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This article is part of the “Getting started with your first referral program” section of our guide that has over 38 resources dedicated to everything you need to know about referral programs.

 Referral marketing isn’t just for B2C businesses. B2B decision-makers are also turning to people they trust when they decide which purchases to make. When a peer recommends a product to a B2B decision-maker, they listen.

  • Useful Social Media reports that word-of-mouth influences 91% of B2B purchasers’ buying decisions
  • According to Influitive, “84% of B2B decision-makers start the buying process with a referral.”
  • 87% of B2B frontline sales personnel, 82% of sales leaders, and 78% of marketers believe that referrals are crucial to sales success.
  • Also, 71% of B2Bs report higher conversion rates from referrals than other customers. 69% say that referred leads take less time to close than other leads, and 59% say referred customers have a higher lifetime value. It’s all because of the trust that referrals place in their peers.

(Read this article for more compelling B2B referral marketing statistics!)

Why start a B2B referral program?

Peer recommendations are often unpredictable, even in the B2B world. But a formalized B2B referral program gives your brand some control over the sharing process. Like their more well-known B2C counterparts, B2B referral programs make it easier for a business to share your product or service with other decision-makers, streamline the sharing process, make referrals easy to track, and reward the advocate for sharing.

Arguably, since B2B purchases are usually much larger, referral marketing is even more important in B2B than in B2C. So, it pays to start a B2B referral program for your business!

But how are B2B referral programs different from their B2C counterparts? What must you establish before your B2B business starts a referral program for the greatest chance of success? What are the best practices regarding program construction, promotion, and incentives? Our definitive guide has the answers.

B2B vs. B2C referrals

B2B referral programs must be tailored to the distinct needs of the B2B purchasing landscape.

  • Before deciding whether to purchase a B2B product, businesses usually go through a long decision-making process and a multistep sales journey, including demos and periods of questioning. No instant transactions here!
  • B2Bs also consult multiple stakeholders before making a purchase. And the number of decision-makers involved keeps increasing. So, a referred decision-maker at a business won’t decide whether to use your company on their own.
  • In addition, B2Bs usually seek a large, long-term deal— one that lasts for at least a few years. That’s drastically different from B2C buying, where one consumer quickly makes a short-term, low-stakes decision.
  • And B2B buyers want a personalized experience. They seek clarity on how your product or service will meet their distinct needs, look for detailed customer support across all channels, and want a customized experience throughout every part of the sales funnel.

Before you launch a B2B referral program

To set your business up for the greatest success, follow this checklist before you launch a B2B referral program.

Have an A+ product and customer service worth sharing

Customers will only share your product or service with other businesses if they have a highly positive view of you. You must have a polished product or service that is worth spreading the word about, and your customer support must be top-notch, so your customers remain satisfied.

How can you gauge customer satisfaction, so you know when you have a solid base of people willing to recommend you?

  • Check your customer retention rate.
  • Look at your customer reviews online.
    •  How many reviews does your business have? How many are positive? And what are others saying about you?
  • Pay attention: are people already organically recommending your products or services?
  • Use a Net Promoter Score, or NPS, survey.
    • An NPS survey asks your customers how likely they would be to recommend your product or service to their peers.
    •  Once you’ve identified several buyers who say they’re highly likely to share your brand, plan to reach out to them directly when you start your referral program.

Develop your current customer relationships

Your existing customers are your best customers, so commit to building lasting relationships with them from the outset. This is especially important in the B2B landscape, where your relationship with your buyers is long-term.

After you make a sale, don’t leave your customers high and dry. Keep the lines of communication open, and support them at all stages after their purchase. For example, if you’re a software company, assist your customers with setup, then periodically check in to answer their questions and resolve their pain points.

Also, get to know each of your client businesses individually, and listen to their needs and concerns. Gather relevant feedback from your customers, both about what you’re doing well and what you could improve. That way, you can deliver customized service for each client, improve your experience for all of your current customers, and make customers feel especially valued. Fostering these solid relationships is key to promoting customer satisfaction, which is key to driving referrals.

