Featured image

Generate More Referral Business

Originally published
Originally published: 8/3/2016

Three Steps to a Proactive Strategy


If you want an affordable and effective way to significantly grow your service business, you must create a business development plan that includes referrals at its core.

Referrals play a critical part in any service company’s business development plan and are arguably the most effective way to grow your business. Referrals can significantly reduce the sales cycle by establishing your credibility with the prospect quickly (through the testimonial of the referrer) and open doors to meetings more readily.

In his book, “The Sales Gurus,” Andrew Clancy sites work that indicates success rates in getting appointments are between 400 and 600 percent higher with a referral than without one.

Here are three steps you can take to integrate referrals into your business development strategy to ramp up your efforts to grow your service business.

Step 1: Be Referral Worthy

“Referral worthy” means being the type of company your customers want to promote to others. Although this might sound self-evident, it’s absolutely critical to your success and it effects you in two ways: requested referrals and spontaneous referrals.

Being referral worthy significantly improves your success in requesting referrals. Because of your great work, your customers are naturally happy to do something good for you in return and recommendations are a great way for your customers to show their appreciation. By requesting a referral, you provide them with a means to say “thank you.”

If your work does not meet expectations, however, your referral request will cause discomfort and perhaps irritation. The customer may feel uncomfortable saying no, and resent being put in this position.

Being referral worthy is particularly important when it comes to spontaneous referrals. Many of the referrals you receive from your current customers happen without your knowledge.

One example of a spontaneous referral is when your customer is asked for advice on sourcing a service provider. Every time your current customers are approached by a friend or business associate with a question like, “Who can you recommend who does HVACR maintenance?” or “Who does the maintenance of your HVACR system?” it’s an opportunity for them to refer you.

Spontaneous referrals also occur when your customers are discussing service matters with friends and mention the positive experience they had in doing business with their service provider. Spontaneous referrals happen regularly in the service business and, most of the time, you’re totally unaware of them. If you are referral worthy, you’ll be top of mind for the customer and they’ll happily and spontaneously recommend your company.

Step 2: Ask for Referrals

Except in the case of spontaneous referrals, referrals don’t happen by chance. Generating referrals requires a proactive approach. You need to ask for them. Here are three ways you can do this.

Ask for Referrals Directly. This may feel uncomfortable, but it’s an excellent way to help the appreciating customer do something good for you in return. If you’re referral worthy, then most customers will be more than willing to refer you to a friend or colleague. Sometimes the customer will volunteer to make a call or send an email as an introduction. Most times, however, they’ll likely only provide you with a name and contact information.

In this instance, you should always make sure that the referrer is comfortable in you using their name. For example, you can ask, “Would you mind if I tell [referred person] that you suggested that I give them a call?” This may be assumed by the fact that they gave you the referral, but it is always good etiquette to ask.

Timing for this is important. For example, you have just completed a successful project and you are meeting with the customer to review the results and to ensure that everything meets with their expectations. They mention how pleased they are with the work you have done.

This is the perfect time to simply ask, “Is there anyone else that you would feel comfortable in recommending who might benefit from our work?” Other times, such as while in the middle of a project, especially one that is not going well, is not a good time to ask.

Teach the field service team to ask for referrals. Your field service team is in a unique position to ask for referrals. They have the proximity and trust of the customer and are often in the position to review their work at the end of a service call. What better time to ask for a referral then when the customer comments on how satisfied they are with the work completed?

Training your technicians how to ask for referrals is important. Timing is important too. Regardless of the relationship with the customer or the quality of the service, asking the customer for a referral in the middle of an emergency service call is not recommended.

Make sure that you have a process to capture and act on the referrals so that nothing falls through the cracks.

Ask for referrals on customer satisfaction surveys. Another way to ask for referrals is to include a question about them on your customer satisfaction surveys.

For example, you might ask, “Would you be willing to provide a referral based on your experience of working with us?” with three options:

  1. Yes, please contact me to discuss this further.
  2. No, thank you.
  3. Let’s discuss at a later time

Step 3: Give Something Back

To keep those referrals coming, it’s important to express your appreciation to those who are willing to help you. There are several ways that you can do this.

Simply say “thank you.” Acknowledge the referral with a quick note or email to thank the customer for their help.

Offer to give them a referral inreturn. You are often in a position where you can help your customers meet prospects with which they can do business. Offering to refer your customers to people who would be beneficial to their business is an excellent way to give something back.

Buy them lunch. Asking a customer to lunch to thank them for their support provides more than simply an opportunity to show your appreciation. It’s also an opportunity to build a closer relationship and gain a better understanding for the customer’s needs and goals.

Having an approach to generate referrals is a critical component of any successful business development strategy. With a proactive plan, you will be surprised how quickly your efforts will pay off.


Jim Baston is president of BBA Consulting Group Inc., a management consulting and training firm dedicated to helping technical service firms leverage the untapped potential in their business-development efforts. For additional information, visit


More Articles

article image

7 Steps to Instilling Business Development in Service Techs

Seven areas management must focus on to instill a strong, customer-focused, business-development culture.

article image

Differentiate Your Business Strategy

Determine how to promote your technician’s efforts through proactive business development.

article image

Engage Your Technicians in Promoting Your Services

Engaging your technicians in business development activities can increase the value to the overall service your company provides.

article image

Add Value to Your Customer Relationships

You should view your technicians’ proactive efforts as a service rather than a selling activity.

article image

Do the Right Thing

A simple approach leads to an exceptional service experience for your customers.