Making the Case for Referral Incentives

Over the past few years, referral incentives have become more researched and understood. More people are understanding their value, learning how to properly implement them into their channel. But in spite of this growth, there are still some people who consider incentives to be suspect at best — or at worst, unethical.

People who are against referrals generally consider them to be bribes, and worry about the ethical implications of “buying” referrals from partners and customers. They believe that partners and customers should be giving referrals because they genuinely believe in their product or service, not because they are expecting to get something out of it.

And that much, at least, is perfectly true! Great referrals come from people who are genuinely happy with your product or service and want to pass on that knowledge to other people, and an incentive should not be the sole motivator for a referral.

But does that mean that incentives are bad?

The dictionary definition of incentive is “something that incites or has a tendency to incite to determination or action.” It’s easy to see how some people might look at this and come away thinking of incentives as simply “bribes.” But for referral partners and customers, this definition is far too limiting.

Because the incentive rarely “incites” the referral. Instead, incentives are a way to say “thank you” to a partner or customer for giving it.

After all, our partners and customers are busy. And they’re taking the time they could be devoting to something else to make a referral for you. When looking at it that way, it is easy to see why incentives matter. Incentives show that their referral is appreciated, and that you don’t take their work for granted.

They also make referrals fun. Trying to get that next incentive or reward is like a game for some partners and customers. And who doesn’t like games?

But what about . . .?

Even with this major misconception out of the way, some reservations about referral incentives linger.

For example, some might worry that incentive programs aren’t sustainable. But with automation software, this is no longer a concern. Automation also helps combat the worry of fraud or abuse of the system.

Still others are put off by the cost that referral incentives have inherently attached to them. But when you consider the fact that referral partner leads convert at a much higher rate than standard leads, and when you consider how incentives can encourage repeat referrals from partners, then the investment quickly becomes worth it.

But what incentives should I use?

Even if you’re considering an incentive program, it can be difficult to know what kind of incentive you should be giving your partners and customers. Turning to research can help you figure out where to start.

For partners, The trend is moving towards ACH rewards. The most popular amount is between $101-1000, with the average reward amount being $182.

For customers, gift cards are king, taking up 52% of referral incentives. The most popular incentive amount ranges between $41-100, with the overall average being $110.

These statistics offer a good baseline, whether you’re looking to start an incentive program or if your current program isn’t delivering the results you want for the investment that you’re putting into it.

How do you build a incentive strategy?

Building an incentive strategy is simple, but not easy. You need to find the correct mix of appropriate amount, structure, and motivation.

There are, as we’ve touched on before, 7 factors that go into a good referral strategy. When planning, you should consider the following:

  1. Calculation
  2. Timing and Multi-stage
  3. Multilevel
  4. Accrual
  5. Prospect reward
  6. Campaign Bonus
  7. Sales

While this can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Exercise 11 in our Referral Guidebook is all about calculating incentives, and it comes with interactive worksheets that make this step — and every other part of building a referral channel — much less stressful.

How referral partner programs outperform resellers

The success of partner programs in B2B companies is highly variable. Many companies try various approaches, but what starts as a promising opportunity, often ends in unmet expectations from both companies in the partnership.

After all, the idea of extending lead generation reach and sales coverage without adding headcount is appealing. And although partnering is a great model in concept, the execution is very difficult. The reality is that you are constantly trying to train and onboard Partners in order to make sure that they understand the differentiated messaging and sales techniques necessary to effectively sell your product. In addition, servicing the relationship post sale introduces an entirely different set of challenges such as how to nurture customer relationships to deliver a continued revenue stream.

Putting it all together is  an extremely big task and one that takes a significant amount of resources to achieve success. But thanks to new referral marketing technology entering the market, we are starting to see a shift in partner strategy. Specifically, partnerships based on referrals are starting to show incredible success and are challenging the traditional mindset of resale oriented partnering.

Resale = high investment with uncertain return

With reseller partnerships you are faced with the development of detailed contracts that cover all aspects of a complex relationship. But, that’s just the beginning. Once the partnership execution begins, you’re faced with the task of onboarding and training the Partner’s marketing and sales teams and the difficult task of maintaining mind-share as other priorities of the Partner inevitably surface.

