5 Key Ingredients For A Successful Customer Referral Program

Don’t take this the wrong way, but if your company is like most B2B organizations, it’s taking a haphazard approach to referral marketing.

The majority of customer referral programs boil down to everyone keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that their customers will recommend the company, out of the blue, to someone in their networks.

You wouldn’t treat any other critical area of your business this way, so why take such a passive approach to referrals?

You may suddenly feel compelled to email every last one of your customers and ask them to refer you to everyone in their contact list. But don’t do it! Customers are used to asking you for favors, not the other way around. And requesting a referral is a big thing to ask for.

Just as you would prep your kitchen before cooking up a culinary delight, you’ll need to do some work before you serve up your request to your customers.

The essential customer referral program ingredients

With any recipe, if you don’t have the right ingredients from the outset, your concoction won’t satisfy the tastebuds. The same is true of your customer referral program.

Here are the five essential ingredients to a smokin’ hot customer referral program. While some ingredients are more important than others, you really need all five of these to get cooking.

Cooking Up A Hot Customer Referral Program: Step One

(Note that strong relationships are #1 on the list and raving fans are a “key ingredient.”)

1. Warm customer relationships

Referrals are all about relationships. People give us referrals because they like and trust us. That’s why the most successful customer referral programs are based on strong relationshipsparticularly with current and former clients. After all, your customers know firsthand the value your company can deliver.

Cooking Up A Hot Customer Referral Program: Joanne BlackSo how do you get your hands on this ingredient? Joanne Black, referral sales expert and founder of No More Cold Calling advises doing the following: “Start by reaching out to current clients, especially if you haven’t talked to them in a while. It’s amazing what happens when you start to have those conversations.”

Once you establish a more personal relationship with your customers, they’ll be primed to help you out. (But you still aren’t ready to ask for a referral yet.)

2. An easy as pie way to ask for referrals

Next, you need to find an easy and enjoyable way for customers to submit referrals (and to consistently remind them to refer without barraging them with email requests).

The best way to do this is by creating an exclusive hub for your happiest customers—known as an advocate marketing program. Through the program, you’ll provide your customers with access to useful resources, fun content and challenges, and opportunities to advocate for your brand (like submitting referrals). Every time customers are drawn into your program, they’ll be delighted—and subtly reminded to refer their peers to your awesome brand.

Cooking Up A Hot Customer Referral Program: Bo Bandy ReadyTalkBo Bandy, Director of Marketing at ReadyTalk, created an advocate marketing program where the brand’s best customers could share their experiences and receive rewards for doing so. In just the first 10 weeks of launching, the program generated 183 referrals. “All we had to do to get customer referrals was (1) ask customers and (2) make it easy for them,” says Bo. “They want to share the awesome experience that they’ve had with ReadyTalk.”

The Little Black Book of B2B Referrals
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3. A recipe for clear communication

When it comes to referrals, your customers need to know what’s on the menu before they put in an order. Be transparent, and tell them exactly what to expect at each stage of the referral process—from the moment someone from your company reaches out to their referral lead, to the moment that lead (hopefully!) becomes a customer. This will make your customers feel more comfortable about recommending you to friends.

You’ll also want to make sure your customers understand the kind of referral leads you’re looking for. Explain your ideal referral persona, including information like:

  • The type of company or industry they work in
  • Their role or level
  • Their biggest challenges or values

This will help to ensure that every referral lead you receive is high-quality—increasing the likeliness of that lead becoming a customer.

4. Delicious desserts—er, we mean rewards

Rewards and recognition are the best way to let customers know that they are valued—and inspire them to refer again and again.

But these rewards don’t have to break the bank. In fact, some of the best rewards are those that money can’t buy. Offering customers special perks like access to your C-Suite, VIP treatment at your next event, or an invitation to exclusive product testing will show them that you really care.

5. Bake your advocates a 5-star experience

So let’s move on to that secret ingredient: advocates!

Remember those strong customer relationships and advocate marketing programs we mentioned before? The point of connecting with your customers and delivering an awesome experience through your program is to gradually turn your customers into enthusiastic advocates who have no trouble spreading their love for your company.

The key is to start by asking them for smaller favors, such as sharing your content on social media or giving product feedback, before moving onto bigger requests, like writing reviews and submitting referrals. This way you can figure out which customers are ready to confidently refer their peers to your brand. Think of it as a nurture program for referral submissions.

We put a lot of thought, planning, time and resources into our customer referral program—and it’s paid off. Take a look at how our advocates influenced our pipeline in 2014:

Cooking Up A Hot Customer Referral Program: Step One

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