Your Comprehensive Guide to B2B Referral Programs

Updated on June 3, 2021
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Referral programs are a setup that can help any number of business models, including B2B businesses. While referral programs might seem like they are traditionally for B2C companies, there is actually much benefit for B2B companies who take on this model.

Here’s why:

Why start a B2B referral program?

Word-of-mouth marketing is powerful and trusted, but sometimes it can be difficult to predict and track. A referral program gives your company control of the sharing process. By setting up how and what customers are saying about you, you can help control the narrative. This course of action can lead to more business, higher customer retention, and new customers joining your ranks.

With a B2B referral program, you not only make it easier for customers to tell others that you exist, but you get to suggest what they say. You can write messages that outline a referral chat – who you are, why the lead should work with you – and then make it so customers can just hit send. This ease of connection makes it more likely that customers will refer you out to others.

Meanwhile, referrals are easier to track. With a B2B business, a referral program can be great to have in place, as you can follow what customers bring in the most new buyers. Reward your best referrers with bonuses, or tailor the program to better suit clients’ needs in order to bring in even more customers through referrals.

Finally, a referral program can help you use advocate-marketers to increase conversion rates. Leads who have heard about a business through a trusted source are far more likely to sign up with or purchase from a brand. These are considered warm leads. They know what you do already, and they have a trusted source vouching for you.

Here are some stats that help it all hit home, from Forbes and Social Media Today:

  • 78% of marketers attest that a  B2B referral marketing program program draws in valuable leads
  • 54% say the cost per acquisition is lower with B2B referral programs
  • Referrals were ranked as the 2nd highest conversion of new business

B2B vs. B2C referrals

There are some key differences between B2B and B2C referrals. Most notably, your audience. While B2C brands are trying to reach a large group of customers, B2B brands are looking for a smaller, more pointed group.

  • A B2C is reaching the masses: all shoppers or consumers with a need for certain types of products.
  • A B2B is looking only for businesses who have an immediate need for their company.Therefore, there’s a smaller pool of customers.

The biggest change in this is the motivation of your buyer. While a B2C company might target a consumer’s intrigue or heartstrings to trigger a one-time purchase, B2B products and services are a long-term sale. B2B customers will go through longer, more thorough research processes before they purchase, and they’ve usually done plenty of homework before they approach you. They aren’t looking for a quick fix, but something that will fill a need for years to come.

Before you launch a B2B referral program

A B2B should meet the following criteria before launching a referral program. Be sure to set your business up for success before you move forward with referring in new customers to whom you can provide lifetime value.

Make sure your product/service is worth sharing

It sounds obvious enough, but if you don’t have a product or service that’s trustworthy, your business is going nowhere, referral program or not. Before you have something that customers will want to refer others to, you need a business model in place that’s worth referring – something your best customers will brag up. Ensure your brand has top-notch products, service, and/or customer service.

So, what do your online reviews say about your brand? You can also conduct an NPS survey (net promoter score) to get a better idea of what clients have to say about you.

Then, once you know people are willing to share, offering a referral reward will only sweeten the pot.

Ensure customer support is ready for more customers

The addition of a referral program could mean fast business growth for your brand. Do you have the infrastructure to take on the higher volume of sales, and support new customers throughout their lifecycle?

Most notably, your customer support team needs to have foundations in place to handle more customers. Can you ship out a higher volume of items efficiently? Onboard customers with the same standard? Continue to offer the stellar services you’re known for? Reply to customer calls and emails promptly?

If your new customers will need it from you, it needs to be ready before they come for a smooth transition. Adding infrastructure after the fact can create a bumpy, less effective process.

Nurture your relationships with your existing customers

How is your relationship with your current customers? How does the buying process look? Obviously, you want them to be happy. But you want them to be so happy that they actually request for others to join your services. Work on improving relationships with the customers you have now in order to instill their confidence in your brand.

As a B2B business, you have a nuanced relationship with your consumers. Reach out to get to know them and understand their needs. What does each customer-brand need? How can you help them reach their goals? In addition, this gives you the opportunity to listen to customer feedback and implement their advice. Finally, you can learn what would encourage them to bring a customer referral.

Decide on your target audience: Who will you ask for referrals?

Your target audience will be those who are most likely to send you referrals. What type of customers do you want on your team? Who is most likely to sing your praises, and who are the brands’ decision makers in your space (e.g. B2B marketing managers? Salespeople? Members of the C-suite?) Your answer will determine the audience you focus on when you ask for referrals.

Will you target paying customers?

Sure, this seems like an obvious question, but it’s one worth exploring. First, consider that your paying customers have experienced the full services of your brand. If you offer a free version of your product, these customers went past that in order to pay for your full offerings. They have a deeper understanding of what you do, how your products or services fare, and they were willing to pay for it.

Consider these customers to help sing your praises and to send out referrals with your upcoming referral program. This can be a great boost to your marketing strategy.

Your most loyal users?

Next, look at loyal customers. Who has returned for repeat business? Who leaves reviews online? Who shares positive comments about you on social media? These are your most loyal customers. They’re invested in your brand, making them a great place to go for referrals.

