10 Best Referral Lead Generation Sources by Industry

Referral leads are optimal because they are already interested in what your business has to offer, are more likely to convert, and statistically represent a higher customer lifetime value. Here are the best general and industry-specific “centers of influence” you can use to generate referral leads and the tools you need to manage and maximize your referral lead generation sources.

Industry-Specific Centers of Influence

A lead referral source is anyone who helps you with lead generation by recommending your business to someone. Depending on your business and industry, certain types of professionals and businesses are a prime “center of influence” for your customer types.

Centers of influence are a good source of referral leads due to the types of people they interact with or based on the compatibility of your company’s products or services. Plus, their customers are more likely to ask for and trust their recommendations. In fact, referred leads are 30% more likely to convert and have a 16% higher average lifetime value than leads generated from other sources.

The best referral lead generation sources include general centers of influence that produce referral leads for many different types of businesses and specialized sources that are a good source for specific industries. Having your sales reps and those in leadership roles connect with referral sources is part of a solid sales management strategy for lead generation.

Here are 10 centers of influence that make excellent sources for referral lead generation:

Keep in mind that some of the referral scenarios above can also be reversed. For example, while a mortgage lender is a great referral source for a real estate agent or title company, real estate agents and title companies are also good referral sources for a mortgage broker. The same holds true for health services, digital marketing agencies, insurance agencies, finance professionals, and so on.

Pro tip: Treat referral lead generation sources as you would any prospect by sending email introductions and continuously nurturing them. Use the contact management tools found in your customer relationship management (CRM) software to organize referral source information. For example, Bitrix24 lets you view all contacts in a list or record view if they are leads, accounts, or referral partners.

Contacts in Bitrix24 show detailed information and a search bar for filtering contacts.

Bitrix24 contact list view (Source: Bitrix24)

1. Best General Referral Lead Generation Source

Accountants providing bookkeeping and tax preparation services are a good general source for many different types of business referrals. They work with a wide variety of businesses, solopreneurs, and private individuals, and have a fairly intimate understanding of their clients’ financial situations and spending habits.

This knowledge and their role makes them a trusted resource as far as recommending products or services clients can use to solve problems or save money. Accountants also traditionally have a broad network of connections due to the volume of recurring clients they take on, and their expanded network as a whole can be useful as a referral lead generation source.

Say, for example, an accountant is reconciling a human resources (HR) consultant’s books for end-of-year tax filings. They find that the consultant spent much more on legal services for contract generation and compliance assistance than their other clients with similar businesses. Because of this, they refer their client to a lawyer whose firm can produce these kinds of services for a much better value.

Another example could be seen in personal-level services. If an accountant is filing a client’s personal income taxes and finds that client has a significant amount of income remaining after expenses, this is a perfect segue to introduce the client to a financial adviser who can assist with finding higher-return investments.

2. Best Referral Lead Generation Source for B2B Businesses

Commercial loan officers provide business financing to a wide array of companies both in terms of types and sizes. This connects them with everything from startup firms and growing businesses to established companies, creating referral lead generation opportunities for nearly any type of business-to-business (B2B) product or service seller. Plus, the recommendations of loan officers are highly trusted because of the depth at which they work with and understand their clients’ operations.

For example, if you are an insurance agent with great products for startup businesses, build and nurture relationships with commercial loan officers so that once a new business has been approved for financing, the agent recommends you for the startup’s insurance needs. This arrangement can work with all types of businesses that provide products or services to other businesses.

3. Best Source of Referrals for IT Consultants, Management Firms & Software Businesses

Technology consultants manage or advise on cybersecurity, data management, equipment, productivity software, communications software and tools, and overall IT strategy. Just about any business that offers technology solutions can leverage relationships with technology consultants for leads, and vice versa.

IT management firms and managed-service providers (MSPs) typically use a subscription or retainer-based model to overlook and monitor a business’ IT operations. Any time a technology consultant performs an evaluation or tech audit for their client, they could easily recommend a specific IT management firm to keep tabs and service the IT assets, creating referrals.

