You could start a monthly breakfast club or virtual roundtable centered on a business growth topic. Invite a mix of your clients, partners, and prospects.

The key is to make it a valuable, power-packed event. Bring in expert speakers (which will also build your strategic partner bench!), facilitate discussions, and help members connect with each other, too. You’ll be shocked how the referrals crank up when you become a business growth hub in your niche.

Action Steps:

  • Pick a format and cadence for your networking group
  • Choose a compelling theme tied to your expertise
  • Invite a curated mix of clients, partners and prospects
  • Book expert speakers and facilitators (including yourself!)
  • Facilitate member introductions and connections
  • Follow up with referral offers for new attendees

Teach referral marketing

Want to tap into the law of reciprocity? For my B2B folks, try teaching your clients how to generate more referrals themselves! You could do 1-on-1 coaching, group workshops, or even create a course (my book “The Referral Engine” could be your textbook).

As you help them get more of what they want most (clients!), they’ll naturally want to return the favor. Showing that you’re invested in their growth is the ultimate referral fuel.

Action Steps:

  • Offer to teach referral gen as a value-added service
  • Host a referral workshop for clients and partners
  • Recommend the best referral gen books and resources
  • Do a 30-day referral challenge with your top clients
  • Make referral-giving a focus of your regular client reviews

Whichever 1-2 strategies resonate most for your business, the key is to make referral generation a consistent, intentional part of your marketing plan. Get radically clear on your unique value, sing your champions’ praises, cultivate at least 8 referral partnerships, and focus daily on delivering tangible results.

Soon, you’ll have a well-oiled referral engine that delivers a steady stream of ideal clients, shorter sales cycles, and skyrocketing lifetime value. So pick your favorite idea from this list and make it happen – your future favorite clients are waiting to be wowed!

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