If you sell a product, look at who’s purchased the most or multiple times. If you have a subscription company, consider who’s been signed up for your service the longest. Then take happy reviews into account too. Loyal customers will share positive reviews online and be willing to stake their name on you in public.

Customers who said they’re willing to promote you?

If someone lets you know they’re willing to promote you, they are almost a sure bet for referrals. You can easily find these customers a few different ways. First, like we mentioned above, check for online reviews. If someone mentioned you online, they will be likely to send referrals, too. Those are great leads for your B2B referral program.

Next, send out an NPS survey. Email customers with a survey asking about their experiences. In it, those who say they’re likely to refer are a great lead for your referral program. Be sure to reach out to these leads and ask them to share your name.

Know the best time to ask for referrals

With B2B customers, it’s best to ask for a referral after someone has had a positive experience with your brand. Asking for leads too soon can be a turn-off, as customers might think you’re just out for a lead. Instead, wait until your customer has felt value within your brand.

Schedule a time to reach out after they’ve been a customer for a certain amount of time. Some key times to reach out are once they’ve been a customer for a few weeks, or after a satisfying customer experience.

 If a consumer reaches out about a question or concern and walks away from the experience happily, or if they offer positive and unprompted feedback,  these are other great times to ask for referrals.

The 13 best B2B referral program ideas: Best practices for success

Find more success with your B2B referral program by following these smart and proven best practices. Check them out for yourself in order to build a better program right from the start.

1. Make sharing easy

The easier it is for a customer to share your referral link, the more often it will get shared. It’s as simple as that. Make it easy for your customers in order to promote the referral program. If the process takes too many steps, it might confuse users or they may become frustrated with the process and move on.

Create a page that’s easy to follow and user-friendly. Using a referral link or referral code is one easy way to share. With the link or code, users can copy and paste or send directly via email in order to get your referral seen.

2. Strategically build your lead form

Strategically build your lead form so that it’s easy to fill out and follow. If you ask too many questions, or include too many fields, a referee or new customer might be less apt to complete it. Keep it short and to the point so that you can obtain the information you need without overwhelming the customer.

Use a streamlined contact form that asks for the referrer’s name and email, as well as the lead’s name and email. You might also add in a space for the lead’s phone number.

3. Ensure your program messaging is easy to understand

How the referral program works should be clear and to the point.

Referral, reward. Referral, reward. You can use images or graphics to help illustrate this point even further. Remember that your clients are busy, you don’t want to cause any extra work for them. Make it as easy as possible to help close the sale.

Also, what does your referral message say to new customers? What, if any, rewards are on offer for them? Keep it short and informative, and allow them to learn what you do and why they should choose your brand.

4. Design a concise CTA

concise cta with dinosaurs

It’s important to have a clear CTA at the end of your referral program messaging. A CTA – call-to-action – tells your customer exactly what it is that you want them to do. Sign up here, click to learn more, sign up and earn. All of these examples can entice new leads to click and sign up through your referral program.

Consider the design, too. Your CTA should be large and easy to find. Think about using a button for easy clicking and better visibility.

5. Motivate members to refer with the right rewards

Customers will be the most likely to refer others when they are intrigued by the reward on the other side. Find out what works for your customers – what excites them? You can do this with customer research or through the survey methods we discussed earlier. B2B consumers are likely to be motivated by free or upgraded services that will help their business, dollars off of your product, or perks unrelated to your product that could assist them in their career.

Remember that B2B programs are a little different than their B2C referral counterparts. You’ll want to reach your customers in a way that speaks to them. Consider the professional market, and your particular industry, and how you can entice new leads.

Company swag is a great way to go, while direct rewards like cash or gift cards can also entice your market. Keep in mind that access to training or tickets for professional events can also pique your key market’s interest.

Find out what it is that will most motivate your customers and offer it in exchange for their successful referral. This is one of the most effective ways to motivate your customers into bringing in new and successful leads.

6. Include an FAQ page

What questions do you think your customers will most regularly ask about your referral program? Consider what these might be, or take note of what questions customers are already asking most often about your referral program. From there, you can create an entire page that answers their questions. This will better inform your customer base and allow them a single stop for their answers. No waiting or getting frustrated with a wait time – instead, they can head to a single page that answers the most common questions that reach your brand.

Answers should be quick and easy to read – informative so customers remain excited about the problem, but not so long or complicated that they get bored or confused. Keep it concise and light to keep your leads in the know about your referral program.

7. Promote your B2B referral program

Once your referral program is up and running, it’s time to promote it. Making sure folks find your B2B referral setup is the best way to have it utilized, after all. There are several ways in which you can promote your program. Through email marketing, social channels, and messaging with clients, you can share the link to your referral program.

Target your ideal audience, as discussed above. With a targeted campaign, you can offer personalized connections with each customer. Emails, phone calls, or texts can be used to reach customers and connect with their specific needs. With this, you can choose customers and tell them they were personally picked.

