Sales best practices
Outbound sales tactics
How to ask for referrals in B2B sales [7 tactics & templates]
May 11, 2023
One of the most efficient ways to grow your business and drive pipeline is to ask for referrals. 84% of B2B decision-makers enter into purchases under the influence of referrals, and referral conversion rates are generally the highest of all B2B selling channels.
Whether you're looking to diversify your lead generation or grow your brand awareness, having a creative and effective referral strategy means unlocking new value from your existing customers. But how do you ask for referrals in a way that feels natural and doesn't come across as pushy or forced?
In this blog post, we'll explore the best ways to ask for referrals in B2B sales, including creative and effective strategies, LinkedIn referral tips, and referral message samples to help you craft the perfect request.
Why ask for B2B sales referrals?
55% of B2B companies with a referral program in place describe their sales efforts as highly effective, compared to the 35% who don’t use referrals.
This points to a strong correlation between B2B sales success and referral-based selling, and yet just 30% of B2B businesses have any form of referral program in place. Why is this?
If your sales team isn’t used to doing it, asking for referrals can be daunting. There might be a fear of rejection or a concern that your company will sound desperate and dependent.
However, many businesses simply underestimate the enormous value that referrals can bring. Implementing a solid B2B referral program should be a priority for a number of reasons:
- As well as yielding higher average conversion rates, referrals also reduce the pressure on your cold outbound selling by making it easier to approach new, highly-qualified leads that fit your ICP. This saves time on prospecting and boosts sales productivity.
- Asking for referrals from existing customers costs a company nothing, but can potentially multiply revenue. For startups and small businesses in particular, referrals are convenient for driving pipeline when brand awareness is low and marketing budgets are limited.
- Referred customers boast a 37% higher retention rate than non-referred customers! Referrals are a strong indicator of client success, satisfaction, and, as a result, customer loyalty.
- For the same reasons, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is 16% higher than non-referrals, whilst churn is 18% lower. This makes referred customers potentially lower risk than other leads.
- 83% of customers would be happy to refer a product or service after a positive experience, yet only around 29% end up doing so. That’s a lot of untapped social proof that could be bringing in revenue, and that’s exactly why setting up a consistent B2B referral program is so important!
How to ask for B2B sales referrals
There are 3 key factors that should guide the way you ask for B2B referrals:
- Support and enablement
Let’s take a look at these in more detail:
Firstly, you need to identify which of your customers you want to approach for referrals. Obviously, these need to be your best and most satisfied customers, so you might look for:
- In the context of a software product, users who spend the most time in platform or show the highest productivity
- Customers who have gradually extended their subscription over time and whose businesses have grown with your solution
- NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey responders who have scored your company highly (9-10/10)
- Customers who have worked or trained closely with your Customer Success/Support team to optimize their results
In other words, the customers who are getting the most value out of your product or service are more likely to be willing to give back.
You also need to have a clear picture of the people you want to be referred to and how they connect to your best customers. Find out who your top customers interact with on a regular basis, or you else ask to be introduced to a specific group of contacts if you know they’re in the same circles.
It helps if your advocates have good industry connections or a strong social presence within your target market because their referrals will carry more weight.
Learn more about leveraging individual champions for referrals in this blog.
Your customer’s enthusiasm for your solution will naturally fluctuate. The best time to ask for referrals is when your customer is riding on a high, whether it’s after hitting a performance milestone, solving a specific pain-point, or any other situation when they have a positive interaction with your team.
There are a number of options here. Referrals from long-term, established customers are impactful because they carry more proof of success.
On the other hand, customers who’ve just signed up could be so hyped about their new purchase that they’d be willing to recommend the buying experience to others.
In any case, make sure you’re only asking them after you’ve delivered value. They’re more likely to agree if they feel appreciative and grateful for your support!
Support and enablement
Once you’re ready to request a referral, you want to make the process as easy and positive for your customer as possible. If you’re vague in your request, don’t be surprised if your customer never follows through.