Success requires the same time and budget as direct selling efforts, but often with worse results. Why? Because Reseller Partners don’t see your product as the primary way to achieve quota. They aren’t looking for opportunities for your product. Instead, your product is simply an afterthought until an obvious need is exposed by their Customer.

Also, consider the end Customer‘s perspective. Do they have to go through the Partner as a middleman to get support? Are they getting the same care and nurturing as your direct-sale Customers? When the time comes, will they be an Advocate for your business and provide the word-of-mouth recommendations that are so vital to the success of your business? The answer is probably not.

Referral partner programs have challenges too

Referral partnerships have existed for centuries. With this model, instead of a full reseller arrangement, you use Partners primarily as a way to extend lead generation. As Partners come across situations where a need for your product is identified, they refer the lead to you. Your team then engages in the relationship, takes the driver seat on the sales process and ultimately, makes the sale. This fixes a few key issues with the reseller model. You now have a much simpler contract (if any) and you don’t need to deeply train the Partner on how to sell your product or service

However, a few problems remain with referral partner programs and a few new ones arise as a result.

First, you still need to have a way to stay top of mind with your Partners. You also need to make sure you have a simple way to track, incentivize and manage this relationship. For example, how does the Partner stay informed of the status of the referral so they can help the opportunity progress?

And, relative to incentives, will you pay the Partner per lead or when a sale closes? If it is only when a sale closes, how do you trigger the event so that you can fulfill the reward and ensure the partner get’s compensated quickly and correctly?

The reality is that much of this is done manually and that limits the output of a Referral Partner.  While Referral Partners can produce great in-market leads they are difficult to scale.

Because both models have strengths and weaknesses, I see companies trying to do a bit of everything, with limited success.

The rise of referral partner programs managed at scale

The advent of software to manage referrals has tipped the scale strongly in favor of referral partnerships. With the ever increasing pressure to generate ROI from your partnership efforts, my advice is to get there and get there fast.

Here is my take on how automated referral partner programs can benefit all parties involved while being a consistent generator of high quality leads.

Benefits of automated referral partner programs to your company

  1. Quality leads: This one is pretty obvious. You already know that referrals from Partners are great leads, but with referral marketing software you get a consistent flow at a larger scale than ever before. In fact in a recent benchmark study 31% of referral leads from partners made a purchase. This number increased to 41% when sales was involved in the referral process.

referral partners, referral marketing, what are referral partners conversion rate?

 2. Shorter sales cycles: It’s a proven fact, referral deals move faster through the pipeline. It isn’t just that they are higher quality. Your sales team also has access to the Partner who made the referral so they can prequalify the opportunity and enlist their help in making the sale.

Improved customer experience: From first contact with your product through the entire customer journey, you are now in the driver’s seat to achieve customer success. This makes for a great customer experience, but it also means that your customers can be leveraged later to give you positive mentions in social media and refer your product to their peers. And that means more high quality leads.

4. Cost savings: With automation comes significant cost savings. In this model, you can scale the number of Referral Partners without adding headcount because everything from operational management, to nurturing communications, through to reward fulfillment is automated. Additionally, you no longer have the resource-intensive training nor the co-marketing costs from the Reseller Partner model.

5. Better data: With all of your referral partner programs activity managed with referral marketing software and integration into your sales CRM (e.g Salesforce), it is easy to see direct ROI from Referral Partners and prove the incredible value of the channel.

Benefits of automated referral partner programs to your Partners

  1. Added revenue/income: Depending upon whether you structure your program to reward the partner entity, the Partner Advocates (typically Sales Reps) or both, the outcome is the same. Your referral program provides an easy way to get rewarded for relationships they already have.
  2. No hassle: With nurture emails and a personal web page, Partners can see their referral activity and reward status. The result is that the Partner feels informed and views the relationship with your company as low friction. And when Partners have confidence in your system, they’ll refer more.
  3. Happy customers: Partners are able to easily extend their offering to your product or service to provide solutions that meet the Customer’s needs. And referral leads are the highest quality, so Partners know they will receive the proper attention and care during the buying process.

