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Four Words for More Referrals

Here is a system that makes it easy to remember the four crucial elements of getting a referral. It applies to all the people you know.

Memorize these four words and practice them until they become habits. If you truly want to get more and better referrals for the rest of your professional life, I repeat: Memorize these four words and practice them until they become habits – Earned, Who, How and Control.


You do not recommend another professional unless you think they do a good job.

It’s the same for you: You have to earn the right to ask for a referral. There has to be water in the well in your relationship before anyone in their right mind will be open to helping you.

The gray area is that people vary in how long it can take for them to trust others. A few people are enthusiastic quickly and can refer you early on. A few other people can take years to make a referral. Most people fall in the middle.

How do you know if you’ve earned it? Sometimes you can trust your gut on this: You know or sense the other person knows, likes and trusts you.

If you are uncertain about whether to ask for a referral, get some feedback from them.

Ask an open-ended question such as: “It would be really helpful for me to get some feedback from you. From the work we’ve done so far, what has been most helpful for you?” You will hear in the tone of their voice whether they are genuinely pleased. This requires that you make yourself a bit vulnerable to them but sometimes having this courage is the only way you’ll find out. How else can you grow? Plus, your competition probably is not doing it (which can suggest they don’t care).

Here is an idea for a question to ask if you want to get feedback on ways you can improve: “I don’t know you that well yet; what else could I do that would help you more?” You may put yourself in a position where you need to address their suggestions first before asking for a referral at a later date. The advantage is that you don’t shoot too soon and ask at a time when the other person is not that impressed, resulting in awkwardness. 

The other side of this topic is the inside job: having enough confidence in who you are and what you do that you believe you have earned it. The more you believe you really are helping others, the easier it is to ask for a referral, because you believe you’ve earned it and you will do everything you can to make your referral source look good. That’s why a few people who are very confident can get away with really tacky sales language.

Communication must be congruent. A good referral is like sales: it is a transfer of enthusiasm between you and your referral sources.


It’s possible that many people have not referred you because they need your help identifying to whom you want to be introduced. They’re not going to figure this out on their own!

The most important thing about getting referrals is being so clear about what you want that the other person does not have to think about it. It is your job to identify what you want so that it is easy for others to help you. Never again say, “If you can think of anyone else who might benefit from my work, please have them give me a call.” This is not an “ask”; it is a throwaway line.

The question to ask yourself before every meeting is: What would I love to ask this person? There are six ways to come up with names:

[1] Pre-plan your “ask” based on past conversations or online research (e.g., LinkedIn).

[2] Listen differently for names of people who sound like good prospects and are people they like.

[3] Ask different questions to find out who is in their network.

[4] Use generic specifics such as close friend, sibling, favorite co-worker.

[5] Tell stories of others you’ve helped in different situations.

[6] Share a list of companies/prospects you’re looking to help.


Many people may not have referred you because they don’t know how, and they’re not going to admit this to you.

Except for current referral sources, play it safe and assume the other person could use some direction in how best to introduce you – even if they tell you: “I’ll have a word with her.” Assume that either they will say something ineffective or they will get cold feet and say nothing at all.

The first thing to do is to learn what your current referral sources do – how do they introduce you and what do they say about you?

Then begin to craft language to share in an e-mail that others can use, too. The basics are always the same:

“Juli’s great. Talk to her. Can she call you?”

Now, let’s spruce it up:

“Juli has done excellent work for my wife and me. She specializes in working with (fill in relevant scenario). Not sure how happy you are with your current provider. We regard her highly. Would you be open to hearing from her sometime?”

A client of mine has developed a “How and Why to Introduce Mark Smith” page that has generated 36 high-quality referrals. Almost all of those referrals have turned into initial meetings and several have become clients in just over three months. It has worked because:

» He uses simple bullet points, so it’s easy to read quickly.

» He has shared it with more than 200 people.

» He tells the professionals he meets to put one together, too, so it is easier for him to refer them. Now he’s hearing from them that they are getting referrals because of it!

» When he presents it to clients, he has them read it and asks them whether they think he should add or delete anything. Then he asks for a referral.

» People know he truly cares about their success and that it’s not a cheesy sales technique.


It also is likely that many people have not referred you because you have not kept control of the referral process. Usually this happens when the referral source has said he will do something and you hear nothing back.

You cannot expect other people to care about your business opportunities as much as you do. And most people are too busy nowadays to attend to following up effectively without your help or reminders.

How to keep control: You must be patient and persistent. The majority of sales are closed after we ask for them five times or more. Most people give up after one request. Track your follow-up and spread it out so you are not annoying.

You must hold people accountable for their word. People hate to be inconsistent with things they have said they will do. Your job is to treat people’s word as if it were some holy scripture. I know that sounds a little strong but it’s terribly important. There are nonthreatening ways to gently remind people of things they said and when they mentioned it: “I hope life is treating you well. When we had coffee on Feb. 21, you asked me to get back to you about (fill in the blank: working with your business partner, meeting up with Denise, etc.). Have you made any progress?” You can always re-coach the person using wording from the “How” step.

Ask questions that help you keep control. When should I get back to you to see if Denise is interested? What is a reasonable time frame for me to get back to you if I don’t hear back from you/Denise? How would you like me to proceed? Thanks for that; what would you like me to do next?

Never leave an opportunity with the other person saying: “Let me get back to you on this” (unless they sound irritated or belligerent). Perhaps let the conversation move on so it appears that you are compliant, but before you end it, revisit this and say something like: “If, for some reason, you just get crazy busy and I’ve not heard from you, when should I get back in touch about contacting Denise?”

If you truly want to get more and better referrals for the rest of your professional life, I repeat: Memorize these four words and practice them until they become habits. Thank me later!

Matt Anderson, “The Referral Authority,” is the author of Fearless Referrals. Contact him at [email protected] .

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