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  • SIMA
- Posted: May 14, 2018
By Mike Voories, CSP

Our relationship with a client isn’t truly consummated until they are ready to refer and introduce us to their inner circle. A business dealing sans referrals and introductions is a transaction, not a relationship. Salespeople often get caught up and distracted by the perception that a client likes them. With a results-focused mindset, our goal isn’t to be liked. Our goal, with respect to building business relationships, should be much larger. It must be to create and maintain business relationships so strong that the benefits far exceed the services we provide for that client. 

So, how do we take our business relationships from the friend zone to the end zone? My goal is to present a proactive and action-based approach to generating substantially more business through referrals. All good companies that do good work will receive some referrals, just by being a good company that does good work. This is often what salespeople and business leaders are talking about when they cite word of mouth as a generator of new business. Don’t get me wrong, referrals that “just happen” are great. It should be seen as a true testament of doing a great job. But in the interest of thinking big, it’s not enough. 

Often in sales, the easiest deals to close are those opportunities that originated from a referral. Given the undisputed nature of this fact, we must then be intentional and deliberate in our quest for referrals. 

Customer experience
First, you must provide your existing clients with service and a total experience that stands out. Good isn’t good enough. Be very easy to do business with. Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it, the way you said you’d do it. 

When a client refers or introduces you to someone important to them, they’re investing their reputation in your company. Smart business people won’t go out on this limb until and if they’re completely comfortable with the idea of investing their reputation into your business. Step one is to create a consistent customer experience that really stands out. Do a great job, and don’t give your existing clients any reason to hesitate to refer you. 

Ask for referrals/introductions
If you want your clients to refer you, ask them. As much as even our best clients love us, they’re rightfully focused on their businesses, not ours. If we want their help, we have to ask for it. This is that whole proactive, take action thing I was talking about. Providing good service and doing good work will likely eventually provide some referrals. But we want a lot of referrals, and we want them now. 

It makes most people feel really good to help someone. There’s nothing wrong with showing a little vulnerability and asking for help. In fact, this often helps people put their guard down. People like to help - it makes them feel good. As an example, consider calling one of your best clients, who happens to be a property manager:

Hi Jim. I’m hoping you can help me. I’m sure you know a lot of people in the property management business. I’m trying really hard to sign a few large commercial properties before this winter. Can you think of anyone else in your line of work who needs a good snow contractor? I would really appreciate an introduction or any help you can offer. 

Shoot for introductions
Although referrals are awesome, introductions are better. Once you get up the courage to ask your clients to help you, go big. Ask for a personal introduction. It’s hard for someone to ignore you once you’ve been introduced to them by someone they care about. Just remember, once you’ve been introduced or referred, you’re not only representing your company but also the reputation of who referred you. Behave and perform accordingly. 

Reciprocate when you can
The strongest business relationships are a two-way street. Look for ways to help your best clients (and other referral sources) grow their businesses, too. This isn’t always possible, but when it is, it goes a long way toward solidifying a long-standing relationship. Referrals and introductions aren’t the only way you can help. You could send them an article that you came across that might be of interest to them or their business. There are endless ways for us to be helpful. What’s important is to take sincere interest in your clients and referral sources. It doesn’t happen overnight; but this is the type of thinking, combined with providing great service, that will make your network become comfortable introducing you to their inner circles. 

Other referral sources

When we think of referrals, we automatically think from clients; however, other stakeholders share a vested interest in our success. Vendors, partners, member associations, community groups and even our employees can become great sources of referrals and introductions. If you’re doing a lot of business with a vendor, and you’re a great company to work with, why wouldn’t they introduce you to their network? Most of the time, however, it doesn’t happen at that level without asking. 

Say thanks
Whenever you are blessed with a referral or an introduction, regardless of whether it turns into business, say thank you. Show how much you actually appreciate the kind gesture. Go out of your way to say thank you. I suggest a handwritten thank-you note or at least a phone call. Email or texting, while certainly convenient, is impersonal and extremely lazy when it comes to a sincere thank you. Remember, someone just invested their reputation into your company. Pick up the phone or drop them a handwritten note. They deserve it. 

Consider giving them a small gift to show your appreciation for the referral. I’m not a huge fan of promising gifts in exchange for referrals. Those types of promotions are missing the point in my opinion. It is sometimes appropriate though to send a small and unexpected token of appreciation. A gift certificate to dinner or event tickets work great, especially if you know their interests. 

When it comes to building lasting business relationships, we need to look past the transaction. We need to think big! We need to ask for what we want. We need to transform our clients into actual advocates for us and our businesses. There is no better source of new business than through referrals and introductions, so doesn’t it make sense to focus significant time and energy on this? Be intentional, be deliberate and take action! 

The 7 essentials of selling snow & ice
  • How to overcome price objections and win business without negotiating price.
  • How to be more expensive than your competition and still get the job.
  • How to qualify prospects.
  • How to put a precise plan in place to accomplish your sales goals.
  • How to track and measure your sales activities; what gets measured gets managed.
  • How to target the clients you want to work with and stop chasing RFPs.
  • How to get more referrals. 
Mike Voories, CSP, is the chief operating officer at Brilar, a commercial landscape & snow maintenance firm with locations across the Midwest. He also is a consultant to the service industries. Contact him at
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