referral conversationReferrals most naturally happen when two people are talking and one of the parties expresses a pain in the neck. If the other party just had her pain in the neck fixed, she may very well say something like, “ooh, you just gotta call Bob, he’s the best pain in the neck fixer on the planet.“

Right? We’ve all done some variation of that exchange in making or receiving a referral.

Problem is, we don’t spend enough time teaching our customers and referral sources the types of complaints, frustrations, challenges, and situations our customers generally espouse when they are actually in the act of qualifying themselves as a great referral.

Here’s what I mean. We ask our customers and referral sources if they know anyone who needs a fully optimized, solutions driven lawn manicure specialist, when we should probably be asking them if they know anyone whose dog keeps getting loose because their lawn service always leaves the gate open.

I believe any salesperson worth their salt has developed a list of phrases, situations, and verbal clues that, if heard during a sales presentation, signal it’s time to take the order.

The same idea is true of a qualified referral.

My belief is that the best way to make it easy for people to refer business your way is to develop a list of “trigger” phrases that experience tells you are the exact words your prospects utter when then need what you’ve got.

For example, if you sell accounting software, it’s rare that a prospect might walk up to a golf buddy and say, I sure wish I had some better accounting software.

But, he might says – “I have no idea how healthy my business is because we never have timely data”, or,”I feel like I’m being help hostage by my accounting firm,” or “we keep everything on spreadsheets and it’s a real hassle to update.”

In many cases these folks don’t have any idea that your accounting software is the answer, but you do, so these utterances are your invitation to save the day.

Spend a couple hours brainstorming with anyone in your organization that has customer contact of any kind or call up a dozen customers and ask them to identify the true value your firm brings them with the goal of creating a top ten list of trigger phrases that everyone in your organization and anyone wishing to refer business could use as the perfect way to spot your ideal customer.

Then, clean this list up and create a document you can use in your marketing education processes. (This might end up being the best internal sales training tool you’ve created to date.)

You can even take it a step farther and publicize this content in some manner in your marketing materials because it’s likely that a prospect might be saying these exact things to themselves as well.

Close the loop on this process by also creating some tools, like gift certificates, special referral offers, or coupons, that your referral sources can use any time they hear a trigger phrase.

Prospect: “I’ve been waiting over a week for my lawyer to call me back.” – Referral Source: “Really, my attorney calls me back within 24 hours guaranteed – here’s her card, because I recommended you she’ll review your first contract for free.”

Image credit: dearbarbie

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • EH

    Trigger points are an excellent way to go about training for referrals. Most people when asked, “Do you know someone who…?” they immediately draw a blank. But if you have already thought through the situations in which your product/service could be the solution, it makes the referral process easy and it becomes a natural flow of conversation.

  • I would include key words that are used in normal speech. For my restaurant I have trained my customers that “Green” is really Costa Vida Green, ADDICTION refers to what happens when you eat our food and when ever anyone says “sweet” they are referring to our sweet pork. I had one customer who told me she had a dream where she was on the Red Carpet and was asked about her dress. she responded, “It’s Costa Vida Green, thats for you Fred”

  • Thats a great idea, it will also update you on which situations will trigger sales in general. Anyone who has not reviewed and revised those for this market, maybe be trying to use old data to make a sale.

    Dr. Letitia Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show

  • ibigidea

    Referrals are the best way to build a client base other than great customer service. Doing both right dramatically increases your success rate.

  • this is a very well written and well done post.

    it brought lots of ideas to mind, but more importantly opened up a new way to ask for referrals.

    thanks for putting it down. we all know this, i think, but we forget about it in the hussle to get something or another done.

    if i can take the time to go through the process and educate my referral points, I am certainly more likely to get more results.


  • Sohan
  • Sohan
  • I have been trying to nail down my triggers. As the line between marketing and sales blurs, I have been engaging more contacts. I have a few ways, but the most effect is referrals.

  • I have been trying to nail down my triggers. As the line between marketing and sales blurs, I have been engaging more contacts. I have a few ways, but the most effect is referrals.

  • Shirley_Wang

    Thanks for the useful post! You can also use “Google Trends” to get an estimate of which keywords were typed in the most in search engines. This is a great indicator of where market trends are going, how you can tweak your products or advertisement cues.

  • Great ideas, it's a natural pattern that we should be able to recognize and use to help grow our businesses.

  • In my business I'm often in the position to provide referrals. And I make sure that I either have the person's business card to give out, or I send the potential client an email with the contact information. However I think it's a great idea to have a 'tool' to create the answer to 'why change' and to cover the cost/inconvenience of change. Thanks.

  • I like where you are coming from, you had some excellent ideas. I like the closing the loop idea best. Not that creating a list of catch phrases is bad, I just like the idea of wrapping up a sales pitch with some kind of incentive to make the person being “pitched to” feel the call to action, and by offering something free or discounted, I look like an all around good guy to do business with.


  • Rob

    I like the idea of trigger points, but my main concern over their effectiveness is the likelihood that they will actually be adopted and internalized by clients.
    Overall I think it's a great idea though!
    I also think another excellent way to seal the deal on getting referrals is to create an image so professional and outstanding that you can't help but stick out in your customer's minds.
    We've been trying something recently, along these lines that involves having an online print store (from:…) where clients can order prints right from the site. We've already been able to see a positive change in public perception.

  • Great idea. Triggers are definitely something that I have been trying to excel at. Your statement of educating our customers and referrals of the frustrations, challenges and needs is a great reminder to me. Thanks.

  • You really have a point their.. Referrals are is a good way of having a good relationship with your customer… And with a help of a good customer service.. You business will surely click..

  • You really have a point their.. Referrals are is a good way of having a good relationship with your customer… And with a help of a good customer service.. You business will surely click..