Benefits of automated referral partner programs to your sales team

  1. Fast leads: No one is more appreciative than Sales of referral leads. They can skip the emailing and calling to try to get a prospect. The Partner has all the information needed to get the opportunity generated and can even help Sales drive it through the pipe.
  2. No new systems: With all of the referral data in the sales CRM, Sales doesn’t have to learn a new system. With fast access to referral lead and Partner Advocate information in the system they use every day, they are more productive.
  3. Easy Partner management: What Sales doesn’t want is to have to track which Partner referred whom and fight for them to get paid. With all of this done for them, they can focus on what you want them to – selling!

Benefits of automated referral partner programs to your Customers

  1. Need resolved quickly: When a need is identified by the Partner, it can be resolved quickly with your product or solution without the Customer having to go through the hassle of blindly scouring the internet for the right product to buy. This saves them time and hassle.
  2. Work with a trusted advisor: Another reason referral leads move quickly through the pipeline is that the interest started with a recommendation from a trusted source (the Partner). Customers who get a recommendation from a trusted source are much more likely to buy.
  3. Great support: Since the entire customer relationship is managed by you, referred Customers get the same great support that you provide all of your Customers.

Turn your partner relationships into revenue

Because of the benefits to all parties, savvy Channel Managers are making a transition away from Resellers to referral partner programs managed with  software specifically made to handle these kinds of relationships. With a low cost automated system you can maintain or reduce  the cost of your channel team while simultaneously growing the direct revenue coming from the channel.

Discover how powerful referral marketing software could be for you with the ROI calculator (Warning: May cause your referral partner program to drive revenue at an extreme speed).

referral partner programs, referral network,

3 ways verbal referral functionality will increase advocate referrals

As marketers, we are constantly asking ourselves and others, “What do customers want?” The answer is simple, they want what we all want – for everything to be easy. This need must be fulfilled starting at first contact and continuing all the way through to post-purchase engagement, like referral marketing programs.

To prove the importance of providing an easy customer journey, McKinsey surveyed 27,000 people in 44 industries. The survey found that making the customer journey as easy and effortless as possible increased revenue growth by 10-15% and increased positive customer experience by 20%.

Amazon, all the way back in 1999, understood this concept. That was the year Amazon added the option to enable 1-click purchase. No need to enter personal information or go through the process of verifying the credit card, just click purchase on the product page and you’re done. Why did they do this? To make purchasing easy for the customer. The time it took to checkout was often the biggest barrier to a purchase on Amazon.

Of course not everyone used this function. I decided against it because I wasn’t fully confident in my ability to resist pushing that nice yellow button for spontaneous purchases.  But the fact is, functionality that enables companies to offer the option of making interactions easier is being applied in many different facets. For referral marketing programs, they are automating and tracking verbal referrals.

How the verbal referral option benefits advocates

1. Allows easy referral attribution

The process of easily and automatically attributing a referral lead to the advocate who referred and reconciling it in the CRM’s system of record has become a no-brainer when deciding on functionality needed in a referral program. But what about when you need to attribute a referral to an advocate after the referral has already become a lead?

One thing I’ve seen a lot is advocates getting upset because they referred a lead but the referral happened verbally instead of through the referral channel so it was never attributed to them. For instances, let’s say Claire the customer (of Magnificent Marketing Automation) is meeting with her old co-worker Patrick for lunch. Patrick tells Claire about how his businesses really needs marketing automation software. Claire tells Patrick about Magnificent Marketing Automation and how it has satisfied her company’s needs. Later that day Patrick goes on Magnificent Marketing Automation’s website and fills out a lead form. Since Claire didn’t refer Patrick through the designated channel, Magnificent Marketing Automation will most likely not give her the reward she deserves since they have no way of tracking it as a referral and attributing it to Claire.

This missing functionality causes advocates to lose faith in the referral program, thereby discouraging future referrals.

By making verbal referral functionality a part of referral program software, referrals are able to be attributed to the advocate easily at any point in the sales process. Even after Patrick has become a lead, Sandy the sales rep is able to link his referral to Claire’s through the advocate lookup function which allows Sandy to search for a contact record in the CRM and attach it to the referral lead. Claire can then keep updated on the status of her verbal referral in her personal homepage and receive automated email updates as the referral lead status changes. This way, Claire effortlessly gets credit for the referral and stays engaged with the referral program, making her more willing to refer in the future.

