How to Set Up a Referral Program

Cathy Cain-Blank, president of CC Marketing, is a periodic contributor to the Maple Ridge Farms blog. Her company has created custom email communications for promotional products distributors and other small/midsize companies since 2005. 

Over the years I’ve seen distributors include requests for referrals in their email signature, in promotional emails, and in product shipments. Some messages say the distributor will give the customer a gift or cash if they get business from the referral; others view just getting the contact’s information as worthy of a thank you gift.

If you want your customers to steer potential buyers your way, and the approaches you’ve tried haven’t been effective, you might want to consider a different approach. Matt Anderson, founder of The Referral Authority, is the author of Fearless Referrals. He leads seminars and coaching groups around the globe for business development professionals on how to develop the lifetime skill of getting referrals. One of the most important elements of getting more highly targeted referrals, he says, is to make it easy for others to open the right doors by being crystal clear about what you want. 

“Stop saying ‘If you can think of anyone else who might benefit from my services, please have them give me a call’ because it hardly ever works,” says Matt. “And if it does, the referrals will likely be unfocused at best.” (NOTE - You can sign up for Matt’s email list on his site. You’ll learn a lot by seeing first-hand how he communicates with his contacts!)

Here are a few guidelines for establishing a referral program:

  • Ask your satisfied customers for referrals. Don’t worry -- you won’t come across as desperate. Happy customers will generally be glad to refer potential business to you. Explain that you’re in search of contacts with similar challenges to those you’ve resolved for them. Also ask if there are events you can attend to learn more about their industry; this should lead to greater insights and finding suitable prospects on your own.

  • Ask for an introduction. Don’t just ask for a name, email address, and telephone number. If your customer introduces you by email, the prospect then expects your call. This increases the likelihood of you connecting with the prospect.

  • Equip customers to help you. Don’t assume your customers will pitch you and your services the way you would. Give links to website pages or PDFs that include general information and case studies demonstrating how your company has helped other organizations. This is especially critical if you have customers who only rely on you for specific types of merchandise or programs.

  • Plan to show your appreciation. Make sure you let customers know what happens with each referral. One of my referral sources is a social media coordinator for a technology company. She attends several networking events a week and plays “matchmaker” for her contacts on an ongoing basis. One time she commented that she was tired of sending leads to a particular contact because that contact never bothered to let her know if anything came of the introduction. For every referral you receive, let the referrer know if the individual was interested, whether you were unable to connect, or if the contact became a client. Show your gratitude regardless of the outcome.


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