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Referrals can be a powerful growth agent if you know how to secure themBananaStock/Getty Images

I recently sat on a panel to discuss marketing tactics and strategies for business owners. Although it seemed as though we touched on nearly every marketing ploy under the sun, the panel failed to discuss the two most important approaches for growth until I brought them up at the end: partnerships, which I wrote about in my column here, and referrals.

In fact, one gentleman stood up in the crowd and proclaimed that he 'sucked' at getting referrals and needed help. When I asked him how he was currently trying to get referrals, he told me that he was asking his clients: "Do you know anyone who would be a good fit for our business?" and "who can you introduce us to that would make a good client for us?"

While those questions seem straightforward, they're ineffective because of their breadth. Often the response you'll get is, "I don't know, but let me think about it."

Referrals can be a powerful growth agent if you know how to secure them. Below are three strategies I have used for myself and clients over the years to drive business in organizations of all kinds and sizes.

1. Let numbers tell the story. One of the best ways to generate a referral is to ruthlessly focus on quantifying, measuring and comparing the economic or productive value of what you do. Businesses that collect referrals the fastest are those that can prove they have either made or saved a company money. After all, it's much easier to sell tangible, predictable results than something abstract.

If you were to sit down with all of your past clients and develop a series of comparative metrics that paint an elaborate picture of the concrete financial impact you've had in terms of savings or profits, two things will happen: first, they will have an enhanced appreciation for your value; and second, you'll arm them with a proposition they can deliver to clients, suppliers and peers to refer more people to you.

So start by measuring the financial impact you've had on the client and present that finding so they can appreciate all the work you've done. Once they realize your value, then you can encourage them to approach anyone in their lives who may be in similar situations as they were in.

2. Forget the middleman. Instead of asking for referrals, take a more direct approach and tell your clients you're going to contact someone they know.

Before you write this off as crossing a line, do some advance research by scouring LinkedIn and finding viable businesses connected to your client. Once you've found that key person, approach your client and say, "Jane, I'm going to be calling Joe next week to talk about my product. Can I tell him about the success that we've had working together?"

It's important to note that I didn't ask for permission to call Joe. I'm telling Jane that I will be calling Joe, meaning I have an appointment set up with Joe already. This approach makes it easier for Jane to say yes. Also, I didn't ask for the referral, which can be seen as something under Jane's control that she owns. Instead, I asked to share the success we've had together which is a mutual story that we both own.

These slight changes in how you approach a client about a referral make a significant difference from a psychological stand point and will significantly increase your chances of gaining a referral.

3. Be bold. Another way to get more referrals is to make it a condition of business. In other words, your clients must provide you with referrals in order to do business with you. While it's a bold move, I've seen this work time and time again with resounding levels of success.

When meeting with prospects, let them know up front that a condition of doing business with you is receiving a set number of referrals within a certain period of time that you would set.

This method gets easier the more you do it. Once your clients are aware of this condition, it'll be easier for you to explain in the future.

Ryan Caligiuri is the founder of Ryan Caligiuri International, a growth consultancy focused on developing programs that generate credibility, competitive advantages, leads/demand and new revenue streams for small– to medium-sized enterprises. Mr. Caligiuri is also the founder of The Growth Network a mentoring program that teaches entrepreneurs and marketers best practices, frameworks and strategies to become business growth generators.

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