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Our customers are our marketers. Reviews on everything from diaper cream and yachts to plumbers and SaaS apps are available with the click of a button. Facebook ad-targeting – built on the premise of social sales – claims 5x ROI on advertising dollars. Personal referrals are more powerful than ever in growing your business.

That power is multiplied by tenfold in the world of professional services. That’s why successful realtors, lawyers, accountants, etc. usually have a singular marketing plan – let the work speak for itself. That “speaking” happens in the form of customer referrals.

So how do you harness the power of referrals? You start by asking for them. That’s a process that is often uncomfortable and can get pretty awkward very quickly. Here are a few tips on doing it well.

1. Make the Ask: You’ll never get the referrals if you don’t ask for them. By all means, keep it subtle. But don’t bury the request altogether. Consider scheduling regular feedback check-ins with people who use your service, where you can ask for referrals when you hear favorable remarks. Bring it up if they shoot you a complimentary email or mention you in a social media shout-out for your work.

The key here is to be timely. People are most evangelical about a product at the beginning, before it’s become an everyday part of their lives. Bring up your ask when you’re fresh in their minds.

2. Focus your Ask: Tell people what you’d like them to say to their friends. If your client runs an industry conference for dentists, suggest a good pitch for that audience. Create a seasonal or event-themed pitch around your product, which inspires customers to pass on a particular type of message to their friends. If you interact with clients on Twitter, always throw in a “Please Retweet” when you want them to do so. The goal is to (1) leverage clients’ networks where they are most valuable and (2) make it super easy for them to pass on the message.

3. Create a Process Around your Ask: Make the ask a standard part of your workflow to ensure that it happens. You can bake the ask into your sales cycle or your onboarding plan. LinkedIn, for example, has built in leveraging your email contacts by having you accept their “You May Know” feed when you sign up for the service. The result is an auto-generating referral service of sorts.

4. Reward For Any Response to an Ask: Find a way to say thank you, even if the referral isn’t yet a converted customer. You can send some company swag or a bottle of wine when onboarding a new customer that came to you through a referral. If a customer engages with you or compliments your service on social media, you can use responses and retweets of their material as a thank you. When someone agrees to a case study or a testimonial in your marketing materials, you can offer a free photo shoot to go along with it. Be creative and gracious.

5. Be genuine: Customers aren’t professional ad-men, after all. Their referral is based on their experience with you. That’s why it pays to be authentic. Try involving your customers in your story, your company’s values and your people. Reach out to understand why they’re excited about your product, and have your product messaging reflect their value system along with your own. That’s what will make it not just easy, but downright natural for them to tell others about your service.


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“This article was originally posted by Prialto: The Virtual Support Service for Executives. Prialto Virtual Assistants are geared to actually pull your business forward and make delegating easy” 

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