Sometimes an IT consultant will find that a new solution isn’t required, but repair or maintenance work is. For this reason, companies that repair or service business technology can also benefit from IT consultant referrals.

Businesses that develop and sell cybersecurity or productivity software products can leverage technology consultants as well. If there is a gap within an organization’s technology assets or cybersecurity program that can be fixed with your software product, the technology consultant is going to be an excellent promoter of that product.

Tech consultants often provide clients with multiple recommendations for software solutions. For example, a growing company might need CRM software and software for HR, customer service, help desk or ticketing, accounting, and business phone system technology.

In this scenario, a voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phone system software sales rep can provide value to technology consultants by educating them on all of the various business software that integrates best with their product. This, in turn, paves the way for strategic referral partnerships among software providers’ agents as well.

Pro tip: To introduce yourself and periodically touch base with your lead referral sources, use meeting scheduling software to streamline the process of setting up meetings and syncing them your calendar. Tools like Calendly make it easy to let others pick a convenient time and channel based on your availability, then automatically adds the appointment to your calendar.

An image of Calendly schedule meeting page with calendar for schedule meeting time.

Calendly time scheduling (Source: HubSpot)

4. Best Referral Lead Sources for Real Estate Agents, Title Companies & Mortgage Lenders

During a real estate transaction between a seller and a buyer, several different types of businesses are involved, from finding houses to closing. This multi-party involvement creates a natural channel of referral lead generation opportunities for all the service providers in the mix.

Buyers generally get loan pre-approval before shopping for a home, so mortgage lenders are a solid referral source for real estate agents looking for buyer clients. Or a client may approach a realtor who first recommends a mortgage lender to obtain a pre-approval amount and letter. A real estate or lending agent may also recommend use of a specific title company and agent to ensure a smooth transaction in terms of procuring title insurance and a clean title.

Additionally, insurance agencies that sell homeowners insurance could also be added to this group to pass along referrals. Likewise, home appraisers, handy services, home painters and landscapers, homestagers, real estate photographers and videographers, repair and remodeling contractors, and many other types of home or real estate service businesses can all benefit from mutual referral partnerships.

Pro tip: Buy your real estate leads with online platforms that give you a guaranteed number of exclusive buying and selling leads as well as tools for managing those leads. Market Leader, for instance, acts as a one-stop shop for real estate businesses to handle website development, lead generation, marketing automation, and client relationship management.

Market Leader's dashboard of listings in tablet and smartphone screens.

Market Leader listings and mobile dashboard (Source: Market Leader)

5. Best Referral Lead Sources for Health & Wellness Industry Providers

Health service providers include professionals like doctors, chiropractors, dentists, counselors, physical therapists, dieticians, home healthcare services, and so on. Because they diagnose issues and offer specific treatment options and recommendations, any business that sells health or wellness-related products or equipment or which offers relevant coaching can use them for referral lead opportunities (and in some cases, vice versa).

For instance, if you sell a back pain reliever made from all-natural ingredients, you could market your product to chiropractors and naturopathic practitioners as an option for patients who prefer natural remedies for back pain. Likewise, those offering wellness coaching or physical therapy for post-surgery patients can build relationships with local surgeons and sports medicine facilities as a resource for patients who want those services.

On the flip side, health service professionals such as a medical doctor, chiropractor, dentist, or dietician can also bring in new patients from these connections. If an elderly or disabled person receives home healthcare services, for example, a home healthcare provider could spot something needing specialized attention and refer the patient to a relevant professional.

Pro tip: Reputation is everything when you need to build lead referral sources. Podium enables you to better manage your online reputation by making it easy to send review surveys to your patients, clients, or customers. Reviews are analyzed to see which are most effective and then added to Google, Facebook, and Yelp.

Podium's customer messenger shows review surveys sent to a customer.

Podium customer messenger (Source: Business.com)

6. Best Sources of Referral Leads for Digital Marketing, Content & Media Firms

Digital marketing services help businesses sell, promote, advertise, and gain brand exposure through online methods. This could entail anything from website development or content management to social media, online ads, email marketing, or search engine optimization (SEO). Because much of the work requires audio/visual or written content, those who develop these types of media as a service can look to them as a referral source, and vice versa.

