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The Power of Referrals
by Rieva Lesonsky
June 23, 2024
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Whether you own an accounting firm that caters to other business owners, a cupcake bakery, or a residential landscaping business, getting referrals from satisfied customers is one of the best ways to attract new customers.

What tactics do most small business owners use to get referrals, and which ones actually work best?

A new study, The State of Business Customer Referral Programs, polled both B2B and B2C business owners to find out. Here’s what you should know.

Most popular referral methods

The referral methods that business owners use most are:

  • Lead forms - 77 percent
  • Email - 73 percent
  • Verbal - 54 percent
  • Social media - 50 percent
  • Shareable URLs - 41 percent
  • Print cards - 18 percent

Most business owners in the study say the majority of their referrals come from social media (29 percent) and email (23 percent).

Best conversion rate

Social media may generate a large volume of referrals, but it’s not so effective at converting them.

  • Verbal referrals — 32 percent result in sales
  • Lead forms — 19 percent result in sales
  • Email — 17 percent result in sales
  • Print cards — 12 percent result in sales
  • Shareable URL — 4 percent result in sales
  • Social media — 1 percent result in sales

Incentives for making referrals

What types of incentives to business owners offer in return for referrals?

  • Gift cards — 52 percent
  • Check — 29 percent
  • Bill credit — 9.5 percent
  • Merchandise — 9.5 percent

Who makes referrals?

 Overall, businesses are fairly successful at getting customers to give them referrals:

  • 61 percent of customers make one referral
  • 34 percent of customers make 2 to 10 referrals
  •   5 percent of customers make 11 or more referrals

How can you get more referrals?

  • The majority of customers make one referral, but you can improve your referral rate by focusing on those customers who make a lot of referrals.
    That’s 40 percent of customers in the survey, so it’s a large target. When a customer gives you a referral, take note of what method worked. For example, if someone gives you an email referral, continue contacting them by email for additional referrals throughout the year.
  • You can also increase your success rate by focusing on customers whose referrals actually converted to sales.
    People are more likely to patronize companies that their friends and colleagues rave about. If Phillip referred Julio to your landscaping business after you landscaped Phillip’s yard, and Julio asks you to landscape his yard as well, the friends they have in common will see both yards and be more likely to use your services when they need landscaping.
  • Maintain an active presence on social media.
    The more active your landscaping business is on social media, the more likely you are to be top of mind with a customer when a friend or colleague starts to talk about wanting to redo his backyard. Post useful content, like gardening tips, or content that shows your skill, like photos of your customers’ finished yards. Connect with past customers, especially those who have referred more than one person to you. These “super-referrers” are generally influencers within their own social circles (or like to think of themselves that way), making them more apt to give you additional referrals.
  • Incentives don't hurt when it comes to getting more referrals for your business.
    If you're worried that you'll be giving away a lot of gift cards or free merchandise for referrals that don't pan out to sales, restrict your incentives to referrals that actually lead to a sale. This is an accepted procedure, especially in the B2B world. You can also tailor the incentive to the customer—depending on how well you know the person, you can probably tell if they'd be more likely to appreciate a check or free merchandise from your business.

Your SCORE mentor can help you strategize the best ways to get more referrals for your particular type of business. Why not return the favor by referring other business owners you know to SCORE? Tell them to visit the SCORE website and get matched with a mentor today.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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Three Young Female Friends Meeting Sit At Table In Coffee Shop And Talk
The Art of Referrals
You have a business, but are people talking about it? Find how to find and get the word out via valuable referrals.
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