Referral marketing isn’t only for B2C businesses. Decision-makers in B2B companies also turn to people they trust when making a purchase. And when someone recommends a product to a B2B decision-maker, they listen. So, B2B referral programs bring in loyal clients with a higher lifetime value.

What are the best practices for B2B referral marketing programs? This definitive guide has the answers.

What is a B2B referral program?

A B2B referral program encourages satisfied customers to recommend your brand to decision-makers at other businesses. These programs involve tracking the referrals your customers make, and rewarding customers whenever their recommendation results in a qualified lead and/or sale.

If your business informally emails or calls customers to ask them to share your brand, that doesn’t quite count as a referral program. Instead, B2B referral programs involve a more formalized process: a unique share link for the referring customer (member), a streamlined way for customers to share, and a process for automatically sending out rewards. 

Why start a B2B referral program?

A formalized B2B referral program creates frequent, scalable word-of-mouth recommendations. It makes it easier for your customers to share your company with others by:

  • Streamlining the sharing process (empowering customers to share on their own with a unique link)
  • Building the referral “ask” into the customer lifecycle (through post-purchase email campaigns, for example)
  • Tracking all referrals
  • Automatically rewarding the business (or stakeholder) for sharing

These statistics prove how well B2B referral programs work:

Before you start a B2B referral program

To set your business up for success, we created a checklist of what you need before you start a B2B referral program. Make sure these foundations are in place!

✅ A great product (and customer service) worth sharing

Customers will only share your business with others if they’ve had a positive customer experience. This starts with a great product and stellar customer service. How can you tell if customers are satisfied enough to recommend you to other businesses?

  • Look at your customer retention rate — is it strong, or do you have a lot of churn?
  • Check your online reviews. How many positive reviews does your business have? What do they say about you?
  • Look at your existing customers. Are any alreadyrecommending your products or services? 
  • Conduct a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey to gauge which of your customers are most likely to recommend your product or service to their peers.

✅ A strong customer base

Your loyal customers are your best brand advocates. Commit to building lasting relationships with them from the beginning. 

After you make a sale, don’t leave your customers on their own. Support them at all stages after their purchase. For example, if you’re a SaaS company, assist your customers with setup, and then have your team check in regularly to see if they have any questions.

Get to know each of your customers’ businesses, and listen to their needs and concerns. Gather their individual feedback, both about what you’re doing well and what you could improve. This will help you deliver better service for each customer, improve their overall experience, and make them feel highly valued. Fostering these solid relationships increases customer satisfaction, which is the key to driving more referrals.

✅ A ready and available customer support team

When they make a referral, customers trust that their peers will receive similar care. Make sure your customer support team is able to deliver the same high levels of service to your new customers before you launch your referral program. Will they be able to handle a rapid influx of new clients?

How do you create a B2B referral program?

Once you’ve determined that you’re ready, these B2B referral program ideas and best practices are key to delivering a program that accelerates your growth. Here are 15 secrets to referral program success, based on our expertise in the B2B referral space.

1. Know who to ask for B2B referrals

Even though you’re running a B2B program, referrals will still be made from individual to individual: an employee at one businesses will refer an employee at another business.

You’ll need to determine who to ask for referrals, and when you should ask. The most effective referral programs invite the best customers first.

We recommend asking:

Paying customers

  • In contrast to free users, paying customers have experienced your full range of features, and have a deeper knowledge of what you have to offer.
  • Plus, they’ve expressed their confidence in the value of your product.

Loyal users

  • Look for customers who have used your product with success. This allows them to authentically share how you’ve helped grow their business.
  • If you sell products, choose customers who use your product frequently. Prioritize long-term users and repeat buyers, especially if they have expressed their satisfaction in your product.
  • If you offer a service or a subscription, prioritize customers who have been with you the longest. 

Willing promoters

  • Directly invite any customers who have left you positive reviews online.
  • If you conducted an NPS survey, reach out to the customers who said they would be most likely to promote you.
  • Are customers already recommending you? Start incentivizing them to send more recommendations with your referral program.
Pro tip: It’s best to ask for referrals after your customers see the value in your product or service, such as a few weeks after they’ve started using the product or service, after a successful customer service experience, or after a subscription renewal.

2. Choose B2B referral incentives that motivate your customers

The rewards that work for a B2B referral program are very different from those in B2C programs. Standard B2C incentives, like discounts and money back, can work for small or medium businesses. But they won’t work for bigger B2Bs, as the referring customer is usually not the one paying for your product.

