Recently, a new friend request popped up for me in Facebook from a gal I went to high school with. I recognized her name right away. She was interesting way back then, although on the periphery of my then social circle. Surely she would be even more interesting today. After all these years, I’m always thrilled at the prospect of reconnecting with folks from the past, learning where they live, what they have become.

I accepted this recent friend request without hesitation. Within 30 minutes, a new message notification from my old/new friend. Exciting! What was she up to? How many little ones does she have? What synergies might we have in our adult lives?

I clicked through with eager anticipation only to find her drone of a sales pitch for some dreadful multi-level marketing beauty product scheme.

Sigh. Delete. Unfriend.

This short-lived reconnection got me thinking about advocate marketing, and more specifically, the typical top-level goal of driving new business through advocate referrals. Many clients I have the pleasure of working with come to the table with customer referrals top of mind. Who wouldn’t? Drawing a direct line to the bottom line is, after all, one of the key values of most advocate marketing communities. According to LinkedIn, 84% of B2B decision makers start their buying process with a referral. Also, consider that one significant advocate referral can off-set the annual operational cost of an advocate marketing program.

But, when is the right time to ask an advocate to open their little black book? How do you mitigate against the risk of an advocate “unfriending” your community? It’s a delicate subject with my clients, many of whom are eager to prove the value of their investment in advocacy as quickly as possible.

Running a successful advocate referral program takes time and patience, two factors that don’t always jive with the frenzied pace of modern business. Go straight for the jugular right out of the gate, and your advocates may sense a disconnect from the value proposition you so painstakingly crafted in your program invitation. Ask for referrals too late, and you may miss the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum and excitement many advocates experience as they become part of your company’s inner circle community.

Draw customer referrals like bees to honey

The most successful advocate referral programs take the act of asking for new leads from a passive to an active position no sooner than 45 days after launch. That means having a passive option available for an advocate to provide a referral, if they wish, in the earliest days of their membership in your community, while being mindful of not actively pushing your referrals agenda.

Instead, focus on the key reasons why your advocate joined the community in the first place during those first several weeks: belonging, status, access, power. Provide your advocate with a well-rounded experience that offers opportunities to connect, collaborate and co-create, while you educate, entertain, recognize and reward. Keep the focus on overall engagement in your community for the first 45 days. And, above all, deliver on your promises.

When your advocates are engaged and finding value in their membership in the community, that’s the time to move the customer referrals component of your program into a time-bound active position. This could include rolling out a rewarding referrals campaign or contest, reaching out directly to advocates who have an inroad to specific strategic accounts, and educating your advocates on why referrals are important to your business and to them. Always keep the focus on what’s in it for them should they choose to participate. Always put the needs/wants/desires of the community first, and quality referrals will surely follow.

Although I’m personally opposed to snake oil pitches for miracle wrinkle removers and anything that seeks to erase years of well-earned laugh lines, I’m all for supporting my friends in their business endeavours, no matter how hare-brained. If that girl from high school were to have taken the time to get to know me and had presented herself as authentically interested in reconnecting with me, there’s no doubt that in time one of her ridiculous remedies would have joined the face cream graveyard in the bottom vanity drawer. Her loss. Don’t make the same mistake with your advocates. Keep them sweet.

The Little Black Book of B2B Referrals
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