2. Decreases the effort advocates have to put into a referral

We are all busy. And this is especially true for B2B referral advocates who have their own responsibilities and workload. Often times this means that making a referral can be put on the back burner for a time. However, regular contact points with customers or partners such as sales and customer success check-ins, scheduled training, or contacting a customer after a product has had a success, is a natural point at which to collect a referral if you have the verbal referral functionality.

For instance, let’s say Claire is on a call with Sandy the sales rep for a regular check-in and tells Sandy that she knows someone who might be in the market for Magnificent Marketing Automation. Claire has not registered for the referral program yet, but while Sandy is on the call with Claire Sandy is able to input the referral lead and attribute it to Claire. This is done through the easy lookup function in the CRM that allows Sandy to type in Claire’s name to find the right contact record and assign her as the referring advocate. That way, the verbal referrals reduce the amount of effort Claire has to put forth. Of course, she will eventually have to register to become advocates, but that’s number three.

3. Incentivizes referral program enrollment

Enrollment into a referral program can slow down (while not stopping) a customer from immediately registering to be an advocate. So how does verbal referral functionality make that easier? By incentivizing the enrollment process.

Even though Claire isn’t registered for the referral program, she is automatically sent an invite after she is assigned as the referring advocate. That way, Claire has an even greater incentive to registering for the program since she already has one referral under her belt. But she still doesn’t have to register at this point. When Patrick buys, Claire will be notified of the referral success and that there is a reward waiting for her upon enrollment in the referral program. Now Claire will be excited about the reward waiting for her which will also lead to a higher likelihood of immediately referring another peer like Patrick from her personal homepage.

By offering verbal referral functionality, you give customers the option to simplify their referral process, and in turn, increase engagement with the referral program. Discover how a referral program with verbal referral functionality can increase your referral ROI by providing a low effort experience. Use this free ROI calculator now!

How a referral partner program decreases SaaS churn

The partner channel has played a critical role in the software industry, but with the adoption of a SaaS-based business model, a referral partner program has become even more important. Take into consideration the importance of recurring revenue in a business model that requires less upfront cost to the customer relative to the one-time charge, on premise model. It makes reducing churn vital to the survival of SaaS companies. This is especially true when considering the need to generate ‘replacement’ revenue for lost customers. In addition, the immediate impact of a lost customer including the loss of upsell, cross sell, and reference opportunities only deepen the proverbial wound.

So how can channel partners help? Well, one of the most effective ways to reduce churn is to attract the right customers. Partners have the ear of potential customers and a deep understanding of the buyers’ need for your solution. Bringing this type of context to the deal improves the quality of the connection between your customer and your product. By increasing partner referrals, SaaS companies reduce the need to take on customers who aren’t a great fit for their product, decreasing the risk of customer churn.

This is reflected when comparing how referred customer stack up to non-referred customers. According to the Harvard Business Review, referred customers have an 18% decrease in churn and 16% increase in LTV compared to non-referred customers. But how are companies supposed to take advantage of this? Both referral partner program software and deal registration software have been used to facilitate referral partner deals. The question is, how do you choose between deal registration software and referral partner program software?  Let’s look at the facts.

A referral partner program vs. a deal registration program

A referral partner program is a specialized and streamlined form of deal registration. Within deal registration software, deal registration functionality works by allowing a partner to refer or register a prospect they know is in the market for your product. That referral is then pushed to your company’s sales team to take action. For most partner programs, deal registration functionality is buried in larger partner management software. The added engagement capabilities of these platforms can introduce a high level of complexity to both the deal registration workflow and program management. Furthermore, other deal registration solutions often lack the functionality needed to properly manage these valuable leads.

CompTia’s Third Annual State Of The Channel Study: Channel Conflict And Deal Registration Trends, document the challenges of traditional deal registration software, including:

  • 61% of channel partner respondents citing deal registration programs have inadequate communication such as lack of reporting on deal success, status of the deal payout, and overall incentive information.
  • 49% of responding channel partners have technical issues with deal registration software that make the tool difficult to use.

