Why Your Customers Don’t Refer Your Product and the Simple, 4-step System to Compel Them to Reliably Refer

Let me tell you a story that might sound painfully familiar: last year I bring on a rad new client- a super inspiring company that trains wellness and life coaches to create lasting transformative change for their clients, and also teaches these coaches how to grow their coaching businesses.

Why Your Customers Don’t Refer Your Product and the Simple, 4-step System to Compel Them to Reliably Refer

Now, this company was creating breakthrough results for the coaches who participate in their program, with students and grads giving nearly universally positive feedback of their programs; yet those same happy customers weren’t referring others to the program.

Like, almost not at all.

Each time they prepared to launch the next round of their program, they’d get in a mad last-minute scramble for registrations and then remember to email past grads and ask them to help spread the word about the upcoming offering.

The first three-fourths of their email went something like…

“Our next program is coming up! We'll give you $500 for every person you send our way!”

It was more eloquent and evocative than that, but it was essentially a dangled cash carrot.

Mystified at why their first request garnered negligible results, they sent another and another request.

Their results plummeted further until at last their once-loyal list of grads began unsubscribing from their list altogether. Ouch.

What went wrong?

These results aren't anomalous; they’re typical. I work with a lot of game-changing businesses who sell training and education aimed at causing a particular result in their customers’ lives, in their businesses, relationships, well-being, and other specialized niches. I’m constantly amazed at how few referrals even the happiest of their customers send their way.

Many of these business's customers are having their lives transformed in profound ways. Yet when the time comes for the business to ask current and past customers to spread the word, they hear crickets.

Ever experienced this? Did it make you scratch your head in amazement, like: “These people LOVE my stuff, they rave about how much they’ve gotten out of it, and yet they won’t even take a cash reward to share it with their friends? What am I, taking crazy pills?”

It’s ironic, but, yes, they did love your stuff, and, no, they’re not going tell anyone about it, and, no, (most of you) are not taking crazy pills.

There are, however, three essential things you may be doing wrong:

1. Mission Trumps Money

If you’re a mission-driven business (like, you’re trying to create some change in people’s lives, businesses, bodies, relationships, etc. or affect change on the planet), then, in most cases, offering monetary incentive muddies the primary psychological driver on which you should be relying: your mission.

It comes down to the way humans are wired. The desire for financial gain and the desire to help our friends with a great recommendation that could change their life – those two parts of the brain – are utterly distinct. If your aim is to motivate your customers to spread the good word about your business so that their friends and neighbors can enjoy the same benefit while simultaneously making the world a better place by spreading your business's mission, then put away your money and pound that drum – the rallying cry of your mission.

Muddying the motivation by offering referral commissions confuses your customers on a subconscious level while diluting the potency of both the mission and the monetary motivation.

Ultimately, when you do this, your confused customer moves on to the next thing in their day, without being moved to share for you, because they lack the laser-sharp clarity they need about why they’re referring.

They’re not sure: are they in it to make a quick buck, or are they helping change the world by enlightening another’s soul? The two motivators cannot simultaneously occupy the same space (their cabeza) at the same time. No es posible, amigo.

2. Sow, nurture, then (and only then) harvest

If you haven’t built opportunities for your customers, students, members, clients, whatever, to share the benefits they’re getting from your product throughout (and directly after) the process, then your request for referrals won't be nearly as potent. This is because, without gaining experience talking about the benefits they’re getting from your product as they’re consuming the product, they’ll lack the precious fluency they need to comfortably and authentically share about your product. Then, when you hit them up later to essentially sell it for you, it feels weird, awkward and pressurized.

You wouldn’t try to harvest fruit from a tree you failed to plant, forgot to fertilize, and never watered, right? Why would you expect to reap referrals from customers who haven’t been carefully primed and prepared to refer?

3. “Systemless in Seattle”

If every time you start promoting for the next program, you merely cross your fingers, and start from scratch, pummeling your past customers with a barrage of pleading emails, then you’re laying a solid foundation for failure.

You’re just taking a series of spasmodic actions again, that haven’t worked in the past, and hoping for a different result. That’s insanity, friend. Loco en la cabeza, amigo!

If you want to apply your most strategic, creative self to this (and any) problem, then I recommend you stop attacking that same problem over and over again like killing snakes with a stick. Instead, create a system that allows you to solve it once, and solve it with genius.