Media developers include anyone who creates content, such as videographers, photographers, SEO copywriters, ghost writers, graphic designers, and even recording services, would be needed for podcasting or video blogging (vlogging). Digital marketing covers a broad spectrum that allows for cross-collaboration between businesses and referral opportunities.

An example would be a digital marketing agency that manages SEO and keyword research for clients, but refers work to an SEO copywriter to write the website copy or blog article and a graphic designer for images, charts, infographics, and other visual content. The content could then either be published by the professional copywriter, go back to the digital marketing agency for content management services (CMS), or be published by the client themself.

Pro tip: The back-and-forth revisions, feedback, and input commonly in digital marketing projects can be best managed using project management software. Popular tools like Trello make it easy to collaborate in teams or with other businesses with Kanban board views, drag-and-drop task progression, and communication tools, all located within the platform.

Trello's project management board in kanban view.

Trello Kanban project management (Source: Trello)

7. Best Referral Lead Sources for Appraisers, Contractors & Risk Management Consultants

Insurance is both a financial and risk management solution that opens up opportunities to refer leads to certain types of businesses. One is appraisers, or anyone who provides valuations on property, because determining the value of something dictates how much insurance coverage needs to be purchased.

Other businesses that could obtain lead referrals from an insurance agency are any type of services needed to make repairs following an event. Examples include many different kinds of home or property contractors, from construction, renovation, and carpentry to plumbing, electrical, HVAC (heat, ventilation, and air conditioning), demolition and cleanup, or remediation businesses, and extends to auto repair and other companies.

In the event of an incident that caused a property loss, an insurance agent can help the client navigate the claim process and recommend firms to help rebuild or fix what was destroyed. For example, auto insurers often have a go-to list of preferred repair companies, and will often require clients to obtain at least one quote from a preferred provider.

The same is often true of home and property insurers. The process can even be so streamlined that the client approves but never has to make contact with the referred company or contractor, such as when ordering remedial work is part of an insurer’s claim handling process. In addition to being far more convenient for the client, this also gives the insurer peace of mind in knowing that the repairs were conducted properly and cost-efficiently.

Risk management consultants are often the beneficiary of recommendations from commercial insurance agents since the agency has a vested interest in protecting the client. In turn, risk management consultants conduct risk analysis and advise businesses with many different types of recommended solutions to prevent losses, from insurance to security or technology.

Pro tip: Get more referrals using a rewards-based customer referral program and manage it using referral management software. ReferralCandy, for instance, is software that lets you automatically distribute customer referral awards, track referral results, and prevent referral fraud.

Editing a referral reward in ReferralCandy.

ReferralCandy editing a reward (Source: P2P Marketing)

8. Best Lead Referral Sources for Accountants, Payroll Processors & Financial Advisers

Financial advisers help individuals and businesses with financial planning and investment decisions. Many of these decisions tend to have tax implications, which is why accountants and tax preparation companies can both rely on financial advisers as a referral lead generation source.

This can also be flipped, where referral leads come from an accountant to the financial planner. For example, a client may build up a considerable amount in savings, and the accountant wants to see that money invested so it earns more interest or offers tax benefits. Since clients place inherent trust in these types of professionals, their recommendations are often followed as a matter of course.

Some financial advisers assist businesses in administering company retirement plans and employee benefits like group life insurance. Managing these benefits requires payroll deductions, usually handled by a payroll processor. This creates opportunities as anytime a new business is ready to offer benefits to employees, the adviser who will administer the benefits can refer business to a payroll processor to manage payroll deductions.

Likewise, an accountant may not want to handle payroll on behalf of their clients. Instead, they would form a strategic referral partnership with a payroll processing company. This is another instance where the process of referral may be seamless for the client, such as an accountant who white labels services from a payroll processing company when a client elects that service.

9. Best Referral Lead Generation Source for Businesses That Serve Startups

Registered agents act as go-betweens to assist new businesses to properly register with the state in order to get the licenses needed to sell their product or service. Because they are one of the first service providers a startup will use, registered agents are a great lead source for businesses that have products or services needed by startups.

