How to Increase Your Customer Referrals

Referrals from satisfied customers are the lifeblood of many business. Try these smart strategies to increase your word-of-mouth marketing.

By Jay Conrad Levinson and Al Lautenslager • Aug 8, 2014 Originally published Jul 7, 2014

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days, the late founder of guerrilla marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson, and guerrilla marketing expert, Al Lautenslager offer a dynamic marketing blueprint to help business owners attract more customers and maximize profits. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer tips to help you get more referrals from your satisfied customers and your network.

Ask any small-business owner where most of their business comes from, and the majority will undoubtedly give the same answer -- word of mouth referrals. Referrals are the recommendations of others. Getting those recommendations can be easy, viral, automatic and, in the guerrilla world, profitable. Knowing how to make this all happen is even more guerrilla like.

Referrals can "just happen," but the more you formalize the process or put a process in place to make them happen, the quicker you'll realize increased word-of-mouth sales.

The number-one way to get referrals is to simply ask for them. Yes, it can be done simply, but many still are challenged by this simple step to obtaining referrals. Potential "referrers" can't always read your mind, so it helps to have a process in place to ask for or obtain referrals.

Questions to drive referrals or a referral mind-set could include the following:

  • Is this for this week's supply or for the whole month?
  • Have you considered the same purchase as a gift for your friends and family?
  • Will one be enough, or will you need more in case of loss, breakage or usage faster than planned?
  • Would you like to buy one for a friend at a discount?
  • Would you like to sign our guest book along with friends and family members to receive special offers?

You'll generally find that most people like to give referrals. Giving referrals is helping others, and people generally like to help.

Another fundamental point of referral-based guerrilla marketing is narrowing the universe of those you ask. If I ask you, "Who else do you know that could benefit from my products and services?" I'm asking you to think of everyone you know. Since everyone generally knows between 150 and 250 people each, I'm then asking you to think of all those people at one time. Your reply will probably be, "I don't know right now. Let me think about that and get back to you." Typically, neither happens.

Now try the same line of questioning, but narrow the universe of the person you're asking. Phrase your question differently and instead ask, "Who do you golf with on Sundays that might be interested in my products or services?" What you're essentially doing is asking someone to think of four or at most a dozen people instead of 250 that might be good referrals for you. Many times, you'll get one referral from this narrowed line of questioning. Would you rather have one out of 12 as a good referral or zero out of 250? Narrowing the universe of those you ask will yield this type of positive result.

There's also a side benefit to this narrowed approach. The next time your referrer attends the same type of event with the same narrowed audience, they'll often associate your line of questioning with their group and think further about your referral solicitation.

Ask at the Point of Enthusiasm

You're probably wondering when the best time to ask for a referral is. The answer is, when your customer, prospect or associate is at the peak of their enthusiasm -- when they're in the most positive frame of mind possible.

If you exceed customer expectations and they compliment you or exclaim that what you did for them was awesome, they're undoubtedly in a positive frame of mind. As this happens, don't waste time -- jump on this opportunity. Ask right then and there who else they know (narrow the universe if you can) who could benefit from your products or services.

Another point of positive enthusiasm is when people pay you. Once again, don't waste time. Pounce and ask for that referral.

One way to manufacture this peak enthusiasm is with a customer satisfaction survey. Most customers, when filling out such a survey, will provide positive replies to such a survey. The last question on a satisfaction survey should be related to asking for referrals. In the spirit of guerrilla marketing, this is no- or low-cost marketing and can be leveraged as your referral funnel fills and even, sometimes, overflows.

The highest level of referral is when an associate sends out a letter of introduction for you, referring you to their sphere of influence before you enter that sphere. Once you enter that sphere, a cold referring situation has become warmer because of the proactive letter writing by your associate.

Having a proactive referral program in place is only half the job in getting high-quality referrals. To increase the probability of getting successful, high-yield referrals, you need to give high-quality referrals. Act interested in your networking associate. Find out more about them so you may refer them more and properly. A great line of questioning is to ask, "What's a good referral for you?" When you ask this question, you're hoping for an attitude of reciprocity to kick in -- you want your networking associate to then ask you what a good referral is for you. Don't forget to talk about how best to deliver a referral to you. This also is a chance to suggest the proactive letter writing campaign to warm up cold referral situations.

Jay Conrad Levinson and Al Lautenslager

The late Jay Conrad Levinson is the Father of Guerrilla Marketing. His books have sold more than 21 million copies worldwide, appear in 62 languages, and have become the most powerful brand in the history of marketing. He was the chairman of Guerrilla Marketing International. Learn more at

Al Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing expert, best-selling author, highly sought-after speaker, consultant and entrepreneur. He is the principal of Market For Profits, a Midwestern-based marketing consulting firm; former president and owner of The Ink Well a direct marketing, printing and mailing company; and a Certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach.

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