Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 22, 2011

Using Social Media to Help You Generate Referrals from Clients


We all want them.

Yet most of us don’t get very many quality referrals. 

Instead we get the occasional name and phone number that we call a “referral” to someone who either has no need or want for our product or service, or couldn’t afford it even if they did want it.

What seems to be the problem with us sellers that prevents us from getting more than just a mere handful of quality referrals?

The good news is the problem isn’t with us.  We’re just fine.

The problem is the way we’ve been taught to get referrals.  It doesn’t work very well.

Most sales trainers and managers teach sellers that getting referrals is easy—just “do a good job” and then ask for referrals.  All you have to do to get referrals, they teach, is satisfy your client and then ask a question such as, “Ms. Client, who do you know that could benefit from my products or services?”

Simple, huh?

Yep.  So simple in fact that it’s just another piece of traditional sales training crap that isn’t worth the 45 seconds it takes to teach it.

The problem is the very concept of asking your client to do your prospecting for you is totally wrong.

Asking is passive.  When you ask your client to come up with a referral prospect for you, you’re asking them to do something they aren’t capable of doing.  You’re asking them to figure out who would be a good prospect for you—as though they knew your business.  As though they knew what constitutes a good prospect for you.  Unless they are your competitor, they don’t know.  It isn’t their job to know—it’s your job.  When you ask your client that silly referral question, you’re taking the future of your sales business out of your hands and putting it in their hands.

Asking is unfair.  When you ask your client for a referral you’re putting them on the spot.  Would you want someone to put you on the spot where you felt pressured to do something even if you didn’t want to? 

Asking is a waste of time.  Most of the time when we ask for a referral we are literally standing in front of or are on the phone expecting them to give us an immediate  answer.  We are giving our client 10 or 15 seconds to go through their mental file cabinet to come up with a great referral for us.  And then we’re surprised when they can’t.

So if asking doesn’t work, what does?

Instead of asking for a referral from your client, generate a referral for your client to give you.

Referral generation is proactive.  When you generate a referral for your client to give you, you are doing all the work for your client.  You’re making it easy for them to give you great referrals.  You’re taking the load off them so they don’t have to come up with a referral—all they have to do is utter one simple little word—“yes.”

Referral generation takes work.  Where asking is easy, referral generation takes work.  Like most things in life, getting high quality referrals takes work.  Although asking for referrals is easy, the result is what most easy things in life bring—little to nothing.  In order to generate a referral for your client to give you, you have to figure out who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to.  That means you have to become a bit of a detective.

Referral generation guarantees you get great referrals.  When you generate a referral for your client to give, you insure you get a great referral because it is a referral to someone you know you want to be referred to.  How would you like to get one or two or three referrals from every one of your clients, all to prospects that you know are great prospects for you?  It would change your business overnight.

The process of referral generation is really pretty simple.  You figure out who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to.  Then when it comes time to ask for a referral, you ask your client if they know the person you want to be referred to.  If you’ve done your homework well, they’ll say they know them.  Then you ask for the introduction.

The conversation goes something like this:

You:  “John, I’ve been trying to connect with Don Jones at XYZ Corporation for quite some time and just haven’t been able to make the connection.  It dawned on me that you just might know Don.  Do you know him?”  If you’ve done your homework well, you know the answer will be yes—or at least you have good reason to believe it will be yes.

John:  “Sure, I’ve known Don for about four years, why?”

You:  “Great.  Would you be comfortable introducing me to him?”  If you’ve done your job well and have a very satisfied client who trusts you, he’ll agree to give the introduction.

John didn’t have to come up with a name.  He didn’t have to fret over who to refer or what it was you really wanted.  He didn’t have to invest time or effort.  All he had to do was say “yes.”

You get an introduction to a great prospect and all your client had to do way say one little word.

Super easy—for your client.  And really not very hard for you, either.

But how do you find out who your client knows?

That may seem like the hard part, but with practice, it’s really pretty easy and doesn’t take a great deal of time.