These challenges partners face with traditional deal registration software leads to poor partner experience and disengagement with a company. And because the SaaS industry has a low barrier of entry, no individual product or company can truly dominates the market, which mean partners have a choice in who they partner with. This creates an even greater need for SaaS companies to keep partners engaged.

For many traditional partner programs, referrals are a viable alternative to streamline the deal registration workflow for partners. Since referral partner program software takes a focused approach, its functionality supports continued partner engagement and partner interaction with the referral deal to speed up the sales pipeline. This includes:

  • Partners facilitating an introduction between the referral and business.
  • A personal partner homepage to keep track of the deal’s progress to sale and how close the partner is to receiving their payout.
  • The ability for partners to invite new advocates to the program and keep track of their activity.
  • Automatic email updates to partners on their referred deal status.

Along with better engagement, make it easy for partners to refer or register a deal. After all, time is money, and if the software to refer a deal is hindering the process you’re trying to enable, your partners won’t refer. Basically, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.

Try creating a simple and easy interface for partners to refer, manage, and gain insight into their referral deal all in one place. This way you offer better usability and partner experience to increasing the number of referrals.

But these claims aren’t mere postulation. A leading SaaS company has had amazing result with their referral partner program. In the first 3 years of the program:

  • 8,966 partners have enrolled in the program
  • Partners made 5,208  referrals each year
  • 39% of referred leads end up becoming customers

With partner engagement being such a large revenue generator, you need software to enable their referrals. And while companies looking to influence partner behavior say they need deal registration software, 70% of their deals still go unregistered with that software, (Third Annual State Of The Channel Study: Channel Conflict And Deal Registration Trends). Don’t let your company’s growth reflect that. Use this free ROI calculator to see what your referral partner program ROI could be.

How widgets limit your referral program’s functionality

Are referral widgets just a vanity application?

Referral widgets have become a widely adopted approach for businesses so you may be considering whether this is the best path to launching your referral program. But unless you’re an ecommerce company concerned with only tracking a single transaction and not interested in generating repeat referrals, widgets fail when applied to referral programs.

In fact, when widgets are applied to most B2B referral programs they become more of a vanity application than anything else. Like vanity metrics, widgets’ trending popularity in the technology sphere might make you think that adopting the widget strategy will improve engagement since it has no barrier to refer. But for B2Bs, widgets fail to prompt and capture repeat referral action and data which is essential to a successful referral program. While a widget makes it easy for customers to make a referral, it only does this by dramatically reducing the amount of valuable information you acquire.

A full referral program however, captures customer and partner information in order to build a mutually beneficial relationship and increase the value of referrals, generate and close a higher number of referrals, and obtain repeat referrals from the same costumer.

Check out these 7 questions to help you decide if a widget is really what you want or will just act as a vanity application.

7 Questions to ask when considering a referral widget

  1. Will a widget inhibit referral program data collection?


Yes. With a widget, there is no referral program registration. Program registration provides deeper understanding of your advocates and repeat referrals. The information you collect at the time of referral using a widget is usually the bare minimum necessary to track and fulfill a reward. Typically this is just an email address. The gathered information is more concerned with delivery of the gift card than creating a relationship with your advocates.


  1. How does qualifying leads change with a referral widget compared to a full referral program?


With a widget no advocate profile is created, which means that you cannot see top advocates (other than email addresses). Additionally, there is not enough information to pass into Salesforce to match up with a contact. Therefore, no advocate data exists in Salesforce. That also means no Advocate name listed on the referral lead so you can’t contact them to prequalify the lead.


  1. But wait, can’t we just collect the name and create a profile each time a customer or partner use the widget?


Sure, but then you are forcing them to register each time and they might change their contact information so you have no way to ensure that their data will be combined properly. Furthermore, this would eliminate the fundamental advantage of the widget that it is a simple process. Once you add registration, you might as well not use the widget.


  1. Hold up, if it is an SSO system, can’t the widget talk to that system and get the info?


This is possible, but only with so much dev effort that it eliminates the value of the widget being easy to drop in. One company I talked to about this strategy attempted to do this and had to develop an entire page solely focused on supporting their new widget. It took so much dev time and effort that they never were able to implement the widget on any other page.


