Referral Programs: Do Your Customers Tell Their Friends About You?

By August 9, 2018 April 20th, 2021 B2B, Marketing

Referral programs are the holy grail when it comes to B2C sales, but does it translate to B2B? Sources like Refersion say absolutely, citing some pretty compelling data. Companies with B2B referral programs see more growth in general, and customers who were referred have a greater lifetime value. This means that referrals not only bring customers in, they keep them around longer, and with a better overall relationship over the time you work together.

The concept of referrals is simple: buyers trust the opinions of the people around them, especially those who they respect and know have high standards. If a trusted friend or colleague provides them with glowing feedback for a company that perfectly fits their needs (ideally your company), they’re more likely to check it out and approach it with greater confidence than they would have if they found it through an ad or general online search.

Referral programs take the legwork out of finding potential products and suppliers, so they benefit your prospects, too. It removes the risk of the unknown, which makes people feel safe in making such important decisions (that often come with a high price tag). The higher the stakes, the more likely people are going to want to have a trusted source of information as well. So if you’re offering a service that’s going to cause some major changes and downtime – CRM migration, for instance – it’s going to be invaluable to have third-party endorsements on your side.

In fact, 69% of companies with referral programs report that their deals are closing faster (Influitive), so if you don’t have a program in place, you could really be missing out.

Think it will be too hard to get referrals from your current clients? Think again. According to Influitive, 91% of customers said they’d happily provide referrals for companies they love.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you don’t have a super successful referral program in place, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here are some tips on how to get some referrals and keep them consistently flowing in.

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Be Proactive

If you’re waiting for your customers to come to you with a referral, you’re probably going to be waiting awhile. That’s not to say that your customers don’t know anyone who could benefit from your services, or even that they don’t want to give you a referral; it just means they aren’t directly thinking of it – which is why you have to.

The best way to know if a customer is ready to give a referral is by first understanding their experience with your company and services. Are they happy? Is there room for improvement? By opening up an avenue for conversation, you can find out who the best candidates are for referrals, and start planning your targeted approach.

One of the best ways to gain insight and feedback from your customers is with a survey. Make sure to ask questions that result in honest, actionable results. You can use software like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, or you can have a good old-fashioned conversation to check how things are going. When you know who your most loyal customers are, you’ll have a better idea of where your best referrals will come from.     

Take Advantage of the Positive

The most valuable referrals come after your customer has had a positive experience with your services, or at least has been reminded of them in a recent conversation. With a current success at the forefront of your customer’s mind, they’re much more likely to refer you than if their experience has been anything other than exemplary.

Think about it this way, you wouldn’t request a raise from your boss just after a subpar month of performance, and this is no different. If you aren’t delivering on what you promised a customer (which can simply be a failure in your onboarding system to set up realistic expectations), they probably won’t want to refer you.

If you’ve got some stellar metrics to present to your customer, or they gave glowing feedback in your survey, take advantage of that and ask away. Chances are they’ll be excited to do it.

Make it Easy

Being mindful of your customer’s time can take you a long way when it comes to asking for a referral, so make the process for them as easy as possible. Provide clear instructions that walk them through the process from start to finish, so they aren’t having to take the time to fill in gaps or tie up loose ends. Offer them a sample template that they can send to the person they want to refer, for instance, or see if you can be the one to facilitate a three-way call or meeting. Anything you can do to take the heavy lifting out of the process for them will make it all the easier for them to agree to the referral.

If you feel like you’re met with resistance or pushback to the idea, though, back off a bit and let them know that they can come to you if and when they’re ready. Pushing them on it again isn’t likely to get you anywhere. Once things have cooled off a bit, you may be able to approach them with a different way they can advocate for your company without having to directly refer you, such as leaving an online review, doing a testimonial, or anything else that allows them to give you a vote without as high of stakes.

Offer Incentives

I think it goes without saying, that people like to get things – especially in exchange for something they’re going out of their way to do. It’s not to say that people won’t refer you if they aren’t going to get anything in return. If you’re doing great work for them, they’re going to want to share their secret, but why not sweeten the deal a little?

You know your customers better than anyone, so you’ll know what they want in an incentive. Maybe you get them a gift card to Starbucks or Amazon, or a free month of your services. If you don’t have a ton of resources to work with but still want to say thanks, sending a small yet thoughtful gift in the mail can go a long way, too.  

In a referral program we designed and implemented for our client Grifols, we sent healthy snack boxes as a tangible thank you for when a donor referred a friend and saw great results. They weren’t premium boxes with top dollar price tags, but the gesture let people know that they were appreciated, which had a major positive impact.

Be Referable

I know this seems a bit obvious, but since referral marketing is one of the most powerful ways to land new leads and increase sales, it’s worth putting an extra focus on being referable. You already do great work and your customer knows this; it’s part of why they picked you and why you still work together. But even if you think you’re doing your very best, there are likely areas in which you can improve, that you just may not have thought of yet.

This can be something as simple as interacting with them on social media or mentioning them in a blog post, or even sharing an article with them that you think they might find value. Anything that goes beyond the basics of delivering what you promise (or more!) is going to be recognized and appreciated. Make your customers feel special, communicate to them that you care and that you fully understand their needs, and they’re likely to repay the favor.

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Referral marketing is one of the best, low-cost ways to bring in new leads, increase sales, and overall improve customer loyalty, and luckily the concept isn’t rocket science. Word-of-mouth has a way of spreading like wildfire, even if there’s just a small encouragement to ignite the flame.

By doing exemplary work, listening, asking when the time is right, and making it easy, you should be able to increase your loyalty and referral rate in no time. Get creative with the process, experiment, try different things out to see what works; there isn’t one right way to do referral marketing, but the one wrong way to do it is not doing it at all.

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