What the Heck is a Referral Experience?

If you are going to generate referrals without asking for them you are going to have to create a referral experience for your referral sources, the people who send you referrals or those you want to send you referrals.

Just dropping in or calling to say hi every few weeks isn’t going to cut it.

Neither is your automated eNewsletter or those generic cards you send that you didn’t even sign.

You are going to have to do better.  Much better.

You are going to have to create an experience.

An experience created through connections that build and strengthen a relationship.  Because referrals only come from relationships and it is critical that you have solid relationships with your referral sources.  The best relationships with referral sources have an experience factor because they make us feel a certain way – appreciated, valued and important.

Experience Deprivation   

We are experience deprived in our society today.  We will rave online or to friends about a wonderful experience we just had in a restaurant because the food was good, the service was good and we were greeted when we arrived.

But isn’t that what is supposed to happen when you go to a restaurant?  Why is that so “shareable?”

Because we lack experiences with the brands we interact with, from the people we do business with, and the product and services we use.

We are so experienced deprived that we over-dramatized what should be considered normal.

Think about the last handwritten thank you note you received.  Did it get your attention?  Were you excited to find it amidst all of your bills and junk mail.  Did you place the card on your kitchen counter or desk at work or pin it to a board on your wall?  And then when it was time to take it down from the wall or desk – did you by chance slip it into a box with other notes and keepsakes so you could keep it?

It was a card for Pete’s sake.  But it mattered because of what it represented…someone took a moment out of their day to sit and think about you, and then put those thoughts into writing.

While a thank you card isn’t free like an email, it is close to free (stamps are still less than a $1.00) and a thank you card has 10x the impact on the receiver. Because it impacts their feelings.  You should never underestimate the power of impacting someone’s feelings, in this case, in a very positive way.

Maya Angelou’s said it best when she said,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When people ask me how my referral generating process is different from others, I always point to the referral experience.  The referral experience is a planned approach to connect with our referral sources in an ongoing way to show gratitude for their trust in sending people to us who need our help.  The referral experience is focused on evoking emotion and feelings because my – and your – referral sources are the most important part of my business.

Most other referral trainings focus on the basic outreach to stay top of mind but when you create a referral experience you go further than just basic outreach like daily calls, cards sent, drop ins at their office.  A referral experience goes deeper, with greater impact and it a lot more fun to execute on (yes, I said fun!).  There are four parts to a referral experienced you need to understand.

  1. Focus
  2. Connection
  3. Touchpoints
  4. Genuine

The referral experience is always focused on the referral source and makes a connection between your gratitude and what they did for you (sent a referral).  That connection and gratitude is shown through touchpoints which are designed to be memorable and meaningful.  And above all else, everything is intentional and genuine.

Let’s break these parts down for you and explain them in greater detail.  But what might also be helpful is the Referral Experience Touchpoint Checklist I created that you can download and reference as you are creating your touchpoints that will make up the overall experience.

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The focus of the referral experience is always on the referral source.  Whatever you do in creating the experience you do it with only one person’s needs in mind…the referral source.  They are the hero and should be treated as such.  You can learn more about the importance of the referral source in this blog post about understanding the referral mindset.

What is important to remember in creating your referral experience is that your focus is always on the referral source.  But keep in mind you should be comfortable with the touchpoint or it won’t be genuine. For example – no matter how much my referral source likes golf, I would be miserable for a day of 18-holes, even just 9-holes so I would not invite my referral source to play golf with me.  But I might send him to enjoy a round of golf with a buddy on me.  You don’t have to be in attendance for the impact to be felt by your referral source.


A referral experience connects in two ways.  First, it connects what you are doing – like the round of golf example above – with why you are doing it – as a thank you for the referrals received and the support given by the referral source. You’ll notice with the Referral Experience Checklist (download here for free) – Section 3 focuses on making sure your referral source understands why you are reaching out with a card, round of golf, or lunch.  The language you use will make the connection clear to the referral source and should never directly ask for any future referrals.  (Learn why you never ask for referrals here.)

Second, it connects you with your referral source in an ongoing way.   A referral experience is not built on a one-hit wonder.  Now some of your outreach or touchpoints (will be explained next) won’t always hit the mark but a referral experience is the ongoing way you take care of your referral sources.  Some might be big gestures or touchpoints but most will be small but mighty.


Touchpoints are the outreach you do to create the experience with – impact the feelings of – your referral sources.  Touchpoints communicate your appreciation by using the right language, happen in an ongoing way (think 4 to 8 in a year) and are meaningful and memorable.

Connecting the right language to the reason behind a touchpoint is critical to make the impact you are looking to make.

Notice also that the word touchpoints is plural – meaning more than one.  You can’t do one touchpoint and then consider your work done.  Remember no one-hit wonders allowed.  It is important to build out a plan for the overall experience you want to create so you can execute on it throughout the year – extending the ongoing connection and impact.

And touchpoints must be memorable and meaningful because you want what you did to be remembered.  Your touchpoint will be remembered if it was impactful to the referral source – did it make them laugh, smile, appreciate your thoughtfulness, or surprise them?  Being memorable and meaningful extends the impact of the connection and deepens the relationship with your referral sources.


This is perhaps the easiest to explain but when violated can make your referral experience fall apart the quickest.  A referral experience isn’t a manipulative process.  It is genuine and works because you genuinely want to show ongoing appreciation to your referral sources.  You don’t start a referral experience thinking “I will do these couple of things because it will make referrals happen.”  You think “I will take good care of the people who send me referrals and the acts of appreciation will help them remember me when they come across others needing the help I can provide.”  See the difference?

A referral experience is a planned approach to connect with our referral sources in an ongoing way to show gratitude for their trust in sending people to us who need our help.  It has to be set up correctly following the four parts of focus, connection, touchpoints, and being genuine.  It has to be maintained in an on-going way.  And it will then become the most important plan you execute on each and every year.

One final thought to put this in perspective…what is something you remember someone doing for you because you helped them out and they wanted to show you their appreciation?  I recently sent a referral to someone and in the mail received four wooden coasters with my last initial on them. They were unexpected and thoughtful and most importantly – remembered.

So, start thinking about what your referral experience plan should look like and then make sure you have fun executing on it!  (But, let me end with a point of brutal honesty – not everything in the plan will be “fun” – writing dozens of thank you cards in one sitting is tiring but knowing the appreciation my referral sources will receive when they receive the cards makes the tired wrist worth it.)

And don’t forget to download the Referral Experience Touchpoint Checklist so you can hone in on making sure each touchpoint will hit the mark with your referral sources.

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