4 Steps To Getting Better Customer Referrals

4 Steps To Getting Better Customer Referrals

How to help your enthusiastic clients & supporters sell your services and products


“If you know anyone who may want to work with us, send them our way!” This is a line often used by growing businesses seeking more referrals from satisfied clients, aligned supporters, and even other owners whose businesses are complementary to theirs.

The instinct to grow your word-of-mouth referrals is a good one. While there are a myriad of tech strategies to get eyeballs on your business, organic word-of-mouth marketing is still one of the most effective (and free) ways to grow your reputation and enter your customer base’s psyche.

However, it can feel deflating when your word-of-mouth efforts don’t work.

If you’ve been doing your best to encourage more referrals from great clients and allies, and it’s still not working, you might be wondering… why? 

You might even find yourself frustrated with these people – they clearly had a great experience working with you, and were enthusiastic about telling everyone they knew about you, only to go radio silent. And it’s not just one client, it’s a lot of them. Even your business allies who want you to succeed seem to drop the ball when it comes to sending people your way.

The first insight to take on board is that if you already have satisfied customers and engaged allies, it’s not your business that’s the issue – there’s no need to overhaul your systems, processes, and offerings to get more referrals. The second insight is that it’s not their fault if they struggle to send you referrals. It is a fixable issue of clarity on your part.


As we explore this core challenge and how to get better results, we’ll use Martha, a skilled dog trainer and owner of Dogs Unlimited as an example.

“The best way to understand the value of our dog training is to experience it for yourself,” says Martha. While she’s confident about her clients’ experiences and results, she’s exasperated with getting referrals. “We have so many success stories,” she says, “But it’s like pulling teeth to get even our best clients to refer us to other dog owners.” When pushed a little further, she admits that her best friend recently referred a guy with a problematic rescue dog to another dog trainer instead of Martha, which made her feel betrayed.

If you’ve had experiences like this before, you are not alone. We have a clarifying question for both Martha and you:

If asked right now to pitch your business’s value in thirty seconds to a new lead, could you do it in a way that piques their interest?

If your honest answer is no, that you struggle to express why your ideal client should choose you, then you, like Martha, are relying too heavily on people choosing to work with you first to understand exactly what you do.

And if you can’t pitch the value of your business to a new lead, then it’s not fair to expect your favourite clients to succeed where you struggle, just because they’ve worked with you before. Just like you, they have experienced and felt the value, but don’t have the tools to put it into words.


4 Ways to Get Better Referrals

1. Understand and leverage what makes your brand stand out

People naturally refer people to businesses when something jogs their memory. It’s like putting together two jigsaw puzzle pieces – in this case, a detail about your business is one puzzle piece, and their friend’s challenge or desire is the other piece. When your brand is too general, there is nothing immediately unique to attach a memory to.

For example, Martha has always welcomed all owners and dogs to Dogs Unlimited. It doesn’t matter what breed of dog, how old that dog is, or how experienced the dog owner is. This is great, except that “we offer dog training for dogs” slides off people’s brains. Even more, it instantly becomes a secondary option when people are hungry for something more specific.

Martha’s best friend referred a guy with a problematic rescue to another dog trainer, and not Martha. This is because, while she knows how talented Martha is, this guy was really concerned about his dog’s behaviour in a normal dog class. He was looking for someone who was good at working with traumatized dogs that aren’t puppies anymore. Martha’s friend had heard of a dog training facility that specializes in this, and she wasn’t sure if Martha’s generalized training could handle this dog, so she simply told him about the business that jogged her memory first. It wasn’t an issue of betrayal, but of clarity.

If Martha does more brand development, she might realize that she felt betrayed because her universal acceptance of all dogs speaks to her ingrained belief and philosophy that all dogs can be trained – and in fact, she is both passionate and skilled at helping dog owners save and train older, traumatized dogs. These are the clients she loves the most. She just wasn’t clear about this with her friend, or with herself.


2. Narrow down your ideal client

Once you have a specific idea of what makes your brand stand out, it’s time to understand who your ideal client is – the other puzzle piece. We’re not talking only about demographic data, but psychological insights into your client. Now that Martha wants to develop and focus her brand based on training problematic, traumatized dogs, she must ask herself: Who is attracted to this? Who wants this?

Her dog owners might be in their twenties or sixties, they may be any gender, and they may live downtown or in the suburbs. Their dogs are likely mixed-breed, but not always. This is why demographic data is not always useful to begin with.

If she puts these details aside and does more brand work, she may uncover that what her clients have in common is their passion and compassion for abandoned animals – they are the people who gravitate to the injured, terrified, ugly, or standoffish dog that no one else wants. She may also learn that under this compassion is a lot of pragmatism. Her ideal client is open and hungry for more knowledge, support, and training because they know this is key to their dog having a long, healthy, and happy life. Not having it might mean having to put down a dangerous dog. 

This gives her a lot of insights into who she’s talking to, where she can meet them, and how to better support them.

3. Learn your ideal client’s language

Something that makes Martha’s dog training stand out from others is a specific, gentle method she uses to train both dogs and owners. This is pretty technical – in order to understand why this is a benefit to you as a dog owner, you would have to know a lot about other dog training methods to compare. In other words, if you don’t have this knowledge, Martha talking at length about XYZ Dog Training Method won’t mean anything to you.

This is a common misstep from business owners, because we are all experts in our fields. If you own a website development company, you’re probably really excited that all your staff is trained to use a cutting-edge tool. But your clients just want a website that does what they want it to do. If you’re a general contractor, you might be stoked about your subcontractor vetting process, which you know is key to a high-quality outcome. But your clients just want a beautiful kitchen and a great experience. 

Your ideal client has a heightened sensitivity for words and expressions that will alert them to the right fit for them. This means that you need to understand and learn your client’s language – how they describe their biggest challenges, what they want as an outcome, and how they want to experience it, and then use that language to cross the gap between your knowledge and their needs.


4. Put it all together

Once upon a time, Martha would wrap up with a really satisfied client by saying, “If you know anyone who may want to work with us, send them our way!” The client would gush and thank her, and say she’s telling everyone she knows about Dogs Unlimited.

Now, Martha knows that isn’t enough. Instead, she says, “As you know, we’re really passionate about helping people who have taken a chance on a rescue dog with some trauma, just like yours. If you meet others who are struggling to train and trust their rescued pup, let them know about your experience. This is a safe place to learn and an effective way to help dogs gain confidence, trust, and joy in the company of people and other dogs. Even if they consider their dog to be dangerous, we have special support for them.”

By doing this, she sends her satisfied clients, and her allies, into the world armed with the language they need to refer people to her with confidence. When they meet people with a specific dog and a specific challenge, they know where to send them and genuinely want to help both that owner and Martha. It’s a win-win for them. She may receive less referrals for potential show dogs, or people who have purchased pure-bred dogs from a line of well-behaved Lassies, but that’s ok, because her business will skyrocket based on her speciality that she is passionate about.


If you want to get your brand & marketing up to speed, book a consultation with us. We can’t wait to meet you.

Brittany Veenhuysen
Copywriter & Co-Founder of BrandPsyche

Brittany is a business & brand writer with over 10 years of crafting brand, marketing and sales copy. Her strategic, language-based skills bridge the gap between businesses and their ideal audience, resulting in effective messaging that informs their ongoing marketing efforts, internal communications, and product & service development.