Want to grow your business in a tough economy?  Use the power of your existing relationships to grow your sales.  Tap into reciprocity when asking for referrals.

Reciprocity is defined as “mutual exchange” – the give and take of life.  And in a slow economy reciprocity can be your LIFELINE!  Many times referrals can be one-sided.  When we focus on what we give as well as get, we are more successful.

3 Lessons Learned to Give, Take and Give for Referrals

Lesson 1:  Give great value and your best referral source will be your loyal customers.

Who are your loyal customers?  These are customers who will “sing your praises” given the opportunity.  They know you provide great value to them and TRUST you. They stick by you in hard times because they know you will do the right thing for them.


GIVE your loyal customers the opportunity to share referrals!  This looks/sounds very different depending on what you are asking.  For example:

I did great work for a loyal customer and she valued our results and relationship.  But this never led to referrals.  In considering her needs, I realized that she might be concerned that I would be less available to her if I had more work!

To help ease this concern, I approached asking for referrals differently.  First, I assured her how important our relationship was to me.  Second, I let her know that I had positioned my company for more growth through additional consultants and was looking to secure work for those consultants.  And finally, I asked who she might know that would benefit from the work we do in strengthening customer loyalties.

She had two names for me within a week!

Lesson 2: Help them help you!  Identify your ideal referral and the value that you provide. Make it easy for your referrer to understand what you can do for your ideal referrals.  They only know what you do for them and may not be able to explain it to anyone else.


Answer these two questions to make TAKING referrals easy:

  1. Who makes a good referral for you?  Help your referrer identify opportunities that will be good business for you.  What companies are you best positioned to serve with your product/service?
  2. What is the value you provide?  Explain the value in a sentence or less so your referrer can articulate it to others for you.

After 9/11 when the economy slowed, I contacted our loyal customers to review updates, talk about how we might serve them in the future and THEN said, “As we look to the future of our business, we are ready to help more people like you.  Who else is in a position such as yours that might benefit from increasing sales 5-25% this next year?”

Notice I didn’t give them, “Who can you introduce me to?”  Or, “I’d like the names of everyone in your address book.”  I was specific to the value we could provide to make it easier for them to refer specific people/companies.

Over 80% of these loyal customers provided at least one referral.

Lesson 3: Follow-up and reciprocate!  Closing the loop from a referral is extremely important in the give and take of a referral process.


  1. Give updates.  Periodically keep your referrer updated on the status.  A quick message telling them you have initiated contact or you have a meeting scheduled is always a welcome surprise and closes that loop.  A side benefit is that they might help you even more.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I couldn’t get in touch with a referral for months.  When I followed up with the referrer, he said, “Hang on, Ill conference us all together and get this done!”  Wow, in a minute’s time I was on a call “meeting” this referral and scheduling an appointment!
  2.  Give value back to the referrer.  Reciprocate their generosity.  The value can be in a referral to them, a thank you note, information to help them with something, or a  heart-felt THANK YOU.

Relationships have always been the foundation to long-term successful business. The value of relationships is even higher during a slow economy.  Focusing on the give and take of asking for referrals will show how you VALUE your most loyal relationship and give you opportunities to build new ones.