Make sure customer support is ready

In addition, before you start a referral program,  gauge how well your business will be able to handle building similar solid relationships with any new customers you gain. After all, referral  marketing is meant to bring in new customers through your satisfied existing customers, and start a viral cycle of sharing where these pleased newer customers then share with their peers.

But if these new customers aren’t satisfied with your customer service, they won’t recommend you (or worse, they’ll leave you for a competitor). That will grind the cycle you were seeking to a screeching halt. So, make sure your customer support team is able to deliver high levels of service to your new referrals, equal to or greater than the service their referring peers experienced!

Decide which customers to target

When you start a B2B referral program, it’s most effective to roll it out to your best customers first. So, which existing clients should you target?

  • Paying customers: This may seem fairly obvious, but this is an especially important factor if you run a service with trial and paid versions. Reaching out to paying customers first is key, because they’ve experienced your full range of features and have expressed their confidence in your product.
  • Loyal users:
    •  If you sell products, choose clients who have used your product frequently. Prioritize longer-term users and repeat purchasers, as well as those who have clearly expressed their satisfaction to you.
    • If you offer a service, or a subscription, prioritize those customers who have been consecutively paying for it the longest, who really know its value.
    •  Either way, also look for clients who have used your product long enough to reach measurable goals, because they can express how your product has helped grow their business.
  • Willing promoters:
    •  If you ran an NPS survey, reach out to those customers who said they would be most likely to promote you.
    • Or, reach out to those who left the most glowing reviews online.
    • Already have clients spreading the word about your brand informally? They’re perfect to ask to join your formal referral program!

Know the best timing to target customers

You should only ask for referrals after your customers see your product or service as valuable. Don’t ask customers to become members of your referral program right after they become your paying customers. If you do, they might think that you’re just using them as a means to another transaction. But, if they see value in what you have to offer, they’re far more likely to refer.

Key to this step is identifying the moments where customers see the most value in your service or product. These moments will be based on the unique value propositions your company has to offer (for example, the streamlining of a certain process). So, make sure these propositions are clear.

B2B referral program best practices: elements needed for success

Now that you see your business is prepared for a referral program, you need to plan out a solid structure to have the best results. These best practices will help you define that structure.

Keep in mind as you design: even though you’re a B2B, referrals will still be made from individual to individual. An employee at one of the businesses you serve (known as a member) will refer a specific decision-maker at another business (known as the referral or lead).

1. Make it easy to share

One of the main reasons for starting a referral program is to make the sharing process simpler. If your process takes too many steps, or if it is unclear, you’ll lose out on valuable opportunities to acquire new customers. Thus, you’ll want to streamline your referral process, so it’s as easy as possible for your clients to share you with other businesses.

Keep your program description concise and your page layout uncluttered

Your clients must quickly understand what you want them to do (refer potential new clients), what’s in it for them (extrinsic incentives or intrinsic rewards), and the rules you’ve established (including what counts as a successful referral, and how rewards are earned).

Revel Systems’ uncluttered layout, with a concise explanation, clear CTA, and simple lead form.

Cut down on the clicks

From discovering your referral program, to sending the invite to a peer, the referral process should take as few clicks or taps as possible.

Design your lead form carefully

Many B2B referral programs tend to ask for a lot of information about your clients, their peers, and their peers’ companies. But this can be overwhelming to your clients, so don’t be tempted to get loads of info right away.

Instead, think about the minimum amount of information you need from members and referrals, to accomplish your goals. You can always ask for more info later.

Consider trying one of these simple lead form combinations.

  • Member name, company, and email, lead name, company, and email
  • Member name, phone, and email; lead name, phone, and email
  • Member name and email; lead name, phone, and email
  • Member name and email, lead name and email

Use a concise call-to-action, or CTA

The best CTA will be the largest, most prominent text on your member page—the page clients use to refer other businesses. It will catch customers’ eyes, express your desire for clients to refer their friends, and summarize the benefits of referring, in a single sentence. (Ex. “Refer customers, grow your revenue;” “Invite other businesses and earn free storage space.”)  Some B2B referral programs use an even simpler CTA, like “Join our referral program.”

