Referrals are the lifeblood of B2B marketing. According to LinkedIn, 84% of B2B decision makers start their buying process with a referral.

Results from our recent study with Heinz Marketing also found that companies with referral programs have higher conversion rates, shorter sales cycles and greater lifetime customer values.  

As a B2B marketer, getting high-quality referrals is one of my top goals. 

In 2015, I set a goal to get 1,000 referrals.


How the heck am I going to do this?

This number may not seem like a lot for a large consumer brand, but it’s a big deal for a B2B startup, like Influitive. In 2014, we got 522 referrals.  

With the help of our amazing advocates, we were able to surpass this goal and generate 1,229 referrals in 2015.

Before I tell you exactly how I enticed our customers to submit so many referrals, first I need to explain how we built a foundation for a successful program.

Bring in the Three Musketeers: Marketing, Sales and Customer Success

To dramatically increase our referrals, we took a three-pronged approach that involved Marketing, Sales and Customer Success (CS).

Your Sales team may already have a referral process in place—but it’s likely ad-hoc and not as effective as it could be. (“I’d love to help you cold call our customers for referrals!”…said no one ever.)

Our research found referral programs who were managed by the marketing team were 3X more likely to hit their EOY revenue goals. Why? Marketing—which sits in the middle of Sales and Customer Success—has the data and knowledge to provide the best referral experience for your customers, and act as a liaison between the two teams.

Before I break down exactly how marketing should take the lead, I want to explain how you can involve your Sales and CS teams when you start a B2B referral program.


Customer marketing + customer success + sales = referral power!

To get Sales on board, show them that you don’t want to take over their referral program. Instead, explain how you want to complement it and help them get more value from it. Here’s how:

  1. Work with them to create a clear process for following up on and prioritizing incoming referrals
  2. Integrate the referral process with your Customer Relationship Management software so they don’t have to learn any new tools
  3. Collect useful information from your customers and help connect them with the rep so they can work together to engage referred prospects

Your CS team can get involved by identifying potential advocates. Work with them to engage your happiest customers who would be willing to refer. You can do this by mapping the moments when asking for a referral is a good idea, such as when a customer:

  1. Finishes onboarding
  2. Submits an NPS score of 9 or 10
  3. Writes an awesome online review
  4. Tells CS about a success they’re having with your product
  5. Has a support issues successfully resolved

That’s how Sales and CS should be involved in finding potential referrers and reaching out to prospects. But Marketers should be the ones getting customers to submit referrals. 


The dream team is just one part of the B2B referral equation.

I’ve found that the real key to generating referrals is all about building 1:1 relationships with customers, and then asking for referrals in the right way, and at the right time, without annoying your customers.

This doesn’t mean we personally called or emailed all of our users multiple times to remind them to refer. That’s not scalable on our end, and it doesn’t create a great experience for our customers.

Instead, we integrated our referral program into our advocate marketing program (which is run by me, in Customer Marketing!) to automate the referral collection process and make it a seamless, fun experience.

Here’s how…

How marketing can take the lead and generate quality B2B referrals

Our advocate marketing program, Influitive VIP, is an exclusive digital community where we get to know our customers, help make them more successful and occasionally entertain them with a GIF/meme or two. 


Everybody loves a good GIF.

Our goal is to turn them into delighted customers who are so happy that they’re more than willing to refer their peers to us.

In the program, we use the data we collect to identify the right times to present them with opportunities to advocate for us. We could ask them to write a review, share our content on social media or—you guessed it—submit referrals. When they complete these activities, we recognize them for their advocacy. (To learn more about how the program works and ties into our referral program, read the end of this blog).

There’s a few specific techniques and campaigns I ran through my advocate marketing program to hit my 2015 referral target. Here are a few lessons I learned that other marketers can do as well:

1. Stay top of mind by keeping things fun

Many advocates won’t send you referrals unless you ask for them. I ran a few referral campaigns in 2015 to keep referrals top of mind and make it fun for our advocates to give us referrals. For example, our March Madness contest brought in 20 referrals in just 1 hour.

One reason this campaign was so successful was because it used scarcity to boost referrals. For instance, advocates had to take part in the campaign’s timeframe (1 hour) to be eligible for prizes. This limitation drove immediate participation and results.  

2. Make your referral requests less annoying

Whenever advocates enter the program, I have two ways I can remind them to refer.

First, I can publish a new challenge that specifically asks for a referral. I often offer a high reward value and try to make the title and headline catchy and entertaining.

Second, I have a ‘Referrals’ tab in the top navigation of our product to remind people to refer whenever they log in.

This makes it easy to request and track referralsas well as reward the customers who provide them. No more emails or cold calls!

3. Educate your advocates about your ideal prospect

Often, advocates want to give you referrals, but they don’t know who to refer you to. So, tell your advocates exactly whom you’d like to connect with. Explain what types of roles and companies you are targeting.

I did this through a series of challenges teaching our customers about referrals.


I also put lots of details about the referral process on our submission page.


You can also check out our Little Black Book of B2B Referrals for more ideas on how to educate advocates and motivate them to submit referrals.

4. Make giving referrals easy

The easier it is for advocates to give you referrals, the more leads you will get.

One way to make the process easier is by proactively identifying people you want to meet on LinkedIn (ask your sales reps for help). See if they are connected to any of your advocates. Then, ask your advocates for an introduction.

I did this, and received 100+ high quality referrals. This way, my sales team talked with prospects they really wanted an introduction to and my advocates didn’t have to think too hard about who to refer.

5. Close the feedback loop

Keep advocates informed about the status of their referrals. If advocates feel that you value their time and connections, they will give you more referrals. If you don’t tell them how it goes, or remember to thank or refer them when a referred prospect becomes a new customer, you won’t receive another referral from them.

You can make this process easier by using referral tools and software that automatically tracks leads as they move through different stages of your referral process. You can also use a spreadsheet to track this information, but it won’t be as easy.

Be sure to identify your top 5-10 referrers and treat them with lots of special privileges. For example, you can take them out to dinner, offer them speaking opportunities or give them insider access to your company executives, road map, etc.

By the way, I’d like to give a shout out to Influitive’s top five referrals. A big thank you to:


Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I will always love you.

The benefits of bringing referrals and advocate marketing together

Marketing, Sales and CS all have something to gain from advocate marketing programs.

  • Marketing will generate more high-quality leads for sales and have an easier time generating content, increasing social reach and generating reviews.
  • Sales will have a pipeline full of prospect that will convert faster. They can also easily ask advocates for references, testimonials and more.
  • Customer Success has an easier time disseminating educational information to customers and delighting customers. This often leads to higher NPS scores and increased retention.

referralreserch2015cover-232x300-transReport: What You Should Know About B2B Referrals

Based on a survey of more than 600 B2B professionals from across North America—including sales, marketing, operations and executive leadership—this research uncovers some striking findings about the impact of referral leads on sales pipeline and revenue growth.

Download now