So, what are the best incentives for B2B referral programs? Think of what would best motivate your target audience to share.

  • Direct cash incentives and gift cards work for most B2Bs.
    • These are the best-performing rewards in our experience, as the recipient can choose how they want to use the reward.
    • With Referral Rock, you can let customers select their preferred type of gift card through Tango, for another added element of choice.
  • If you’re a SaaS company, consider offering upgraded features as a reward for referrals, such as more storage space, premium features, or a free month subscription.
  • If your company holds courses, events, or webinars (or if you’re partnered with a company that does), you can offer free passes in exchange for a successful referral. After all, B2B employees often value opportunities to grow professionally.
  • Some B2Bs give out useful tangible rewards like tech items, or even award travel credits to top referrers.

zoho referral rewards

Zoho’s referral program offers product credits in exchange for successful referrals.

When choosing the right incentives, it’s all a matter of who the referring customers are, and what is going to motivate potential referrers.

You can also structure your referral program as a partner program, where other businesses act as approved resellers of your product in exchange for commission. These B2B partner programs are very similar to affiliate programs. Members of  B2B affiliate programs are driven by cash, not credits or discounts. If this type of program sounds better for your business, read more about how to set up a B2B affiliate program.

3. Decide who will get the rewards and when they’ll get it

Next, decide how you’ll pay out the referral incentives.

  • Consider offering dual-sided incentives. In addition to rewarding your customers for their referrals, you can also offer incentives to the referred lead and motivate them to make a purchase.
  • Think about using tiered incentives (increasing the value of the reward customers receive each time they make a successful referral).
  • If you have a subscription business, think about offering recurring rewards whenever someone brings in a subscriber who ends up renewing their subscription. 
  • Another attractive structure is gamified incentives, which adds a bit of fun and competition to your program. For example, you can set up a raffle where every referral earns a drawing entry for a big-ticket prize. You can also hold a competition, where the customer with the most successful referrals in a month earns an extra reward. Learn more about reward rules and incentive structures >

4. Consider multi-step rewards

To make the most of your B2B referral program, tailor it to the distinct needs of the B2B purchasing process. A company often goes through a multi-step sales journey, and a decision-making process with several stakeholders, before buying a B2B product or service.

Given this, how to motivate customers to continue sharing, since they’ll likely have to wait a while before they receive a referral reward for their friend’s purchase? Keep engagement high by rewarding people who refer qualified leads to your business, and then providing a bigger reward if that lead ends up purchasing. This is known as a multi-step referral program.

hiver b2b referral program rewards

Hiver uses a multi-step structure, where customers earn some Amazon credits for referring a qualified lead, then more Amazon credits once that lead purchases a plan. They also offer tiered milestone rewards, which increase in value with every qualified referral someone makes. 

A multi-step referral program in Referral Rock might look like this:

  • Customer A earns $15 when their referral books a demo with your company
  • Customer A earns $25 when the referral purchases an annual subscription to the product (and this could recur annually if you opt for a recurring rewards program)

Here’s a snapshot of how you can set up advanced reward rules in Referral Rock:

Reward builder with triggers in Referral Rock
The reward builder in Referral Rock lets you easily trigger rewards based on different statuses.

5. Make the program easy to understand

Keep the sharing process simple. If your process takes too many steps, or is unclear to the user, you’ll lose out on valuable opportunities for customer acquisition.

Streamline your referral process and make it easy for your customers to refer others to your business. Use your headline and program description to clearly establish:

  • What you want them to do (refer potential new clients)
  • What’s in it for them (incentives and rewards)
  • How rewards are earned

It’s best to explain the referral program in 3-4 simple steps, like wellness center management software MINDBODY does below.

Mindbody referral program

6. Streamline sharing with One Click Access

Many referral programs tend to ask for a lot of information, but too many questions can get overwhelming quickly. Finding your program and sharing your business should take as few clicks or taps as possible. Why not remove the tedious step of logging in altogether?

Using Referral Rock’s One Click Access links means your customers can start sharing your business right away. This way, they’re already enrolled in the program, and don’t have to take the extra step of signing up or filling out a form. They’ll only need to enter minimal information about their peer to send the referral.

Include One Click Access links in all the emails you send to promote your referral program. This includes newsletters and transactional emails where you include some program information, and not just emails solely dedicated to your referral program.