Wellness center management software MINDBODY’s eye-catching CTA focuses on multiple benefits of referring: the rewards members can earn, and the intrinsic, world-changing benefits of spreading the word about the software.

Use a referral code or link

Referral codes and referral links make sharing easier for your member clients, because they can copy and paste them into any email or message. These codes and links also tie a member to the peer they refer, so the member can receive credit for the referral.

Craft a FAQ to simplify the experience further

A referral program FAQ page alerts your clients on what to expect from your referral program. It will allow you to explain your program in greater detail, including your program’s terms and conditions, without cluttering your main referral page. Plus, it will reduce the load that falls to your customer support team.

Google has created a FAQ for its G Suite referral program, to make the sharing experience easier.

2. Personalize the experience for the referral, with the member’s help

B2B businesses are looking for customized experiences, so the ways you connect with new referrals—the first experience these decision-makers have with your business—must have that personalization.

Work with your client to craft a compelling referral message

In any referral program, it’s important that the very first contact a referred lead has with your business comes directly from the member. So, you’ll need to work with your client to craft a compelling, personalized message that comes right from them to their peer.

The way you go about this will depend on your business. You might follow the traditional route, which works a lot like B2C referral programs. If you go this route, you’ll provide each user with the opportunity to customize a referral message to their peer right on the program page, and send it via email, with one click. You’ll use a box with a pre-filled message template, to give your members ideas what to say so they aren’t stuck, but members will be able to personalize the message however they wish, to explain why they love your business. You might also provide options for sharing with multiple peers via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Zoho Docs’ B2B referral program provides an example of this B2C-like model. They provide options for sharing via email, Facebook, and Twitter.

However, after you’ve received a referral, you might also work directly with the member behind it, to help them craft a personalized message to send to the referral, right from their own email account. In this case, you’ll also provide your client with a template.

In the email template, you’ll provide:

  •  A sample greeting for the member to use (ex. “Hi [name], I hope you’re doing well. I thought you might be interested in [business]…)
  • A short introduction to your business
  • A way for the lead to contact your business with any questions or concerns
  • If you’re using a referral code or link, you’ll provide that to the member as well, for them to include towards the end of the email.
  • Space for the member to describe their relationship with your business. When you converse with the member, you’ll encourage the member to complete the email with information about how long they’ve used your product or service, and how they’ve benefited.

Remember: This email must always read like it’s coming from the member, and not feel “salesy.” But you have the option to give your members some supplementary materials to attach to the email, like PDFs, to help them share your business with their peer.

MINDBODY lets members provide notes about their peers and their peer’s business, to aid MINDBODY in personalizing the experience for the lead.

Customize your own call and/or email

Once a client refers a decision-maker at another business, and once the personalized message (above)  is sent, have someone on your sales team make a personalized call to the decision-maker who was referred, send a personalized email, or both, to introduce your company. Be ready to gather info about the lead’s business and its specific needs, so you can explain how you’ll meet those needs. Also, invite them to ask you any questions they have.

You might also call or email the member first, and ask for background info on the business and decision-maker they referred, as well as any other messages they would like to pass on to the lead. They’ll likely share some of this info without much prompting.

3. Properly scan and handle your referred leads

Scanning and handling referred leads efficiently is key for B2B businesses.

Scanning referred leads

Before you spend too much time on pursuing a referred lead, you’ll need to make sure that the lead isn’t already moving through the sales funnel. You’ll also need to check that the lead is in a position to sway purchasing decisions at their company, has the money to invest in your product or service for the long term, truly fits with your target audience, and has a need your company can meet.

Handling referred leads

Don’t let referred leads, especially those ready to make a purchase, slip away. If your marketing team doesn’t properly hand off a lead to your sales team, and sales doesn’t follow up efficiently, you’ll lose the chance at a sale (and you might also dissuade customers from referring others). So, quickly hand off qualified referred leads to sales, and make sure the right salesperson follows up in an efficient manner. Consider flagging referred leads in your system, or personally alerting your sales team that given leads were referred, so they make these primed, valuable leads a priority.

