Referrals are hands-down the most effective way to obtain new clients.

According to Forbes, referrals are the most valuable form of marketing, and Nielsen says 92% of consumers trust referrals from people they know.

So why are we hesitant to ask for referrals when they are proven to be so successful?

Because it feels weird.

Asking for a referral can feel awkward, desperate and pushy, and we don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be as awful as it seems.

Here are a few tried-and-true suggestions for getting more referrals (aka more business!) while still maintaining your dignity.

Wait for the Right Time
There are two exceptional times in the sales cycle to ask for a referral.

The first is when the client has just started using your product or service. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s just like any relationship (when you can’t stop chatting about your new girlfriend.)

According to Forbes, even if the client continues to use your product or service all the time, it’s not new anymore. It’s great for your business that you’ve become a regular part of their workflow – but not good for referrals.

The second best time to ask for a referral is when the client is most pleased with your services. If you’ve just given them a great deal, solved a huge problem, or provided exceptional customer service, there’s no better time to say, “I’m so glad I could help. Would you mind giving me a quick referral?” Nine times out of 10, he or she will be more than happy to oblige. (After all, you’ve gone above and beyond for this customer, you deserve it!)

If you fail to act in the moment, there’s no harm in circling back a few days later, but it’s best to ask when the customer is tickled pink with your products or services.

Word of mouth referrals

Focus on Your Faves

Make a list of your very best clients – those with whom you already have a stellar relationship.

These clients already trust you and will be more likely to refer your goods or services to others since they can vouch for your work.

Reach out and ask directly for a referral. If he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with a traditional referral, ask permission to use his or her company’s project as a case study.

For example, if your software helped the company increase sales by 25%, ask if you could showcase those results in an infographic on your website or social media.

If the client does agree to send a referral on your behalf, make it easy on him by offering to provide an email template.

Partner with Complementary Businesses

Make a second list of complementary businesses in your community. Write down the names of businesses that offer goods and services that your customers could utilize but that you don’t offer.

For example, if you’re a print shop with customers who often need promotional items in addition to their postcards and brochures, partner with a promotional products company. Offer to refer your customers and ask them to do the same.

Give a Proper Thank You

When an existing customer or complementary business sends you a new client, it’s imperative you send a proper thank you. A phone call or email are acceptable, but an in-person visit or handwritten note are more impactful. It may seem old-fashioned, but that’s exactly why it’s so powerful.

If the referral led to a high-dollar deal, consider sending a gift basket or box. GiftTree is a great option for unique corporate gifts.

Leverage LinkedIn

Use LinkedIn to connect with your current and past clients and ask for a recommendation.

LinkedIn Recommendation Instructions

You can also use the Search function to look for potential clients and see if you have any mutual connections. Leverage mutual connections by mentioning the person you both know (by name) when reaching out to the potential client.

Keep the Momentum Going

You got the referral, now what? Your work with the referrer isn’t over. It’s important that you show your clients you are sincerely invested in an ongoing relationship.

Check in with them via email every few months. Send a birthday card. Engage on their social media business pages. If you run across a news article you think might interest them, send it to them! Small acts of kindness will remind your clients that you genuinely care.

Following these simple suggestions can increase your chances of receiving referrals that convert to new customers and keep the process relatively painless.