When it comes to getting referrals, the only way to know if a former customer will give you one is to ask. Modesty and shyness will accomplish nothing. For instance, did you know that one of the best times to ask for a referral is when you're receiving a referral?
I once had a customer call me with a referral, and after thanking him profusely and gathering information about the person he recommended that I call, I said to him, “You must know 10 people who fit that profile. I bet they'd all be interested in our product.”
The customer replied, “Oh yes, I have several more. I was going to give them to you one at a time, since I figured you were a small company.”
Of course, I asked for all the names, and promised the prospect that I had the bandwidth to contact all of them in parallel. If I had refrained from asking out of shyness or politeness, the most profitable part of that conversation never would have happened.
Other times you should always ask for referrals:
- When a customer voluntarily compliments your product.
- When a customer sends an unsolicited testimonial.
- When a customer admits that you've saved them when they were in a tight spot. This is called a psychic debt; the customer will feel as if they owe you a name for helping them.
- When you've completed a project for a customer.
On this last point, some people may feel that asking for referrals immediately after completing a project is too soon. Even if you suspect this to be the case, don't be afraid to ask! The worst-case response you're likely to get is that the customer may ask for 90 days to assess the product before providing referrals.
This response is actually ideal; the customer has just given you permission to call back for a referral in only three months’ time! You can now put this person in your calendar exactly 90 days out, confident that they will have experienced the quality of your product and will be happy to provide you with names – hot leads that you would never have had if you hadn’t asked for them three months prior!