4. Motivate members to refer: choose the right incentives

Now, it’s time to figure out how you’ll reward your clients for sharing with other businesses. You’ll need to select your incentive types and structures carefully, to properly motivate your clients..

Types of incentives

Incentives in B2B referral programs work very differently compared to those in B2C. Yes, in the end, an individual person has to act in the referral program, and take that desired action of sharing with other businesspeople. So, when choosing incentives, it all comes down to who the referring members are, and what is going to motivate them. For example, if many of your clients travel frequently, they would probably be motivated by travel vouchers. (Of course, you’ll want to take care of yourself, too, and choose cost-effective incentives!)

However, the traditional incentives in B2C may not work the same in a B2B program. If your business caters to small or medium-size businesses, incentives can work similarly to B2C incentives.  But if your B2B serves larger businesses, you’ll need to think outside the B2C box.

  • B2C incentives like discounts, credits and money back on purchases can work for clients at small or medium businesses. However, they won’t work for clients from big businesses, as the end user doing the referring is not paying the bill.
  • If you offer software as a service, unlocking features also works well as a reward for clients at small or medium businesses. Think more storage space, the ability to add more user accounts, limited-time feature upgrades,  or a free month of your program. Depending on the position of your client, this could also work for clients at larger businesses, as long as they’re in direct contact with the software.

 Zoho Docs offers the dual-sided feature incentive of 5 free users for both the member and the referral.

  • Branded swag, like apparel and bags, can work for most clients, regardless of the size of their own business.
  • Direct cash incentives, gift cards to popular food or drink establishments, travel vouchers, or cash gift cards issued by credit card companies, will also work for most clients.
  • Does your company hold conferences, webinars, courses, networking events, or training sessions? Or does it have connections to other top conferences or networking opportunities? Consider offering free passes to these learning opportunities in exchange for a successful referral, if your referring clients would directly benefit from these sessions. After all, B2B employees love receiving opportunities to grow professionally.
  • You don’t need to advertise these incentives, but consider giving top referrers priority support or early access to your new features.
  • You may decide to structure your referral program like a partner program, where clients agree to refer leads to you in the long term, or even act as an approved reseller of your product, in exchange for a commission.
    •  If so, keep in mind that a B2B partner program is very similar to an affiliate program.
    • So, participants in this type of program are driven by cash, not by credits or discounts.

Structure of incentives

You’ll also need to decide on how to structure your incentives.

  • Consider offering dual-sided incentives. In other words, in addition to rewarding the member for making the referral, think about offering an incentive to the referred lead, to motivate them to make a purchase.
  • Think about using cumulative incentives, which keep rewarding members each time they successfully refer a lead.
  • Gamified incentives also work well. Here are some examples:
    •  Simple points systems, where points can be redeemed for an incentive of the member’s choice;
    • A little “gamble:” cash out and take a smaller incentive for referring one peer, or defer the reward to work towards a larger one for referring more peers successfully
    • Competitions, where the person who successfully refers the most peers in a given time frame earns an extra reward
  • Given the length of the B2B process, think about giving the member a smaller reward for referring a peer, and then a larger reward after the referral is successful.

MINDBODY uses gamification masterfully. Members have the choice of taking a $100 Visa gift card after one referred peer successfully signs up for MINDBODY, or deferring the reward to work towards a $1000 Visa gift card for five successful referrals.

5. Promote your referral program

You’ve put in all this work to design your referral program. Now, it’s time to make sure your clients know about it, so they can spread the word about you!

You’ll want to promote your referral program in several ways. Some of these methods will be targeted at your best customers. Others will reach all or most of your clients.

Targeted promotion

As mentioned above in the “before you launch” section, you’ll want to target your best customers first. Use personalized phone calls or emails to thank these quality customers, then explain your referral program and invite them to participate. Let them know that you chose them specifically. (If you make a call, follow it up with an email containing a link to your referral program).

