From high-growth startups to multinational enterprises, every B2B company wants to know how to get more customer referrals.

After all, 69% of companies with referral programs report that their time to close deals is faster than those without, and 59% report a higher customer life-time value.

But asking for referrals can be awkward. Even if you have an awesome product and a stellar customer experience, you may be afraid of coming off as desperate or annoying your customers.

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Thankfully, there’s hope. Your happiest customers are likely already willing to refer your company to friends, colleagues and industry peers—they just have to be asked in the right way.

Here are 7 referral program best practices that will help you tap into your loving customer base and generate a consistent stream of high-quality referral leads.

1. Get closer to your customers

Before asking your best customers to refer, you need to make sure you’ve created a meaningful, long-lasting relationship with them. By delivering a delightful customer experience, your customers will be ready and willing to refer.

The best way to do this is to invite your top customers to join an exclusive online hub—known as an advocate marketing program—where they can learn more about your company and engage with you directly.

They should also be able to access valuable resources and find opportunities to advocate for your brand—like writing online reviews, sharing your content on their social networks and finally, providing referrals.

Once they complete one of these acts of advocacy, reward or recognize them for it. Then, they’ll be head over heels for your brand—and ready to share that love with their peers.

2. Open up channels of communication

To make the referral process easier on both you and your customers, you’ll need to uncover any hang-ups they may have about referring. (Everybody’s got them!)

Set up a survey in your advocate marketing program asking them questions about how they like to refer folks from their network. For example:

  • Have you ever referred before? If yes, how do you refer?
  • When you’ve referred in the past, what was the biggest reason why?
  • Do you feel you receive any values from giving referrals?

Your survey results will give you a better idea of any roadblocks that could be hindering your advocates from referring. Then, you can build a process that will address all of their concerns.

3. Get on the same page

Advocates aren’t clairvoyant, so you need to make your referral intentions known. Prep your advocates for the big ask by using questions, surveys or contests to get them thinking about referrals.

Once you’ve dropped the hint, you can give them more specific instructions about how to give good referrals. This will ensure you receive high-quality referrals, instead of just tire kickers.

Our top referral tip: try drafting a list that explains the best way for advocates to refer your company, or sending them a referral quiz that asks questions like “How would you talk about us when making a referral to a friend or colleague?”

4. Build your referral program on transparency

You need to create a simple and transparent referral process that will make your advocates feel comfortable opening up their network to you. A referral is personal, and advocates will be more willing to refer a friend if they are confident their connection will be treated well. Make sure your referral submission page includes the following information:

  • How the referral process will work
  • How the information they submit will be used
  • Who in your organization will be reaching out and when
  • When and how your advocates can expect updates on the status of their referral(s)

We have a challenge in our advocate marketing program, Influitive VIP, that asks advocates to send us referrals. The referral submission challenge looks like this:

influitive advocatehub referral submission page

Giving your advocates a look into the heart of your referral system will ease their minds about the process—and inspire them to refer again and again.

5. Make popping the question personal

You’re not just asking for a cold lead for your sales reps to chase—you’re asking your advocates to make a warm connection with someone they know. It’s important to position your big ask just right so advocates submit contacts that will make for successful future customers.

When asking your advocates for a referral, use your company personas and your other customers as inspiration. Explain what your ideal customer values, the types of organizations you target, the roles of the people you want to connect with, and the business problems these prospects may be facing that your product or service can help solve.

You can also make referrals even easier on your customers by asking them to introduce you to someone specific.

Ask your sales team to peruse your advocates’ social networks for potential matches. Then, ask your advocates if they’re willing to put in a good word for you. If you’ve been consistently engaging with them and keeping referrals top of mind, you won’t come across as pushy.

6. Harness more customer love by keeping it fun

Launching referral contests can fuel your customers’ competitive streak. For example, give away a special prize to the advocate who submits the most referrals before a certain deadline.
Or, try playing up a timely theme such as March Madness, a popular event or a cultural reference to pique your advocates’ interest and boost referrals.

You can also gamify your referral process by designing a points system to reward advocates for submitting referrals. Then, award them more points as their referral passes through milestones in the buying process. This incentivizes advocates to submit leads that are a good match for your business.

7. Show that you care

Rewards and recognition are the best way to solidify your relationship with your advocates and keep them interested in sending you more referrals.

But giving monetary gifts in exchange for referral leads can cheapen this incredible act of customer love—especially if you send them a generic gift card.

To make advocates feel like you truly value them, you need to give them something money can’t buy. For example:

  • Opportunities for professional development—like speaking opportunities at your next event, or access to your C-suite
  • Exclusive perks, free product or service upgrades, or an invitation to be a beta tester
  • A donation to one of their favorite charities
  • Dual-sided rewards that benefit the friend they referred

Receiving referrals is a game of give and take. By following these customer referral program best practices, you’ll be able to harness your customers’ love to fill your sales pipeline with quality referral leads.

Want to save these tips in PDF format for later? Download our Little Black Book Of B2B Referrals.

The Little Black Book of B2B Referrals
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Check out this video for the best practices on asking for referrals:

More customer referral program best practices:


This blog was originally posted on November 5th, 2015, and was updated on Jan 25th, 2018.