How to Ask for Referrals

In my travels and communications with basketball program directors, I frequently get asked what’s the latest and greatest marketing strategy that we’re using in to gain new athletes in our program. I love hearing that because I believe strongly that it is important to pay attention to what's going on off the court. It’s exciting because there are new methods of promoting your program - primarily the Internet - that were unavailable just a few years ago.

With that said, the many of our athletes (and probably yours as well) come from referrals from existing athletes in our program. We all know how much easier it is to enroll someone when their friend is already in the program. This month, I want to focus on how to maximize your referrals.

To begin with, we need to remember that to get a referral two things have to happen. First off, the athlete must believe in our program. They need to be a raving fan. No one will refer a friend to a program that they view as mediocre. Next, you have to be willing to ask your athletes for referrals. I am amazed by the fact that, however simple this may seem, many coaches just simply forget to do this or don't feel comfortable doing it.

Now let's review a few guidelines that will help you in your quest for referrals. I like to keep the following acronym in mind – ABTR. This stands for “Always Be Thinking Referrals.” When you have this mindset you’ll be surprised at how many referral opportunities will present themselves to you.

Next, make sure to constantly work on developing relationships with parents and athletes. First, you should do this because it is the right thing to do. Secondly, it makes asking for referrals much easier when you already have a relationship in place. Whenever possible, ask leading questions regarding their experience, “How has your training benefited you / your family / your child, etc.?”

If you get a lukewarm answer, don’t ask for a referral. Instead, find out what the challenge is and then do your best to turn them back into a raving fan. On the other hand, if you get an enthusiastic response then the referral conversation will be much easier.

Here are a couple of referral guidelines to work with:

Ask permission: “Would you mind talking about the possibility of you referring a friend?" Or “Do you have a friend or family member who would benefit from the program?” If yes, then ask, “Great, who would that be? Can I give you a guest pass to share with them?” Finally, make sure to follow up the next time you see them by saying, “By the way, did you ever get a chance to give _______ a guest pass?”

If you've never had a referral system in place, this concept can seem quite overwhelming. It might seem hard to figure out where to start. An easy way to begin is to simply ask one athlete or parent a day for a referral. Within a few months you will talk to everyone and then you simply start the process over again.

Finally, remember that although we want to always be thinking referrals, we never want to be too pushy. Soft selling is always a better long-term approach. And we’re all in this for the long haul.

So cinch up your laces, pay attention, and let’s build something great together! 



Richard L. Campbell


Rick Campbell