Referrals in Reverse: 3 Simple Steps

We’re all familiar with the concept of asking for referrals. It’s the proven practice of requesting from a satisfied customer an introduction to someone who might benefit from using your products and services. Asking for referrals is a win-win-win business activity.

It’s a win for your customers, because they get to introduce friends to a trusted advisor: you. It’s a win for their friends, because they learn about you from someone they trust. And, obviously, it’s a win for you because referrals have a four times better chance of doing business than a non-referred sales lead.

MORE: Two Incredibly Simple Steps to Getting More Referrals

But here’s twist on this proven practice: Identify people you want to do business with in the future and find customers you’ve done business with who already know them. Then ask for an introduction. I call this getting referrals in reverse. Here are three simple steps to doing this:

1. Create a referral roster

A referral roster is a simple list of the people who match your customer family profile who have not done business with you yet. It’s your client wish list.

When you do this you’ll start to discover the very small world in which we live. Statistician Dan Seligman wrote a groundbreaking article a few years ago for Forbes magazine entitled, Me and Monica. In it he concluded that any two people on earth can be linked by five or fewer intermediaries. The popular party game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, confirms this principle. A referral roster is a simple a way of tapping into this reality.

2. Search for existing connections

Once your referral roster is in place, look for connections between the people you know and the people you would like to know. Both LinkedIn and Facebook make this task relatively easy. Scroll through the friends list of your Facebook friends or explore the second and third degree connections of contacts on LinkedIn.

Or you could could be revolutionary and just say, “Hey, do you know … ?”

3. Ask for an introduction

When I uncover a connection using a referral roster, I simply ask for an introduction. I’ve never been told no. This beats the blank stares that often occur when you ask for a referral using another method.

Here a three kinds of introductions to ask for: good, better, and best.


Good is using the name of the person who gave you the referral in the subject line of an email, the first paragraph of a letter, or the first words of a voice mail in contacting this prospect. A warm call like this is very effective, and I’ve opened many successful business relationships with them.


A better approach, however, is to have the client who’s referring you touch base with the person first before you contact them. Ask your client to tell them that you’ll be in touch and why they’re recommending your work. This virtually guarantees a first appointment.


They very best introduction is a live meeting with you, your client, and their referral. Go out to breakfast, take a coffee break, have lunch or beers after work, or fire up a GoToMeeting session. I’ve had the most amazing things happen in these meetings where a client once turned to his friend and said, “Just go with his most expensive option. You’ll never regret it.”

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