Referral Marketing Ideas

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A marketing meeting.
A marketing meeting. (Image: XiXinXing/XiXinXing/Getty Images)

Referral marketing capitalizes on and, to some extent, formalizes the word-of-mouth process. Word-of-mouth referrals hold more weight than traditional marketing tactics, because people value the opinions of their friends and families. Some referrals come your way without help, but there are ways to actively boost your referral count.

Ask For Referrals

Business owners often take the position that their work speaks for itself and they should not need to ask customers for a referral. John Jantsch, a referral marketing expert, says in his book, "The Referral Engine," that this attitude probably signals a lack of belief in your product or service, rather than an opinion about customers. Asking customers for referrals provides the most direct method of getting referrals. Your current customers cannot know you want more customers if you do not tell them. This applies in particular to businesses that take on a limited number of clients, such as an architect or consultant. If you always look busy, your customers may not give referrals because they assume you are booked up.

Partner with Another Business

Partnering with a complementary business provides a golden opportunity to generate referrals without making a direct ask of customers. Say, for example, that you run a landscaping business and you maintain a friendly relationship with the owner of a home renovation company. You can offer to develop informational products, such as a landscaping basics pamphlet, in exchange for similar information products about basic renovations. You display the renovation basics pamphlets at your office and the home renovation company displays your landscaping pamphlets at its office. You put your logo and address on the pamphlets you write, and the renovation company does the same. Customers see the pamphlets and some call the other company.

Case Studies and Articles

A case study essentially presents a story about how a customer, either a person or another business, dealt with a problem and your business’s role in helping to solve it. For example, an IT consultant might discuss how she helped a business move from outdated, in-house servers to a cloud provider and the benefits the business gained. This helps to set you up as an expert, and the case study itself serves as a referral generator. Publishing articles about your profession, such as a discussion of trends or how you solved a client’s problem, builds your professional credibility. It also gives your client an opportunity to crow about how you mention her in the article, which can serve as a secondhand referral.

Host Networking Events

Networking events serve a lot of purposes. They let you reinforce your relationship with your best customers in a context that does not involve you selling anything. They also provide an opportunity for you to connect your customers with each other or with a small number of other businesspeople you trust. If this results in new business relationships between your customers and peers, it increases your credibility and often generates more referrals for your business. A networking event that only involves your professional network also helps you cement your position as an expert, which increases the likelihood of additional referrals.

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