Businesses that commonly serve startups include anything that a company might need before opening their doors. For instance, a lawyer is often needed to generate or review lease agreements and master service contracts to help new businesses navigate the red tape.

Lawyers are also often instrumental in setting up partnership agreements and corporate formation. They are equally helpful when a small business is transitioning during early stages, such as going from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability corporation (LLC).

Likewise, real estate agents come in to help startups find and lease commercial business space or offices. Insurance agents and brokers proffer the commercial insurance products a startup will need. Digital marketing agencies help new companies build an online presence. Contractors may be needed to configure retail, manufacturing, storage, or office space as well as to set up technology and equipment.

Registered agents are a prime source for all of these kinds of business when seeking referrals. Anytime something comes up about a task the startup needs to complete, such as generating contracts, getting insurance, finding office space, space planning and infrastructure, or even creating a website and launching digital marketing efforts, the registered agent can be ready with a list of high-quality providers to help them.

10. Best Source of Lead Referrals for Wholesale Businesses & Payment Processors

A payment processor (or payment processing company) provides businesses with solutions to accept payments. This includes things like building the infrastructure to accept offline and online payments, setting up invoicing software and terminals, installing cash registers and checkout technology, and providing equipment and software to accept credit cards.

Payment processing services are essential for most retail businesses and restaurants. A payment processing company’s rep is often close with their customers and has an extensive network. Therefore, wholesale businesses that sell to retailers or provide food products, equipment, or supplies to restaurants find payment processors a solid source of referral leads.

Payment processing is a very competitive market, so it’s also common for payment processors to pay for referrals—which is great for wholesalers (or any other type of business) that can provide them with referral leads. Established wholesale businesses can take advantage of this to form exclusive referral partnerships or to earn rewards by referring its customers to a specific payment processing company.

How to Connect With Lead Referral Sources

Now that you’ve learned more about various types of lead referral sources to utilize for referral marketing, you may be curious as to the “how” to connect with them. The simplest way is by calling or cold emailing to set up a networking call to learn more about each other’s business, the types of customers they have, and what a good referral looks like.

Below is a referral email template you can use to initiate conversations with potential lead sources:

Subject: Looking to Connect for Referral Opportunities

Hi [Contact name],

My name is [Name] from [Organization name]. We provide [product or service] to [specific target market], which is why I wanted to reach out to you directly.

I see a lot of opportunities for us to pass referrals to one another and would love to schedule a call to learn more about your business and what an ideal referral looks like to you.

Let me know your availability over the next few weeks. I look forward to connecting.

Talk soon,

You could also ask a friend or colleague to refer you to a potential referral lead source rather than trying to make the introduction yourself. Usually, this occurs when you know who you want to get in touch with but would like to warm up the connection first. You can also search for these types of contacts using LinkedIn manually or via the LinkedIn Sales Navigator and send a connection request along with the text from the email template above.

For a more formal environment for generating referral leads, join a popular leadshare group like Business Networking International (BNI), or find one within a nearby Chamber of Commerce. A leadshare group is a networking organization where members pass leads to one another, bring guests to chapter meetings, and have one-to-one sessions to discuss how they can help one another build business.

In a leadshare group, there is only one vertical or industry per group. This gives each member exclusivity in their field to be the sole beneficiary of referrals for their respective product or service. Most leadshare groups have representatives of many of the centers of influence discussed above, so joining gives you access to multiple referral lead generation sources.

Want to learn more about referral marketing or developing referral programs? Check out our how-to guide for how to get more referrals. It offers proven tips to increase your chances of receiving customer recommendations as well as referrals from other businesses, and shows how brand experience can influence a referral decision.

Bottom Line

Referral lead generation is especially valuable because it leverages your existing network, and each lead that comes in is automatically qualified and more likely to become a customer. Depending on your business, there are likely to be several “centers of influence” you can tap for referral lead generation that regularly interact with, are trusted by, and often make recommendations to your ideal customer types.

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