Who should I ask for referrals?

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Segment your clients and partners into different groups so that you can vary how and when you ask for referrals. 

Earning referrals is partly a numbers game. You have to ask enough people to see results.

At one point or another, you should plan on asking for a referral from every person who schedules an estimate or completes a project. You should also ask for referrals from business partners, like real estate agents, roofers, electricians, and general contractors.

Here’s the thing – You need to vary how and when you ask for referrals so that your request comes across as helpful rather than interruptive. This doesn’t take much time because you can automate most of the process after you set things up.

To set up your referral program, start by making a list of people (groups or individuals) who would likely send referrals your way. I recommend starting with two general categories: (1) clients and (2) partners.

This article gives a simple framework for organizing your clients and partners so that you can ask them for referrals in a more compelling way.

 

Client referrals 

 

Clients are typically segmented into three groups, depending on where they are in their buying cycle. 

  • People who completed projects: This is the main group that you’ll want to target with your referral offer. They’ve seen the quality of your work firsthand, and you’ve earned their trust.
  • People who got estimates but did not complete projects: You could ask this group for a referral, but in general, I think you’ll see better results by offering a limited-time incentive to complete a project.
  • People who made contact but did not get estimates: Rather than ask this group of clients for referrals, I recommend following up to ask if they’re still interested in an estimate.

 

How to ask clients for referrals

 

If it takes a lot of time or costs a lot of money to ask for a referral, your program won’t work. Scalability is essential. That’s one of the reasons that I advise my clients to ask for referrals in person, then follow up with an automated email sequence.

Each group of clients gets a different email sequence. For example, clients who complete projects get a sequence that builds towards a referral request. Clients who completed estimates but not projects get a limited-time offer to complete a project.

All groups of clients eventually end up on your newsletter list. Over time, you stay relevant and maintain your authority by sharing valuable content. At the bottom of every email, include a blurb about your referral program. 

By staying in touch with your clients and serving them in an open-handed way, you’ll  maintain their trust and earn their referrals. 

For more on the nuts and bolts of asking for referrals, check out the article, How should I ask for referrals? You could also schedule a coaching call to get step-by-step instructions to set up your referral program.

 

Partner referrals

 

You’ll want to create a referral offer for your partners, such as roofers, electricians, general contractors, or real estate agents. 

I generally put partners into two groups:

  • Subcontractors and other partners with whom you regularly do business
  • Other partners offering related, non-competing services

For subcontractors and others with whom you regularly work, the conventional wisdom is that you should give referrals to get referrals. Create a list of partners who you could confidently refer to your clients. 

You’ll want to make referrals a regular part of the conversation, and I recommend creating a dedicated business referrals page on your site. Clarify what you offer and what partners need to do. 

  • Be explicit:  Call out any specific requirements for the types of projects or resulting revenue needed for the referral bonus to apply. 
  • Offer a single incentive: It’s also common to give the full bonus to the referring partner. For more on single and dual incentives, jump over to the article, “Your referral offer: All for one or one for all?

The conventional wisdom about giving referrals to get referrals breaks down as you expand your circle to include other partners with whom you don’t regularly do business. Real estate agents are probably the best example. If you know more than a couple agents, it’s unlikely that you could send enough referrals to each to keep the relationships reciprocal. 

But there are other things of value that you can offer. Many real estate agents want to position themselves as having expertise in sustainability. Make yourself available to answer their questions and serve their clients at any time. 

If you send a regular newsletter, that becomes part of your value proposition. Your real estate partners are the first to know about incentive changes and strategies to save energy at home. When they share those changes and strategies with their clients, you build authority and position yourself as the go-to partner for their referrals.

Bill Hoelzer

Bill is the Principal at Volta Strategies. He’s spent almost a decade marketing solar and energy efficiency companies, driving sustained, double-digit growth and millions of dollars in new revenue for his clients.