Pro tip: With Referral Rock, you can also let new and existing members access their portal with popular social logins like Google and Facebook, so they don’t need to enter a password.

7. Include an engaging call to action (CTA)

Your referral program’s call to action button should be prominent, in a color that stands out from the rest of your page. It should catch the customer’s eye and invite them to take the next step in your referral program. Some CTA examples include: “Refer a business” or “Get [reward].”

Mindbody referral page example

8. Use a referral code or link

Referral codes and referral links make sharing easier for your customers – they can just copy and paste them into any message. These codes and links also tie the customer to their referral, making sure the right customers are rewarded for their efforts. Here’s an example of what the customer share link looks like in Referral Rock.

Share portal in Referral Rock
The program page builder in Referral Rock lets you customize images, text, and brand colors.

9. Create an FAQ with all the important info

A referral program FAQ page informs your customers about what to expect from your referral program. The quick, easy-to-read format allows you to explain your program in greater detail, including your program’s terms and conditions, without cluttering your main referral page. Plus, it will help address any concerns and reduce the load that falls on your customer support team.

10. Craft a compelling referral message (with the help of your customers)

In any referral program, it’s important the very first contact a referral has with your business comes directly from the existing customer. So, craft a compelling, personalized message from the customer’s perspective.

Make things easier for the customer with a pre-drafted referral message. But give them the opportunity to customize part of the message before sending it to their peer, so they can explain personally why they love your business. 

Here’s an example email template:

  • An initial greeting (“Hi [name], I hope you’re doing well. I thought you might be interested in [business]”)
  • A short introduction to your business, from the referrer’s perspective
  • Space for the customer to share the benefits they’ve seen thanks to your business, if they choose.
  • The referral code or link, along with any reward available to the referral

Remember that the message should read like it’s coming from the customer, not from your brand. 

11. Promote your B2B referral program

 Brands with the most successful referral programs promote their programs consistently, on multiple channels. It’s all about continued visibility! After all, the more members you have, the more chances you have to bring in successful referrals (and more revenue). 

As mentioned, you’ll want to target your best customers first. Send each one a personalized email or message to thank them for their support and then invite them to join your referral program. Let them know you specifically chose them.

Once your referral program is up and running, use mass promotion techniques to keep your program top of mind.

  • Send out monthly emails to all customers, focused on the program. After all, you likely have new customers who haven’t heard of the program.
  • Promote the referral program on your website’s homepage with a referral call-to-action button. Place the button in an area that’s easy to find, such as the navigation menu or sidebar.
  • Promote the referral program on your blog or social media accounts.
  • Integrate your promotions into transactional messages or existing communications. After all, customers are already expecting to hear from you – why not invite them to a new program?
    • For instance, you can include a banner on their shipping notification, thank you page, or regular newsletters.
    • You can even plug your program in your email signatures.
  • Use Monthly Summary emails to help keep members engaged. These share a personalized overview of each member’s referral activity every month.

jolt b2b referral program promotion

Whichever promotion method you choose, don’t be afraid to have fun. Yes, you’re a B2B company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t inject some personal joy and humor.

  • Use eye-catching text and images in your promotions.
  • Tie a promotion into an upcoming holiday or sporting event, or reference a movie or another well-known pop culture moment that will resonate with your clients.
  • Feature your successes. Welcome any new referral program customers, or add a note of congratulations for the customer who had the most number of referrals in the quarter.

12. Automate your referral program with B2B referral software

Referral programs have a lot of moving parts. For busy companies, automating some routine steps will make the entire program easier to run and increase your odds of success. Thankfully, there are a lot of good B2B referral software options out there to help manage your program’s success. But choose carefully. Many referral software programs are targeted to e-commerce or B2C businesses, and don’t properly account for the complexity of B2B sales.

At Referral Rock, we support the complex needs of B2Bs with:

  • Multi-step reward programs (where customers can be rewarded at both the “qualified lead” stage and the “closed won” stage, if you want)
  • Automated payout options, including gift cards, PayPal, Wise transfers, coupons, or custom rewards
  • Recurring workflows, event-based invites, and other automation to promote your program over time
  • Seamless integration with your CRM to track referrals and trigger rewards (including HubSpot and Salesforce)

In addition to creating a database of all your customers and their referrals, referral software generates the referral links and codes needed to automatically account for each action and reward customers for their referrals.

