Advanced Referral Marketing

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

If you run a company, lead a sales and marketing team, or sell for a living, you know that referrals are your best source of new business.
  • Nothing beats an introduction from a peer who knows what you offer to a prospect who needs your value now.
  • No matter how strong your sales skills, marketing programs, or products and services, a referral to a qualified prospect most helps you close the sale.
  • If most buyers turn to colleagues they trust for recommendations when making a purchase, who do yours turn to?
If referrals are your business' best way to grow, why don't we develop our referring skills and seek out more and better referrals? Instead, too many businesses lament the lousy referrals they get from well-meaning business friends. Whose fault is that? Rather than launch a costly and risky lead generation effort, why not improve your advanced referral marketing skills?

The Basics of Getting Referred

To review, there are some critical ingredients to getting a referral. You must:

  1. Provide specific value to a defined target prospect. If you do not have a Best and Highest Use® please define yours now or settle for being referred as a commodity.
  2. Be excellent. Always grow your track record of quality work and results.
  3. Stay in front of those who refer you. Communicate with them regularly and provide new and valuable information.
  4. Be trusted. Prove to your referral sources you will treat them and their referrals with respect.
While these fundamentals never go out of style, enough people practice these well enough now, that distinguishing your “refer-ability” takes even more effort.

Five Steps to Advanced Referral Marketing

To grow better and get more referrals, here are five steps you can take now:

  1. Determine Your Need for Referrals
  2. Understand Your Prospects' Buying Process and Then Align Your Selling Process and Referrer's Role
  3. Define the Ideal Relationship Your Referral Source Should Have With Your Buyer
  4. Give Referrals to Get Referrals
  5. Develop Specific Tools and Tactics
Here are the five steps in detail:

1.  Determine your need for referrals. Are you clear on where in your sales and marketing process you need a referral and for what purpose? Do you need help finding, keeping or growing your existing business? Do you need an introduction, validation, or affirmation from your referral sources? At which point in your sales funnel are you most in need of their support? Is it in qualifying prospects or developing prospects? For help in determining this, review the PACER Process.

2.  Understand your prospects' buying process and then align your selling process and role for your referrer. Understanding your customers' buying process is not new but applying this knowledge in obtaining referrals might be. Where can your referrers have the most impact?

If your business is a relationship or an anniversary business, your referral sources need to be constantly cultivating your prospects for you, but if your business is more transactional or event-driven, then you want your referees to be far more opportunistic and pounce when they see the chance to recommend you. Here are two articles to help you decide this. Click Events or Anniversaries: What’s Your Business? Or Relationships or Transactions: What’s Your Business? Once you understand the role your referral sources play in your prospect's buying process, you will of course align your selling process to parallel their behavior. And the role that your referees need to play will be clear.

3.  Define the ideal relationship your referral source should have with your buyer. What are the ideal referral sources for your business? For example, some businesses enjoy most of their referrals from law or accounting firms while others are best referred by suppliers or even their competitors. To determine who is best for you, understand the role your referral source plays with your prospects and why a prospect would accept their referring you to them. For example, a parts supplier is unlikely to refer a financial planner to a purchasing agent because this is not a likely topic for them to discuss. Consider whether your referral source has the sufficient trust and professional intimacy with your prospect to make such a referral. For example, a specialist can often refer another specialist while another specialist will seldom refer a generalist. Also, your referral sources must see you as a scarce commodity as opposed to being abundant. If every business broker is hounding every banker to refer them their next deal, how can anyone care or remember which one to refer to whom? The 80/20 rule applies just as much as to referees. A few will refer a majority of your leads and most will only refer you once. Understand who falls into which groups and why. Finally, make it as easy as possible to refer you. I provide any referral source with the following description of my target prospect and exactly why when and how they would hire me. Come up with your own example along the following lines as I have in my business.

A target prospect for Birol Growth Consulting is a majority owner/operator of a business who is:

      A.   Dissatisfied with his or her business’ level of profitable growth.
              (as good or bad as it may be)
      B.   Impatient to grow their business to the next level
      C.   Is a
                       a.   Services Firm
                       b.   Wholesaler/Distributor
                       c.   Manufacturer                   
       D.   Willing to take and apply advice by working with an expert who
              empowers optimism
       E.   Willing to pay for the value of outside advice that generates ten times
             the investment

4.   Give referrals to get referrals. Apply the Golden Rule in your referral activities. Generously and freely give away as many referrals as possible. While many will disagree, I urge you not to take  commissions or fees for referring business. The time you put into developing a fair scheme is not worth the loss of trust you face when your peers learn you are making money off of whom you referred to them. Despite many opinions to the contrary, do not enter into tying, exclusive relationships or “Circles of Influence” with only one referral source such as a single law firm. Your power in referring and being referred comes from being able to match the right people with the best skills and style. There is no one size fits all here. But most importantly, remember who did refer you, follow up and keep them posted on how your or their referral faired. There is nothing more disappointing to refer or be referred and never hear what happened. If you do refer someone constantly and there is never any reciprocity, ask yourself if you have fulfilled the basics as outlined above. Before getting annoyed with your non-responder, ensure you have refocused on the basics, if you have, then it is time to find new advocates.

5.   Develop specific referral tools and tactics. Make it easy for your referral sources to refer you. One of the great tools is the reciprocal referral letter. Attached at the bottom of this article is a sample letter you can send, one-for-one, with a mutually referable source. Making it one-for-one is fun, as it challenges both parties to provide great referrals and then to hone their selling skills in obtaining as many appointments, proposals, and closed sales as possible.

Find ways to donate your services to charities so that your referral sources can place you in highly visible venues. Serve as a subject matter expert for their customers where you can showcase your expertise while helping your referral source’s clients.


Referral marketing can be one of the most enjoyable as well as the most profitable tactics in growing your business. Develop your skills and practices in this area and you will surely enjoy better clients, better relationships not only with those who value you the most, but most of all with people you like whom like you. And after all, isn’t this what business is supposed to be all about? For help in accelerating your referral marketing efforts, to explore how we can refer each other, or simply to learn more, please contact me at (412) 973 2080 or at

Here is a sample referral letter you can modify for your business or, (with my gratitude) use to refer Birol Growth Consulting:

Mr. John Smith
Smith Products
222 Allegheny Blvd, Suite #4
Wexford, PA 15444

Dear John:

Growing my firm has always been challenging and risky. I often wrestle with questions of what to invest in and when. I wanted to pass on an intro of an exceptional business expert and friend of mine, Andy Birol, of Birol Growth Consulting.  He is a published author (5 times I think), accomplished speaker and advises small to mid-sized operating businesses owners on effectively driving top line profitable growth.

  • How has my marketplace changed its buying behavior and how should my firm respond?
  • How can I create more profitable growth?
  • What new channels for profitable growth can I pursue?

While you may not have heard of Andy, I know him personally and he has an extensive record of working nationally to great reviews. In his short time here in Pittsburgh, he has become a regular columnist for eTEQ Magazine and has been accepted into Leadership Pittsburgh.

I told Andy you were on my short list of must-visits and I’ve suggested he give you a call.  He’s making a positive impact in Pittsburgh’s small business community.  I’m sure meeting with him will be a good use of both your time.  You can learn more about Andy before he calls, checkout his website at  His articles, client list and newsletters are particularly interesting.  No doubt you’ll get an autographed copy of his latest book, The Five Catalysts of Seven Figure Growth, CareerPress, 2006.

If you have any other questions or need anything further please don’t hesitate to give me a call.

Thanks so much and take care,

Your Company
Your Address
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

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