9 Stellar Referral Program Examples-thumbnail

Referral programs are an important part of a healthy B2B sales pipeline. According to LinkedIn, 84% of B2B decision makers start the buying process off with a referral. Referred prospects also convert 30% better than leads generated through other marketing channels, and have a 16% higher customer lifetime value

But starting customer referral programs from scratch can be daunting. Where do you begin when you’re working with a small team or budget? And how do you get your customers to consistently submit referrals without annoying them? Is there a way to sustainably scale referral programs?

Referral programs come in all shapes and sizes. You just need to find one that works for your business.

Below, we’re sharing some of our favorite referral program examples and what makes them effective. You can use their lessons to create a referral program that works for your company.

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Referral program examples that work

1. Google

That’s right, even this search-engine giant had its own referral program to drive customer acquisition. It rewarded existing business customers for each new user they sign up for Google Apps for Work. 

After joining the referral program, customers were provided with a personalized link to share with their network. Then, for each new Google Apps for Work account activated using that link, the advocate receives $15 directly deposited to their bank account.

Ideas to steal:

This is a good referral program example in that it delivers a tangible benefit to customers who promote the brand. 

When setting up referral programs for customers, it’s important to reward your advocates for promoting your product or service to their friends. This will strengthen your relationship with them, and encourage them to refer new customers to you again and again. 

To best implement this type of referral example, use personalized join links to make it easy for your customers to promote the program to their peers. In return, they get the credit for any new business they bring you.

2. Dropbox

This online storage/file transfer service launched referral programs that rewarded customers with product-based perks instead of monetary ones. 

Dropbox offers an extra 500 MB of free storage space to the customer who makes the referral, and to the newly referred user. As a result, the company saw its membership skyrocket by about 60% in 2010.

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The lesson here is that customer referral programs don’t have to be limited to just offering cash or gift cards as incentives. You can actually dig deeper into the products and services you already offer to provide other tangible benefits. 

Product or service-based discounts, perks or upgrades can make your customers more invested in your brand and more engaged with your product. This will strengthen customer loyalty—and will likely result in them submitting more referrals.

3. Uber

This ride-share app built its referral program into the product—assigning each customer a personalized referral code as soon as their account is activated. Every time a new account is created using a customer’s referral code, both parties get their next Uber trip free.

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This is an example of a great referral program because it delivers a tangible benefit to both the existing customer and their contact.

Referral programs with dual-sided rewards allow your advocates to approach their friends and families with direct value. And they’ll feel better knowing that their connections are getting something more than just an annoying email—making them more likely to refer in the first place.

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4. ReadyTalk

After sending out some unsuccessful email referral campaigns, ReadyTalk, an audio and web conferencing service provider, chose to invest in an advocate marketing program to nurture their best customers. 

Through their new referral programs, they offered rewards for smaller acts of customer advocacy (like sharing content on social media or writing a review) and strengthened their relationship with their customers before asking for referrals. Moreover, the smaller acts of advocacy also served as word-of-mouth marketing for ReadyTalk.

In the first 10 weeks of implementing their advocate marketing program, ReadyTalk received 183 referrals—33% of which closed in half the time of a typical sales cycle.

Ideas to steal:

You can’t always expect your customers to just do things for you from up top. Rather, you have to invest in building a deeper relationship with them before moving towards referral programs.

This is where thinking holistically, especially through a customer marketing lens, is key. You need to resonate with their interests and goals (both as a customer and as an individual).

Getting personal with your top advocates and offering them something of value before asking for a referral will inspire them to continually submit high-quality referral leads. In turn, this will result in a far more successful referral program.

5. Evernote

The note-taking software launched a referral program that awards points to customers every time they make a referral. These points can be redeemed for free access to the software’s premium features. Plus, every time a customer’s referred lead upgrades to Evernote Premium, the customer who submitted the referral receives additional points. The service now has over 100 million users, 13 million of which were referred by other users.

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Referral programs don’t have to end after a loyal customer submits their friend’s contact info. Rewarding customers further down the chain when their referred friend upgrades their product shows your original customer that you care about them – and can encourage them to refer again. They might even push their referred friends to upgrade earlier on.

6. FreeAgent

This accounting software’s referral program offers both the new user and the referring customer a 10% discount—lasting for as long as both parties are paying subscribers. The discounts are also stackable, meaning that once a customer has referred 10 peers they can use the software for free. After that, they can ask to join FreeAgent’s Evangelist programme, which allows customers to earn a 20% share of subsequent referral subscriptions.

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Referral pograms that make the incentives last as long as both the customer and their contacts stay loyal can help prevent churn. Offering a stackable reward structure for more referrals will also motivate your customers to consistently submit new contacts.

7. Verafin

This fraud detection and anti-money laundering software used an advocate marketing program to run an online “Referral Rally” contest that offered rewards for the top referrer at the end of each week. 

To ensure all of the leads submitted were high-quality, Verafin included “Referral Certification” challenges that educated advocates on Verafin’s ideal referral persona, how to talk about the company to prospects, and how best to submit a referral. 

Once advocates completed each step, they received a special badge. After the month-long contest finished, the “Referral Rally” generated 117 high-quality B2B referral leads—almost three times the number they had originally hoped for.

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Gamifying your referral programs will engage your advocates and motivate them to send more referral leads your way. Educating them on your ideal prospects will also ensure that you’re only receiving valuable leads you can act on—instead of low-quality referrals that will waste your sales team’s time.

8. Tesla

Tesla, the electric car company, has changed its referral program throughout the years to reflect its growing customer base. 

They originally offered customers $1,000 to refer a friend, but have since changed their strategy to give Tesla owners who refer multiple people to be eligible for even better prizes, such as an exclusive Powerwall 2 battery. Even better, the first person to refer 20 people in their region–North America, Europe, or Asia-Pacific–receives a free Model S or Model X. 

Other referral rewards included invitations to exclusive parties and the opportunity to purchase other special edition products not available to the public.

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When it comes to rewards, the best are those that money can’t buy. Whether they be special products, access to private events or the VIP treatment, these incentives need to make your customers feel truly valued if you want them to refer again. You can also use referrals to enter new markets in a cost-effective way by offering regionally-based incentives and contests.

9. Influitive

Yep, we’re going to include ourselves on this list, too. Using our advocate marketing program, Influitive VIP, we mobilized thousands of advocates to submit referrals and grew our company 650% in 2014. In 2015, we generated over a thousand referrals by running a variety of different campaigns and bringing together Sales, Marketing and CS.

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You probably have tons of happy customers wanting to advocate for you and refer you to their networks. They’re just waiting for you to make the first move. By creating a special program that prepares customers to give referrals and gives them an enjoyable referral experience, you can fill your pipeline with quality leads.

Want to start your own referral program? Watch this video:

Need more information on referral programs?

This blog was originally published on October 26th, 2015, and was updated on October 05, 2022 

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