Broad promotion

Once your referral program is up and running, and you’re ready to promote it to a wider audience, follow these tips.

  • Promote the referral program on your website’s homepage with a “refer” call-to-action button. Make sure that the button is easy-to-find, either on a navigation bar or in a menu.
  • You could also promote your program on your blog, your social media accounts, or within your newsletters.
  • Ask for referrals directly (through promotional emails or phone calls), but choose your timing carefully. Try to ask when a client is happiest: for instance, when they’ve made a purchase, renewed a subscription, or given you positive feedback.
  • Whichever methods you choose, don’t be afraid to have fun! Yes, you’re B2B, but that doesn’t mean you can’t inject joy and humor.
    • Use eye-catching text and images in your promotions.
    • You could tie a promotion into an upcoming holiday or sporting event, or reference a movie or other well-known pop-culture moment you know will resonate with your clients.
    • Consider gamifying your program. For example, offer points for each referred lead and see who can rack up the most points, Or, see how many referrals your client base can make within a single day.

6. Consider Automation

Referral programs have a lot of moving parts, so automating the processes involved will give you a better chance of success. Referral marketing software helps you track your program’s success and manage your referrals.

Program management

Referral marketing software keeps a record of all your member clients and referrals for you (including which members are associated with which referrals).

  •  It generates the referral codes and links needed to monitor each lead and tie them back to a given member.
  •  When referrals are successful, it registers them, and flags the users who have earned an incentive, so you can reward them in a timely manner.

You can also use referral marketing software to help qualify leads.

  • If you ask the member or lead for the lead’s company name, phone number, company website, or email, you can use this stored info to research the lead’s company, and see if they would truly benefit from your products or services.

And if your referral marketing software integrates with workflow automation tools (i.e. Zapier), you can connect the software so your sales team is quickly notified about referred leads, and can take action.

Goal tracking

To see whether your referral program is successful, you’ll need to set measurable goals and implement tracking systems to determine whether you’ve met these goals.

  •  For example, it’s very beneficial to track the program’s conversion rate (the number of referred leads who ultimately make a purchase, relative to the total number of referred leads), or its participation rate (number of targeted clients who make referrals, relative to your total number of targeted clients).
  • Using referral marketing software makes measuring your ROI much easier because these solutions come with analytics, referral link distribution and tracking built-in.

And once you’ve set up your referral program, don’t leave it be. Your tracking mechanisms will help you test and refine your program.

  •  Change variables such as your type of reward, or the text on your referral program page.
  • Run A/B tests to see which structures your members and leads respond to best.
  • Keep working until you’ve found the structure that turns in the best results.

Key Takeaways

Ready to start a B2B referral program? Remember these tips:

  • Tailor elements to the B2B buying process, which involves more stakeholders, longer decision-making periods, and a thirst for personalization.
  • Before you launch your program, make sure your clients are satisfied, and that your customer success team is ready for an influx of new clients. Also, know which clients you’ll ask to join the program first, and when the best time to ask will be.
  • Make your referral program easy for clients to share.
  • Work with each member to craft a personalized message to connect with their referred peer.
  • Carefully qualify your referred leads, and efficiently hand off qualified leads to your sales team.
  • Motivate clients to refer with the right incentives…but remember, not all “traditional” incentives will work well for B2B clients, especially those from bigger businesses.
  • Promote your referral program, so your valuable clients know about it!
  • Consider automation to help you with referral management, lead qualification, handling, and tracking.

Looking for referral program software?

This article is part of the “Getting started with your first referral program” section of our guide that has over 38 resources dedicated to everything you need to know about referral programs.

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Jessica Huhn

Posted by Jessica Huhn

Jessica Huhn is a writer at Referral Rock. When she is not writing, there is a good chance that Jessica is singing, arranging songs, sharing and enjoying content on social media, or hanging out with her mini Goldendoodle. She believes that it's always important to cultivate gentle strength.