9 Stellar Referral Program Examples

Referrals 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 a customer referral program 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?

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 so you can apply these ideas to your own referral program.

Referral program examples that work

1. Google

That’s right, even this search-engine giant has its own referral marketing program, rewarding business customers for each new user they sign up for Google Apps for Work. After joining the referral program, customers are 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:

It’s important to reward your advocates for referring your product or service to their friends. This will strengthen your relationship with them, and incent them to refer you again and again. Personalized join links also make it easy for customers to promote the program to their peers and get the credit for any new business they bring you.

2. Dropbox

This online storage/file transfer service launched a referral program that rewards 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.

Ideas to steal:

Incentives aren’t limited to cash and gift cards. Product-based discounts, perks or upgrades can make your customers more invested in your brand and more engaged with your product. This will strengthen their loyalty—and likely result in them submitting more referrals.

3. Uber

This ride-share app builds referrals into its 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.

Ideas to steal:

Offering dual-sided rewards allows your advocates to approach their contacts with direct value. 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 the program, 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. 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. (See how they did it in this eBook.)

Ideas to steal:

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.

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.

Ideas to steal:

The referral process doesn’t have to end after your customer submits their friend’s contact info. Giving them rewards when the person they referred upgrades their product can serve as a reminder to refer again. It will also motivate them to encourage their peers to upgrade.

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.

Ideas to steal:

Making the referral incentives last as long as both parties are customers can help prevent churn. Offering stackable rewards 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.

Ideas to steal:

Gamifying the referral process 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.

Ideas to steal:

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.

Ideas to steal:

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 learn more about how to start your own referral program? Watch this video:

More referral resources:

This blog was originally published on October 26th, 2015, and was updated on March 1st, 2017. 

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  • Constant Meiring

    Small correction – for Tesla the reward wasn’t actually a Model X, but the exclusive opportunity to purchase a founders edition Model X.

    • Jillian Wood

      Hi! Thanks for letting us know. Turns out that owners of the original Model S who referred ten people had the option to buy the Model X for a lower price–but the first Model S owner in each region who referred 10 people did in fact get a free Model X.

      http://www.theverge.com/2015/7/29/9068871/tesla-referral-program-free-model-x

      I will update the article to clarify this. Thanks!

  • Jayden William

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful referral program examples. Yes, it’s extremely important to have a two-sided referral program that should reward both the existing customer, as well as the friends he/she refer.