13. Analyze and qualify your referrals

When new referrals and leads start coming in, it helps to have an efficient process to analyze and qualify these potential customers. Start by checking for the referral’s position in the company. Are they a decision-maker in the purchasing process? Is the company the right size for your product or service? Can your company meet its needs?

Next, get some background info about the company, their industry, products, etc. You can even reach out to the referring customer for any any details about the referral. Why did they think the company would be a good fit? Find a good jumping off point to explain how your business will meet their unique needs.

Then have someone on your sales team personally contact the referral to introduce your company. If your marketing team doesn’t properly hand off a B2B sales lead referral to your sales team, and sales doesn’t follow up efficiently, you’ll lose the sale (which might also dissuade customers from referring others).

14. Personalize the referral’s experience

B2B businesses are looking for customized experiences, and the ways you connect with new customers should also have that personal touch. Oftentimes, it’s the first experience the referral is having with your company. Be sure to show the potential buyer how your solution can meet their needs based on their industry, role, and company size, plus their unique pain points.

15. Keep track of your referral marketing goals

To know if your referral program is successful, set detailed goals and implement tracking systems to measure whether you’re on the right track to reach these goals. How to measure the results of your B2B referral program? Here are a few useful metrics to track:

  • Referral conversion rate: The number of referred leads who ultimately make a purchase, relative to the total number of referred leads
  • Customer participation rate: The number of customers who make referrals, relative to your total number of customers
  • Total shares: The number of shares of business that have happened from customers participating in your program.
  • Brand awareness: Track referral visits on Referral Rock’s dashboard to know how much brand awareness your program is generating. Even if a referral doesn’t purchase right away, they could come back now that they know the benefits of your brand. Measuring traffic generated from your program shows you if the messages and offers shared by your referring customers bring people to your website.

Using referral marketing software can make measuring your program’s ROI much easier, with built-in analytics, referral link tracking, and reward payout features. Even after you set up your referral program, software can help you easily refine and improve your program. For example, you can experiment with different referral messaging or types of reward to see what your customers and referrals respond to best.

Member Visits dashboard in Referral Rock
The Member Visits dashboard in Referral Rock helps you see how often your members are sharing and what campaigns are most successful.

Referral software for B2B [Free Tools]

These referral tools for B2B are a free and easy way to help you start your referral program.

Free Tools + Services:

Want a fully automated referral program for your B2B business? Run your referral program with us at Referral Rock. Find out how we can build your program with you (and tailor it to your unique needs)

9 best B2B referral program examples

Before we wrap up, let’s look at some of the best B2B referral programs out there, run by top companies. Steal some of their secrets to run your own successful referral program.

1. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign knows how to turn customers into reliable brand ambassadors. It’s easy to refer ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation tool, as all current customers are automatically enrolled in the program thanks to referral software. Logged-in clients can copy their referral link right from their portal. No need for an extra step!

We also love that stakeholders earn rewards based on the value a newly referred ActiveCampaign brings to the company. Incentives range from $25-$100 in Amazon credits, based on the cost of the plan the referred customer bought.

And if any customers regularly create content, ActiveCampaign also offers a separate affiliate partnership program for these creators to earn passive income through promoting the software. 

activecampaign b2b referral program


2. Hiver

We highlighted their rewards earlier, but Hiver is such a great B2B referral program example, so we’re featuring it here as well. Eye-catching images grab customers’ attention, and little mascot icons show they’re not afraid to have fun.

Hiver explains the program in four simple steps, which makes the sharing process easier to understand. If customers have any more questions, an FAQ breaks things down and they’ve even made a chat feature available. We also love how the testimonials on the referral program page can remind customers why they love Hiver and should share this help desk software. 

And of course, we can’t forget about the rewards! As we featured earlier, Hiver uses multi-step Amazon gift card incentives to reward both referrals of qualified leads and sales. Then, when customers refer enough qualified leads, they become eligible for bonuses like a Kindle and an iPhone, in an awesome tiered system.

Hiver referral program example



3. GetResponse

Email marketing software GetResponse offers a double-sided, tiered B2B referral program. When someone refers another business that signs up for GetResponse, both the existing and new customer are rewarded with $30 in credit that can be used toward their subscription.