Then, once you’ve designed and mapped out the system for how you’ll plant your seeds of sharing, you’ll want to automate that system. Or, if you'd rather save a lot of time and hassle and get an already-proven strategic system right into your Ontraport account, I recommend checking out the Leg Up program, which contains (among many others) The Invisible Referral Machine system already done for you and ready for you to simply customize and deploy.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper:

1. Sow Seeds:

Take a step back and look at your offering. At each point in the fulfillment of your product or service, look for the times when most are getting the big ol’ bangin' benefits.

At every one of those moments, look for a way to build sharing about that benefit, into the customer’s very experience of using the product or service.

For Example:

Let’s say your product is a training program about how to lose weight and cultivate positive self-esteem.

In this case, you might have each lesson's assignment include a prompt to share with three of your closest friends or family members:

  • How you felt when you achieved each weight loss milestone, big and small, as you achieve it
  • One breakthrough you had in positive self-talk, say, sharing what words you used to use mentally badmouth yourself, and what new thoughts you’ve replaced those hurtful ones with as you’ve cultivated your newfound self-compassion.

…or, if appropriate, you might have the assignment be to make a “victory post” on social media, tooting their horn at what they've accomplished out of their using your product or participating in your program.

Keep the Prompts to Share Non-Salesy:

That your customers are participating in this cool training program will be a natural element to the conversation; however, you need to remember that the intention for your customers sharing what they're getting out of your product at this stage is NOT to sell anything, but simply to share the victories they’re having. Unless the other person is a kitten-hating narcissist, they’ll naturally be curious about how that change is happening and in all likelihood, be curious about learning more about the program. The absolute worst thing to do at this point is to muddy the waters with anything that could even be construed as vaguely promotional.

It is these kinds of seeds that need to be planted throughout the process of the course.

Then, when finally, the time is right to ask for referrals, your customers’ communities will be rife with candidates, ripe for the harvest.

If you haven't already planted these proverbial seeds in your product or program, no worries.

The best time to plant an apple tree? 20 years ago.
The second best time? Today.

The most important piece to have in place before you ask for referrals is a customer or client who is currently in a state of good feelings and appreciation for your product.

One of the best ways to create those conditions is by getting them to give you a testimonial first, before you ask them to refer their friends. If you're strategic about what you ask when you're getting them to generate their testimonial, they will naturally be brought back into that state, simply by virtue of recalling all the good stuff they got out of your product or program…if you're doing your job, that is.

So when you're setting up your system, do so with a testimonial generation phase before the referral generation phase.

2. Use Incentives that Make the Referrer Look and Feel Good (NOT Money)

The most effective referral programs are 3-prong.

That is, their's something in it for all three parties – the business (so, you), the referrer (your current/past custy) and those they refer (your hopefully new custy!).

If your biz is in one of the “make money” types of niches, where giving referrers regular old cash affiliate commissions is the coin of the trade and nobody cares about your stinkin’ mission, anyway.

For those businesses that are out to make a difference and which have a mission-driven component, what can work better is giving the referrer the opportunity to help their friend out with something special that they couldn't get on their own.

This could be:

  • A discount
  • Access to the product outside of a launch window
  • Extra digital bonuses, group coaching sessions, etc.
  • What else?!

Now, the referrer gets the opportunity to look good in the eyes of the person they're sending your way, by providing special access to something of value they couldn't otherwise have gotten. This is psychologically powerful if you get this right.

In most cases, you'll also want to give your referrers something valuable as well! If you're one of the lucky ones who don't have to rely on cash as the incentive, you should take some time to consider what these customer evangelists will find valuable.

This could be:

  • Early access to a new product before the general public
  • Extra digital bonuses, group coaching sessions, etc.
  • If a single sale is worth a lot to you, it may be warranted to do something like send them a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine!
  • What else?!

3. Extra Ninja Nugget: Only Ask Your Happy Customers for Referrals

You may have the best product on earth, but some of your customers still aren’t going to love it. That’s life.

Pro tip: you don’t want to ask the “haters” to refer. It’s a recipe for hate mail. Thusly, you’ll want an automated system that allows you to get feedback from all your customers, but then only asks those who were happy with their experience for referrals. On the other hand, those who gave negative feedback, giving them the opportunity to vent is critical, because…

  1. You get to learn from their experience and improve, and…
  2. They’re less likely to take to the streets with their message of malice (#blastyourassonsocial).

