Customer Referrals

The Subtle Art of Customer Referrals

When we discover something great…. a charming restaurant, an intriguing novel, or an inexpensive plumber….we want to tell others about it. In fact, when it comes to many consumer products and services, we feel compelled to share both good and bad experiences so that others can either: a) get the same enjoyment and value we received; or b) avoid making the same mistake we made.

This is why ‘word of mouth’ customer referral is arguably the most powerful marketing tool for any business.

Research from Goethe University and Wharton Business School found that customers obtained through referrals are both more loyal and more profitable than other customers.

Yet, for B2B businesses, the customer referral process needs to be more subtle. When we are happy with one of our suppliers, we do not feel the same urge to tell others like we do with consumer products. Our suppliers provide us with the goods and services that help us compete, and therefore, we refrain from voluntarily sharing this information.

Which brings us to the challenge?

If our customers are not inclined to voluntarily tell others to do business with us, then how do we, as B2B marketers, leverage our existing customer relationships to gain valuable referrals?

One way is to come right out and ‘ask for a referral’ from your customer. However, this direct approach puts your customer on the spot, and might even make them feel a little uncomfortable. Not to mention, you have now given your customer a task to do, rather than make their life easier.

A better method is to take an indirect approach.

Here are five ways B2B marketers can get more customer referrals….subtly:


1. Create customer case studies

A case study demonstrates how you solved your customer’s problem and is one of the most effective marketing tools to convert prospects into customers.

2. Ask your customer if they would be willing to be a phone / email reference

Although your customers are unlikely to volunteer how great you are to others….if asked, they will typically be very supportive of you. Compile a ‘Customer Reference List’ containing the customers that your prospects can contact to find out more about you.

3. Join the same industry associations and events your customers attend

Make it easy for your customers to make new introductions for you by taking part in common industry conferences and events.

4. Invite customers to present at your workshops and seminars

When holding a workshop or seminar for prospective customers, get one of your existing customers to present a case study or topic. This will have a big influence on building your credibility in the minds of your prospective customers.

5. Provide your customer with referrals…first

The law of reciprocity (what goes around, comes around) will work in your favour if you send business to your customer first. They will feel inclined to reciprocate and provide you with those valuable customer referrals.

Although ‘word of mouth’ customer referrals in B2B do not come as freely as they do with consumer products and services, by taking a more subtle approach, you should see an increase in referred business!



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