Learning to really listen to your client is one key.  In the course of getting to know your client you can pick up a great many ideas about who they know—references to friends, family, and co-workers.  References to employers, past employers, organizations and associations, or places of worship or recreation they belong to.  All of these are fruitful areas to figure out who your client knows or likely knows.  Small talk can become one of the most informative areas of helping you generate referrals.

Becoming highly observant is also key.  If you meet in your client’s office or home, you can pick up all kinds of clues: what awards or certifications do they have on the wall?  Are their pictures with potential prospects?  Who are their vendors and suppliers?  What association or organization directories are in the bookcase?

Today social media can be a quick way to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to. 

Does your client have a LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook account? 

If they do, search through their connections, followers, and/or friends to find great referral prospects for you.  Once you’ve identified a few, try to figure out which ones your client knows best and concentrate on using them as your generated referral.

What groups does your client belong to on LinkedIn and Facebook?  These not only tell you what their interests are, but can also help identify prospects that your client knows.

Does your client have a blog?  If so spend some time reading it.  It is a great way to get to know your client—and who they know.  Do they talk about specific people or companies they know or deal with?  Are there certain people that comment frequently on their posts?

Do a Google search on your client.  You might find other social media sites your client belongs to or possibly comments he or she has made on blogs or various media sites.

Social media is proving to be a tremendous help in a number of business applications.  Referral generation is one—and one that you should be taking advantage of. 

Don’t waste your time asking for referrals.  Learn to make giving you high quality referrals so easy your clients will love saying yes.



  1. […] Using Social Media to Help You Generate Referrals from Clients … […]

    Pingback by How To Generate Traffic The Smart Way | Web Visitors Today — March 22, 2011 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you for the information, excellent!

    Comment by Julia Miller — March 23, 2011 @ 11:12 am | Reply

  3. […] Using Social Media to Help You Generate Referrals from Clients … […]

    Pingback by How To Succeed With Paid To Click : Cars Blog | Everything You should Know about Cars — March 25, 2011 @ 6:13 am | Reply

  4. The challenge with this article is that there are so many “absolutes” stated that are simply not true.
    Asking is unfair – if you have first been a “giver” you have earnt the right to ask and most of my clients are only too happy to help.
    Asking is passive – if my client has been taught well by me he or she is going to know exactly who would be a good referral.
    Asking is a waste of time – not is I have been thorough with my preparation and let them know in advance.

    Geoff Kirkwood

    Comment by Geoff Kirkwood — April 1, 2011 @ 2:22 am | Reply

    • Geoff,

      These may be true for you–but not for the majority of salespeople. Most have not been taught to teach their clients who is a good referral for them; most have been taught to simply ask a weak questions such as “who do you know that might be able to use my products or services?” Yes, there are some sellers who know how to generate large numbers of high quality referrals–most do not and those are who I am speaking to. Even if you are successful a getting referrals, asking for a direct introdcution to a specific person who you know is a great prospect for you will be more effective than asking your client to come up with a referral.

      Comment by Paul McCord — April 1, 2011 @ 7:54 am | Reply

  5. I really liked this article! Get us thinking about the a great way to focus our “asks” of valued clients, and to essentially do the work for them in terms of getting the best referrals from their networks. Interestingly, I have an approach to developing business that I call Crux Rainmaking. One of the three ideas, or concepts, involved in Crux Rainmaking is Unique Business Relationships (UBRs). UBRs are relationships that are difficult, if not impossible, to replace. I advocate building these UBRs with clients/customers to maximize the chances of developing exponentially more business. And by developing these UBRs with clients/customers, we can substantially increase the likelihood that they will be not only willing to make quality introductions for us, but will take an increasingly active role in doing so (even better yet). If you would like more info on UBRs and Crux Rainmaking, please visit my Blog at Thanks.

    J.B. Brocato

    Comment by J.B. Brocato — April 4, 2011 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  6. Just noticed that the link I referenced in my Comment was missing a “w”. Here’s the right link:


    J.B. Brocato

    Comment by J.B. Brocato — April 4, 2011 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

  7. […] Using Social Media to Help You Generate Referrals from Clients ( […]

    Pingback by The Problem of Quality Leads or Prospects | Share On You - iBlog News — April 17, 2011 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

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