Be specific and clear in how you want to use a referral and its intended audience. You can also share supportive resources (like example referral templates) to give your customers some inspiration to get started.
You might even consider creating a form on a dedicated landing page for referrals. This enables customers to make a referral in their own time, whether or not you reach out to them first.
Some customers will still need a little extra push to produce referrals. Remember to follow-up and offer extra support to keep them engaged. Offering a referral reward or incentive can also motivate customers because they’ll also benefit from the process. You might provide exclusive referral discounts, rebates, or even offer to reciprocate by referring their company.
Finally, you must make sure to thank your customers when they provide a referral. Even if you don’t offer a referral reward, at the very least you should send a personal thank you message to show your appreciation - and increase the chances of them referring again.
7 ways to get B2B referrals
1. Jump on a call
Whether it’s a Zoom/Skype meeting or an old-fashioned phone call, speaking to your customer directly is far more personal and transparent than shooting them an email.
For that reason, calls are ideal for asking for referrals because you can use conversational rapport to your advantage. It’s a bonus that people are generally less likely to say no on a live call!
Remember that you'll sound pushy and self-interested if you dive straight into your request. Provide value for the customer first, then segue the conversation towards referrals.
2. Send an email
If calling is out of the question or you want to follow up on a call request, you can ask for a referral via email.
Once again, reinforce the value you’re bringing the customer before asking them for something in return. Below is an example of an email you might send (together with a referral template to help your customer):
3. Ask about social media connections
LinkedIn gives you relatively decent visibility over your customer’s network and who they’re interacting with on a regular basis. Through LinkedIn Sales Navigator, you can check out the “People Also Viewed” tab on your customer’s page to find similar profiles that might fit your ICP.
If you find a connection to your customer, you can ask if you can name-drop them to your new lead. If your customer approves, you can use them as an indirect referral in your email or cold call outreach:
If you’re on good terms, your customer might even volunteer some extra information to help you personalize your outreach or offer to put in a good word for you!
4. Distribute business cards
Business cards have become less popular with the rise of remote and online B2B selling, but if your customers are in direct contact with your target audience, they can still work in your favor.
Pay attention to the networking habits of your customers and the events they attend and ask them if they’d consider distributing some of your cards (you might even incentivize them with a referral reward).
The benefit of this method is that it promotes face-to-face conversation about your business and might feel less cold or forced than a digital referral.
Nothing motivates your customers more than something that directly benefits their business. Sharing their work, news, and content amongst your network will convince them that you’re a genuine supporter of their success and not simply out to exploit them for your own gain! You might even actively refer your customer to appropriate companies or decision-makers.
This reciprocal support allows you to request a referral without sounding unreasonable or overly demanding and to keep nurturing a mutually beneficial relationship long-term.
6. Ask within the company
Perhaps your product or solution isn’t a good fit for a particular department or individual, but you might still want to be considered elsewhere by your target company; don’t be afraid to ask for connections with other decision-makers in the account. For example:
You’re already known by your account and now have a valuable inside referral!
7. Collect passive referrals
The tactics listed above are all ways of actively asking for referrals. Passive referrals, on the other hand, leave it up to your customers to submit their recommendations as and when they like. Examples include:
- Setting up a landing page with a form for feedback/testimonial submission
- Sales or Customer Success teams providing links for G2, Capterra, or other review sites
- Promoting your referral program on social media, in an email newsletter or via email signature.
The obvious drawback of passive referrals is that you have less control over the specificity of the referral and leave it up to the customer how they communicate your solution.
The benefit, however, is that it’s far more organic. You’re getting sincere, honest referrals for your business, and they might even come from people you wouldn’t have thought to ask!
Leveraging customer referrals in B2B sales is one of the most powerful ways to grow your business and double down on your target audience.
However, even your most loyal customer has a huge list of other priorities to take care of. That’s why the best B2B referral strategies are flexible, multichannel, and make it as easy and appealing as possible for the customer to follow through.
Remember: it’s your mission to provide value so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a referral. If your customer recognizes your commitment to support, success, and growth, referring you should be a no-brainer!
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