Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How To Write Great Emails Asking For Referrals

referral emails

Great referral emails grow your business and give you more happy customers.

It’s quite simple, really:

  1. Customer referrals bring you better customers who spend more and stick around longer.
  2. The more referrals you get, the better your business does.
  3. One of the best ways to ask for more referrals is by emailing your existing customers to ask for them.

This post is written to help you do that, and as effectively as possible.

(NOTE: If you’re looking to set up your own referral program, check out ReferralCandy. Try it free today.)

So, what do you need to do to get the most out of a referral email?

(Click to jump to the relevant section)

1. Focus on the subject line: a higher % open rate gets you more referrals.

engaging subject lines
Image credit: Retargeting.biz

How important are subject lines exactly?

People are really busy and overwhelmed with information. If you can’t immediately answer the questions “Why should I read this email?” and “What’s in it for me?”, they’re going to either ignore or delete it.

As David Ogilvy said about headlines, “When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

The same applies to email subject lines today.

Okay, so how do we improve the effectiveness of our subject lines?

1a. Be clear, not clever:

A 2011 case study conducted by AWeber Communications found that a ‘clear’ subject line gets 541% more clicks than one that’s ‘clever’.

Here were the examples they suggested:


  • It’s finally here!
  • Great gifts for your site
  • ABC Associates’ Always Awesome Amber Adams


  • 10 new fonts for your marketing campaigns
  • 15% of social media reviews will be fake by 2014 [Gartner Study]
  • 3 ideas to improve email results from a panel of experts

That means you could be getting potentially up to 5 times more customer referrals from your emails, just by improving your subject lines!

1b. Be personal:

Speak directly to your customers and prospective advocates. Use “you” and “your” over “we” and “our”.

Image Credit: Intercom

Put yourself in the shoes of your recipient. What would THEY really like to receive, independent of your goals and interests?

For more good reads about writing better subject lines, I recommend:

2. Keep it really simple – “Give $20, Get $20” works!

A skeletal template of what a referral email can look like.


The more effort somebody needs to put into making sense of whatever you say, the less likely they are to do something about it.

In general, you want to make sure that you have:

  • Personalized email greeting with name
  • Reminder that they use your product
  • Ask what you want them to do
  • Describe benefit
  • End with a clear, concrete call-to-action

3. Make sure the call-to-action is impossible to ignore.

Intercom has a great blogpost about email open rates where they discuss this. Here’s a visual they used to describe the phenomenon:

Image Credit: Intercom

It’s self-explanatory: If you’re emailing somebody to ask them to do something, make sure that you make it super obvious to them what the next action is!

Again, remember that people are busy. The less cognitive load, the better.

And if you want to make it really simple? Just include the referral link in every email you send. It’s easy to do with ReferralCandy for Mailchimp.

4. Understand the main purchase motivation and play that up (e.g. Goldieblox is to help girls get comfortable with science and engineering)


It’s a well-established fact of psychology and marketing that people act in ways that are consistent with their identity.

If you want somebody to do take an action, one of the best ways to get them to do it is to help them see that it’s consistent with what they already believe.

You already know something about why people care about your products, why it matters to them, and so on. Tap into that. Emphasize it in your copy and in your visuals.

Learn more about the Commitment and Consistency effect: A Foot In The Door: 7 Examples Of Commitment and Consistency in Marketing

5. Highlight the benefit to the Friend AND Advocate: It’s easier for everyone to say yes if everybody wins.

Double-sided incentives make it clear that everybody wins.

Reciprocity is at the heart of social behavior. (See: The Norm Of Reciprocity, and countless studies) We’re conditioned to reciprocate, sometimes even when we don’t really want to!

As such, rewarding both the advocate and the friend is often the most efficient way to persuade advocates to make referrals. (You could offer a huge referral reward without any friend offer, but that’ll cost you.)

  1. It taps into their natural desire to help their peers
  2. It persuades them that their self-interest isn’t entirely selfish
  3. It gives them an easy proposition to share with their friends. (“We both win!”)


Learn more about the power of Reciprocity: Giving Before You Get: 10 Examples Of Reciprocity in Marketing

6. Include any conditions that they might have (i.e. Friend has to spend $50 or more, etc.)


If your referral program is set up to include minimum orders and/or other conditions, state it upfront.

You don’t want people to get excited about something and then later get upset because they weren’t clear about what you meant.

This might seem like it’s a mistake on their part, but it’s your responsibility to address it if you want to get repeat referrals from happy customers!

P.S. This is easiest to do with ReferralCandy for Mailchimp.
This integration is available for all ReferralCandy users! 

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Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.