Best of all, when a customer makes three referrals then result in sales, they receive another high-value reward – a free Digital Marketing Certification course of their choice. These GetResponse courses are normally valued at $200, with interesting topics such as email marketing, marketing automation, landing page optimization, and inbound sales. getresponse b2b referral program


4. Hilti

If your business depends on commercial tools, you may have heard of Hilti. The company’s tool tracking service, called ON!Track, comes with its own ON!Track Referral Program. We’ve chosen to highlight their program because of how well it’s designed to grow new leads and sales for such a niche service.

Hilti mobilizes B2B customers who benefit from ON!Track tool tracking by encouraging them to “share [their] positive experience” and help others “better manage their resources.” The company’s referral program rewards customers with a a free month of the service for every referral that signs up to ON!Track. These rewards encourage customers to repeat their sharing, and refer multiple other businesses that would benefit. Hilti's ontrack referral service


5. FreeAgent

Small business accounting software FreeAgent offers a valuable referral program for its direct customers. When a FreeAgent customer refers someone who eventually becomes a paid user, both the referring customer and new customer receive a 10% discount on their subscription. A unique feature of this discount is that it lasts as long as both customers stay with the company (so a single referral can lead to a lifetime discount for both parties).

But since the referral reward is a recurring discount, how does FreeAgent encourage customers to make multiple referrals? The program allows customers to stack the discount, with an additional 10% off the customer’s subscription for every succeeding referral who stays subscribed. This means FreeAgent effectively becomes free to use for any customer who refers 10 new customers (as long as all the customers keep active subscriptions, which creates a lifetime value for the company).

With a reward like this, it’s easy to see why FreeAgent’s program made our list of the best B2B referral program examples! And the pot gets even sweeter. Once a customer makes 10 successful referrals, they are now eligible to earn commission fees for continuing to refer others. In other words, they can become an affiliate or partner of FreeAgent and get paid to continue their advocacy.

freeagent b2b referral program


6. DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean provides cloud, development and hosting services for businesses and developers to create powerful websites and software. Their referral program features a unique reward structure, to reward businesses when the peers they refer start to commit to the service, but motivate new B2B customers to commit earlier in the process.

If someone refers a business or decision-maker, and the referred lead adds their payment method, the lead gets a free $100, 60-day credit. (The limited time offer of credit promotes a sense of urgency). But the referring business doesn’t earn a reward until the peer they recommended spends $25 on their own. Once that happens, the referring business also earns $25 in DigitalOcean credit. digitalocean b2b referral program



7. Airtable

Airtable, a cloud collaboration and organizational software, has a B2B referral program example that’s unique on this list. Although Airtable offers a B2B product, the product is sold user-by-user. So, businesspeople are encouraged to recommend the SaaS to their peers at their own business, as well as other companies.

For every person they refer who signs up for Airtable, an advocate earns $10 in Airtable credits to upgrade their workspace to a premium plan. These rewards are cumulative. So, if someone refers enough peers to the premium version of Airtable (especially within their own company, where they’re trusted most), they could potentially use their own paid Airtable account for free for years.

And on Airtable’s end, this B2B referral incentive showcases the merits of paid plans. Someone who referred a few peers, and who gets free time with the paid plan, is more likely to purchase the paid version on their own after their “trial period” expires (or more likely to share with other peers to earn more time). It’s a win-win! Airtable b2b referral program example

8. Bench

Bench is a B2B SaaS company that offers relief funding and bookkeeping services. For every referral that joins them as a new customer, the referring client receives a $150 Visa gift card and a free month of bookkeeping (a reward that ties back to the company, plus a reward they can use however they want).

There are no limits on the number of leads a customer can bring in, either. So, clients can keep sending in new B2B leads and earning funds back for their efforts. They could potentially earn a year, or more, of free services in return for referrals!

bench b2b referral program


9. Gusto

Gusto is an all-in-one payroll, benefits and HR software solution that helps businesses manage their employees with ease. It simplifies the complexities of taxes, compliance and benefits so business owners can focus on running their business. As part of Gusto’s referral program, customers can earn a $300 visa gift card for every referral they bring in, and the person they refer will also get a $100 gift card.

Gusto does a great job of highlighting their referral program by including a callout in customer dashboards under “Refer & earn,” as well as in the Personal details dashboard of every account. How To Build a B2B Referral Program [15 Tips + Software] 1

Wrapping up

Convinced you’ll benefit from your own business-to-business referral program? Before you start building, make sure you have a product worth sharing, a strong customer base, and ready customer support. Then, follow the tips in this post, draw inspiration from some of the best B2B referral program examples, and find software that will meet your needs to get from idea to launch. You’ve got this!