How To Ask for Referrals in Sales (Without Feeling Sleazy)

by Corey Philip //  June 16, 2022

In sales, there are lots of ways to look for new business opportunities. Asking for referrals has long been considered a viable approach to expanding your outreach, but how do you go about it the right way?

In recognition of the fact that asking for referrals is far from straightforward, we explain how to ask for referrals in sales without feeling sleazy and introduce you to seven top tips you can use to get your foot in the door.

What is a Referral in Sales?

A referral in sales is the act of asking one of your clients to recommend your product or service to someone else. You can leverage the trust that you’ve built with your customers to do this, which gets your foot in the door at another company.

Asking for referrals is a much better approach to sales than cold calling and is likely to be more successful. After all, a referral means you already have an in, so you’re more likely to have your pitch heard. But as is the case with everything in sales, asking for referrals can be a delicate process. Ask the wrong person in the wrong way, and you could potentially lose two clients.

So, to help you pick up new business, we introduce you to some top tips that will help you ask for referrals in the right way.

Seven Ways to Ask for Referrals in Sales

Here we go..

1. Pick the Right Clients

While it might be tempting to ask all of your clients for a referral, it’s much better to start with your advocates. These are people who speak highly of you and your business anyway. A great way to discover your advocates is to use a Net Promoter Score survey.

You can ask your current clients to rate their satisfaction with your product or service on a simple scale of 1-10. Those that rank you highly are clearly super happy with your work and are much more likely to consider referring you to a client. They will also speak favorably about you during the referral process, which is vitally important if the referral is to gain traction. Understanding who your advocates are is a great first step to take, and it will save you from chasing false leads.

2. Be Specific

A mistake that a lot of salespeople make is being too generic with referral requests. Consider, for instance, the following: “Do you know of anyone who might benefit from our product?”

The above request is like a stab in the dark, and you’re asking your client to do your work. Make an effort to discover who your current clients are connected to - you can use LinkedIn to your advantage here.

Then, when you’re asking for a referral, clearly articulate how you think specific clients within your customer’s current network will benefit from your product or service. Although this requires a lot more work on your part, a client is much more likely to refer to you if they can see how you could add value to someone in their network.

3. Timing is Key

As with everything in life, there are right and wrong times to ask for sales referrals. The best time to ask a client for a referral is after you have proven the value of your product or service. You can use a recent compliment as a cue to ask them to refer you to other potential clients.

As the saying goes, you should strike while the iron is hot. In the immediate aftermath of a successful sale, ask your advocates for a referral. They’re much more likely to recommend you to their network while they’re still happy with your product than if you wait several months before reaching out to them.

Conversely, if you have only recently onboarded a client and you’re still developing a relationship with them, it’s not a good idea to dive straight in and ask for a referral. This can seem like your interests are elsewhere and won’t necessarily give off a great impression.

4. Incentivize

Depending on the type of product or service that you’re selling, you could incentivize your customers to provide you with referrals. This could be in the form of a future discount or perhaps even some form of free gift or product upgrade.

While some people might think that offering an incentive in exchange for a referral is tacky, it works. After all, who doesn’t like a freebie or a discount? The act of passing on your details to someone else in their network can be a big deal for your sales team, so don’t be shy when it comes to adding an incentive in exchange for a referral.

5. Prepare for the Referral in the Right Way

Let’s say you have successfully convinced one of your clients to refer you to their network. It’s now time to put a plan in place to execute the referral. If your client says they will handle the referral, you should still request the new client’s contact details. You should also be mindful that just because someone says they will refer you, it doesn’t mean they actually will.

So, you need to devise a strategy that ensures contact is made with the new client. Agree to the specifics of the referral as soon as you can - when will contact be made, how will you contact, and so on. It’s your responsibility to hold your client to account, so make sure you don’t leave a promised referral up to chance.

6. Follow Up and Always Be Polite

People are busy working on their own projects, so there might be a delay in the referral process. So, if you haven’t heard from your referral in a few days, follow up with a polite call or email asking for progress.

Even if things don’t turn out the way you had hoped, always maintain your professionalism and thank your client for their efforts. There are so many reasons why someone might not follow through with a referral, so don’t take it personally. Simply move on to another prospect and ensure your relationship with your current client remains cordial.

7. Bonus tip: Don’t Assume that You Will Win a Referral’s Business

Remember, a sales referral gets your foot in the door with a potential client, but it doesn’t necessarily deliver a sale. The worst thing you can do is assume that just because you’ve landed an appointment via a referral, you will automatically land a sale.

You need to start from scratch and deliver your pitch just as you would with any other client. Just because you come recommended by a happy customer, it doesn’t give you a great deal of power in a new sales meeting. As is the case with all sales, don’t take your appointment for granted and pull out all the stops to get them to sign on the dotted line.


There are several different ways of asking for referrals in sales. But to successfully connect with prospects, you need to ask in the right way. We hope you’ve found this article informative and are now ready to approach your clients to ask for referrals.

Remember, time it well, ask the right clients, and always follow up, and you should be on your way to success. (Related: A Comprehensive Look Into Powerful Sales Techniques And How to Apply Them Effectively)

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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