  1. Does adopting a widget based strategy introduce any security concerns?


Yes. Another issue with widgets is that they open up your website to the potential of getting hacked. More specifically, your website is at the mercy of the security processes and standards of the company developing the widget you are adopting. To avoid this issue marketers should make sure the widget goes through a comprehensive internal security review to avoid introducing any security risks to their web properties.


  1. But widgets at least are always available and visible to a website visitor right?


No. Another limitation of widgets is that they don’t always work when a web visitor has ad blocking turned on. About 20% of web users today utilize ad blocker technology, which means 20% of your visitors won’t be able to refer.


  1. So how do widgets keep customers or partners engaged in the referral program?


They don’t. Another issue with the widget is that you can’t accumulate rewards. Since the widget tracks the single referral and not the advocate, you can’t use reward structures such as monthly commission checks. This also discourages repeat referrals.

At Amplifinity, our platform is designed using a relationship focused sales approach, which means that providing you the best data while creating a good experience for the customer and partners who are referring you is our top priority. And with the option of single sign-on (SSO) we lower the barrier of entry into the referral program to make customer and partner referrals seamless. Learn what features will increase your referral program ROI by checking out our features page and requesting a demo today!


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Originally appeared in Customer Think

‘Smarketing’ has never been so easy!

Expanding your sales reach with referral automation

The world of sales and marketing have never been so intertwined as they are today. Everyone is looking for ways to align sales and marketing, so much so that it has been named ‘Smarketing’.  As marketing continues to frantically search for new ways to produce the highest quality leads, organic acquisition by way of customer referrals has become of increasing strategic importance. Referral automation technology has allowed the marketing department to increase the generation of quality leads and nurture those leads. But the seamless transfer of these leads into the sales lead management process continues to be a challenge. Not to mention the challenge sales faces when trying to extend their reach with the help of their best customers. Luckily, we’re in the position to help sales overcome these challenges.

Our mission as a product team at Amplifinity is to continue to innovate our Referral Automation products to drive organic growth by empowering marketing to generate quality leads through customer referrals, to easily move those leads into the sales process, and to give sales the tools to quickly extend their reach with the help of their best customers.

Today, we are extremely excited to introduce the Amplifinity Connector for Salesforce. This product enhances the power of the Amplifinity Referral Automation platform to improve lead management by shifting the process into Salesforce. This empowers sales by imbuing them with the ability to harness the power of referrals within the Salesforce interface.  A smarketing dream!

The Amplifinity Connector for Salesforce provides features dedicated to harvesting the trust of your customers, partners, and employees to deliver high quality demand generation and unbelievable ROI. These features include:

  • Account Verification And Lead Sync: Automatically verify that a new advocate’s account exists within Salesforce and creates a lead in Salesforce when a prospect is converted in Amplifinity
  • Referral Sourcing Identification: View the Amplifinity Referral Program that produced a specific referral in the Lead views in Salesforce
  • Advocate Status Tracking: View the current enrollment status of an advocate in the contact record
  • Advocate Invite: Send an Amplifinity platform invite to a potential advocate from the contact record

The Amplifinity App’s unique value for aligning sales and marketing

Amplifinity’s new app integration is highly unique. The Amplifinity app is optimized to engage and enable your direct sales team to obtain and nurture high quality leads. By integrating the Amplifinity app into Salesforce you’ll add immense value to your leads and gain advantages such as:

  • Easily Seeing The Referring Advocate: Identify the advocate who made the referral so that you can contact them for more info and thank them for the referral.
  • Easily Inviting Contacts To Become Advocates: With a single click, sales can send an email to a contact to recommend they join the referral program.
  • Quickly Seeing High-Quality Referral Leads: View referral source from your Lead List to immediately prioritize the best leads to follow through on
  • Easy Implementation: Obtain lead routing and field mapping with SSO to access Amplifinity data. In addition, this adds 2 new lead record fields and 2 new contact record fields.

With the technology available today why continue to struggle with aligning sales and marketing teams?  This connector will allow you to empower your marketing and sales teams to work together and achieve an all-inclusive management of referrals with 100% accuracy so no referrals are missed.  Strengthen your marketing and direct sales teams today by exploring the value of the Amplifinity app integrated with Salesforce.

Questions? Email me at


What is brand advocacy?