B2B Referral Programs Have Evolved — So Should We

By Trisha Winter

Tell a modern B2B marketer that referrals are the most effective, strategic, lucrative method of demand generation available in their toolbox, and they know it’s true, but they also think it’s kind of old-school, and not in a good way. It lacks the sizzle that gets them, their CEOs, and their executive teams excited.

But referral platforms for B2Bs have come a long way. There’s been a dramatic digital evolution happening under our noses. As marketers, we now have the experience, technology, and creativity to create state-of -the-art, modern referral programs that increase customer and prospect engagement while also increasing demand generation quality and sales.

What is this evolution? First, let’s define our terms. The two ends of the spectrum are the basic or homegrown “refer-a-friend” on one end, and more sophisticated referral automation software on the other, with lots of half steps in between. Anything you choose will probably work to increase referrals and spread brand awareness, but it will do so in different ways and at a very different scale.

“Homegrown” or “refer-a-friend” are terms we use to mean simple programs that give a B2B’s current customer base the ability to tell friends about the products and services they like. The “refer-a-friend” approach targets customers already engaged with a company (they visit the website, read the blogs, etc.) and often use online widgets and share links. They work, but their scope is limited.

Automated referral platforms are a sleek, powerful, next-generation evolution of an old-school idea, but in this case, complete with structured tracking of leads, white label referral experiences, and the ability to amplify the value of the referral through increased customer engagement and direct, tangible ROI. Referral automation platforms also allow cable and telecom companies to engage employees and partners for referrals, not just customers.

While many companies are still using homegrown, refer-a-friend programs, they present a few challenges:

● They often claim to dramatically increase conversion, but the most commonly-tracked metrics are Facebook likes, email click rates, and impressions, all notoriously difficult to tie to ROI.

● They tend not to be customizable. They tend to be a one-size-fits-all solution that only allow advocates to make referrals from one touchpoint (usually online checkout), a rigidity that dramatically decreases program visibility and program effectiveness.

● They don’t support a long term demand-generation strategy because they focus on driving customers to refer one time without building brand advocacy, analyzing advocates trends, and empowering marketers to leverage their relationships with advocates more effectively over time.

A good referral automation platform will support company-wide business strategy by building and managing a network of brand advocates who consistently generate referrals and increase sales. Referral automation platforms provide six key functions that go beyond the capabilities of even the best refer-a-friend programs:

● They empower brand advocates to refer easily and repeatedly from whatever communication channels they are most comfortable with from social to face-to-face.

● They provide the ability to automate advocate nurturing with personalized status emails and real-time access to personal portals with data on their progress.

● They connect with the desired lead/buy flow within the company’s existing systems so that the program can work for both B2C and B2C.

● They integrate into CRMs so sales has full visibility into the program and can participate by seeing which leads come from referrals, contacting advocates that referred to learn more about the referral, and inviting new customers to join the program.

● They integrate with key internal systems or fulfillment vendors so that rewarding is fully automated.

● They provide metrics that analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of referral behavior, enabling alternative program testing and validating ROI.

Some people like old-school. But modern referral automation software brings a lot more power and capabilities that we didn’t think were possible even 10 years ago.

Trisha Winter is CMO at Amplifinity and is herself a marketer who is constantly evaluating new methods and techniques, with a career-long passion for brand advocacy, referral marketing, and strategic demand-gen initiatives. Trisha lives in Michigan.

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