This can also be automated if you have the right system in place. In fact, if you'd like, we've taken all of the heavy lifting out of creating this very system. You can learn more about Leg Up, which contains The Testimonial Engine and the Invisible Referral Machine, right here.

4. Give Specific, Measurable Calls to Action:

“Please help spread the word” is ten kinds of lame.

It’s vague and squishy. People have no way to know, for certain, how they should go about spreading the word, nor any way to know, objectively if they’ve fulfilled the request.

Instead, use the same framework that most successful people use for setting goals when you create your referral request plea…make 'em SMART… er, SMART-I!

  • S-  Specific: clear – the opposite of vague
  • M – Measurable: Can be counted
  • A – Actionable and achievable: When someone reads it (or sees you asking them to do it in a video) they understand exactly what actions are required and they can see themselves actually achieving what you're asking them to do
  • R – Relevant: Your request for them is relevant to your mission – the two ideas must be connected – and the act of their referring MUST clearly further your mission and allow them to be part of the fulfillment of that mission.
  • T – Time-bound (if possible): if you can add in a time-bound component, so much the better! This can sometimes be done with “we're out to help X people in Y days…will you think of 3 people you want to share this within the next 3 days?”
  • I –  Inspiring: it's gotta light people up!

Less-than-good example:


We need your help! Will you help spread the word by telling your friends about [name of product]?

We've been working so hard to make XYZ product awesome in XYZ ways and we know your people will love it!

Please send 'em here to learn more!


Anders McScamperton

Better example:

I just got done readhing the incredible feedback you left about our “Sanity School” program. Wow. It's so inspiring to read what a difference it's made in you and your family's life.
In fact, I popped it right into this email so you could be reminded of the beautiful things you had to say about it.


We have a mission – to help one million children and their families overcome the crushing limitations of ADHD and thrive in their lives by the year 2025.
That's what gets us up in the morning. It's our BIG WHY.
But it's a wildly audacious goal.
So audacious, that we literally can't do it alone. We need you.
As one of the people whose family and lives have been touched by our work, we are asking you for your help.
Would you do that for us? If so, you have my deepest gratitude. Please read on for exactly how you can help us achieve our mission.

Here's how you can help:

First, will you please close your eyes (I know, I know) and think of between one and three kids in your life or your kids' lives who have ADHD? Once you've got that child or children in your mind…

Now, given all you said about how Sanity School has made a difference for you and your family, please consider reaching out to these people to let them know about Sanity School.

Depending on your relationship with these people, email may be a nice way to reach out about this. You can just briefly let them know the difference Sanity School has made for you and your family, and extend them a special discount (or free 1-week trial) if they'd like to join. You can also let them know that if they register through your special link, that they'll be able to register right now (even though we're closed for registration for everyone else).  Here's your special link (be sure to include that link so we know it was YOU who sent these folks our way!) [INSERT UNIQUE LINK HERE]. 

If it feels right, we'd also be so grateful if you'd make a similar heartfelt share on social media in case there are families in your social network who are suffering in silence…what a difference it will make if even ONE family sees that post and gets the kind of life-changing results that you have. Yes?

I know this is a BIG ask, but imagine how you would grateful you would have been to whoever told you about Sanity School.

Oh, and we're playing a little game here at IMPACT HQ, we want to see how much closer we can get to reaching our crazy goal in the next week – would you be willing to play that game along with us by reaching out to your community with the above request in the next week?

Finally, I get the feeling, based on the stuff you said about Sanity School, that you would help us reach this goal simply because you're moved to help other children and families to overcome the challenges from ADHD, but as our way of saying “thanks” for your help, we'd love to give you a special, exclusive trial of our year-long group coaching program – Focus Mastery [insert link] when any of the people you refer joins Sanity School.


Diane and Elaine

How to Deploy this Referral Strategy in Your Business:

You've got the strategy! Now you can do the work to deploy it in your business.

Or, if you'd like, you can save yourself a month or so with the Leg Up program!

You can learn more about Leg Up, which contains The Testimonial Engine and the Invisible Referral Machine, right here.

I use ONTRAPORT to implement the system, but you could just as well use Infusionsoft (or string together a host of other apps, which I don’t recommend.)  If you (wisely) decide to sign up for ONTRAPORT you’ll also get my LaunchPad program (valued at $1,982) for FREE! Just sayin’