Meanwhile, you should also promote the program on your website, with a landing page and clear, concise text that explains the program. Finish it off with your visual CTA, and you’re on your way to a successful referral program.

Don’t be afraid to have fun, either. Yes, you’re a B2B company, but a little flair can catch customers’ attention and get you on your way to landing new leads. An easy way to add fun can come in the form of pictures, your message – by adding humor or personalization – or with a game. Through gamification, you can add a competitive aspect to your program. This can further entice people to join in. After all, who doesn’t love friendly competition?

8. Personalize how you connect with referred leads

Next, you’ll need to adjust how you connect with your potential customers. Consider having someone from your sales team call them personally. This is a great time to learn about the company’s business. Ask them about nuances, as well as any questions or concerns they might have about working with your business.

This extra step will not only show that your business cares, but it will put you in a good position to better meet their needs and adapt to their wants and concerns for the future.

It’s also a good idea to reach out to the referring customer before you call to get any important background information that could help close the sale. In most cases, you’ll gain smart, relevant information without having to dig deeper with the client.

9. Let your customers help you craft a referral message

Like with a B2C referral program, with your B2B program, you will want to provide the referring customer with a pre-drafted message. Write up something you want them to convey, including a message that tells who you are and what you have to offer to the new client.

However, you should also give clients the opportunity to change the message themselves. Allow customers to make the message personal to their contact. A message that’s more personal has a better chance at finding intrigue.

Allow customers to explain what it is that they love about your business and why they recommend it to others. Short message options are also great for enticing leads, including those that go out via social media or text.

10. Personally call or email referred leads

Pretty straightforward, right? Yet it’s a method that’s often overlooked. As mentioned above, personally calling or emailing leads can make all the difference. This shows that you took the time and effort to reach out and connect with the customer on a personal level. It also provides you with personalized information that will help you to better connect with your customers.

Getting to know your customers on a deeper level can be beneficial on many fronts. But most notably, it creates trust that will allow them to trust you enough to sign up with your brand.

11. Properly handle referred leads

Don’t let referred customers fall through the cracks. Have a proper plan in place where you can field and pursue all of your leads. This is the only way to ensure that your potential customers will be followed up on and taken care of.

Your marketing team, sales team, and customer support team should all have a clear plan of how they should handle each referral lead. First, scan the referral to ensure it will be a good fit for your company. You don’t want to pour too much time or too many resources into a lead that won’t pan out. Therefore, by screening them upfront, you’ll know if the lead will be a good one for the brand.

Then, after a pre-screening process, it’s time to make sure no one falls through the cracks. Doing so could cause a client to lose faith in your brand (and potentially cost you a sale.) Stay on top of leads so you can ensure your company is putting its best efforts forward at all times.

12. Consider automating your program

Creating a referral program manually can be tough. That’s why it can be beneficial to use a software program that does the work for you. Automated software can keep track of leads, who sent them, and where they are in the signup process. This type of automated software can make the referral process far easier to close deals with. And it can give you peace of mind that your referrals are working for you – and that no mistakes are being made along the way.

Take out the guesswork and automate your referral program by adding in referral software.

13. Track your progress towards goals

How can you tell whether your referral program is a success? Setting and tracking progress towards measurable goals is key. 

One key referral program metric you should track is conversion rate (the number of referred leads who ultimately make a purchase, relative to the total number of referred leads). You might also track the percentage of customers who have referred peers, and the percentage of customers who have made a successful referral.

To easily track your progress towards your conversion rate goal, and other goals, referral software is key. Since these platforms already come with built-in analytics,  tracking features, and referral link generation, they make it much easier to measure your return on investment.

B2B referral program examples

Take a look at these referral programs that have created success for top B2B companies.

Google G Suite (Google Workspace)

Google’s business system that includes email, chat, video calls, and more has grown through its B2B marketing referral program.

Businesses that bring in successful referrals get flat cash in return for their efforts. The tiered program offers more when members sign up for a higher level of G Suite services.

google workspace b2b referral program

 

Bench

Meanwhile, Bench is a company that offers relief funding. 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. 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.

bench b2b referral program

GetResponse

GetResponse is a marketing SaaS platform that helps brands grow through email campaigns. Their program works in tiers, and offers different rewards at each level. For a single referral, customers can earn $30 off of their bill (this reward is double-sided, so referred customers earn as well). But after bringing in three successful referrals, customers earn access to a digital marketing certification course. Better still is they get to choose the course that they access as a reward. This is a great example of offering something of value to referring customers. GetResponse can uniquely offer the courses, and provide significant value to the customer in the process.

getresponse b2b referral program

In conclusion

B2B referral marketing programs can be a great way to advance your marketing efforts. Reaching company-based customers can be slightly different than B2C formats, but by taking the time to make connections and understand what your clients need, you can land more customers and convert leads into loyal customers.

And once you’ve set up your B2B referral program, don’t just leave it be. Rather, A/B test your program, then refine it based on which structures best motivate your advocates and leads. The detailed tracking features of referral software will help you with this important process.