How to engage your 3 different advocate bases when asking for referrals

How asking for referrals extends your network reach and identifies new business opportunities

As one who has spent much of my career in the world of sales and marketing, I’m constantly tracking the changes in the sales ecosystem. In the last few years, I’ve seen how the paradigm shift from traditional selling strategies to informed buyers seeking out businesses has caused companies to become increasingly innovative in order to keep up with a more competitive sales ecosystem. This includes developing cutting-edge tools and strategies that empower companies to get in front of the customer like marketing automation, PPC, and SEO. But recently, I’ve noticed another paradigm shift that is further shaking up the sales ecosystem. The B2B informed buyer has transcended, becoming even more independent as a self-qualifying buyer.

More often than not the B2B buyer is qualifying your company instead of a salesperson qualifying the buyer.

One major resource that self-empowered buyers are using to help them is their personal and professional network. The good news is that these networks often include your current customers, partners and perhaps, even your own employees. Research has shown these one-to-one relationships have the greatest influence in a buyer’s decision because of the inherent trust in the relationship.

Customers, partners, and employees have the benefit of understanding your business and the needs of their peers and therefore are in a very unique position to influence your target buyer.  So rather than hoping your potential prospect connects with one of these key influencers, we suggest companies take a proactive stance and engage its customers, partners and employees by asking for referrals and turning them into advocates for your business.

Since each of these different groups offers a unique value to your advocacy initiatives and have the potential to impact a self-qualified buyer, here are some things to consider as you start asking for referrals:

  • How can their relationship with your business put them in a position to help you find new customers?
  • What makes them willing to advocate for your company when they have the opportunity?
  • What will motivate them to make a referral and actually connect you to a prospect for your business?

By considering these questions you can achieve a clearer understanding of the three different advocate personas and how to leverage your relationship with them by asking for referrals to reach self-qualified buyers.

Understanding your different advocate personas

Customers –Your customers have spent their careers building personal and professional networks that likely include many individuals just like themselves in similar roles within other companies in your target market.  Combine that with the fact that your customer knows your product and the value it’s added to their business, and you have a powerful combination to leverage.

The more value you’ve delivered to the relationship, the more likely they will refer your business when you are asking for referrals. While that value starts with the value your company or product has provided to their business, don’t overlook their personal relationships with you or your teammates (e.g. sales, customer service etc.). Customers are looking for that connection to your company and, in return, they are willing to reciprocate. It’s likely that your customers could be engaging with someone in their network that has expressed similar challenges or needs that your product or service could fulfill.

By proactively asking for referrals from customers you expand their established circle of trust with you to include the prospect, which can dramatically accelerate the sales cycle. Consider formally acknowledging the referral and keep them updated on the status so they can continue engage on your behalf if they are willing and able. Adding a reward that reflects your awareness of their needs can absolutely help and won’t be perceived negatively. Rewards that are specific to your company like bill credits, discounts, or even free services when they reach a certain number of referrals adds value to the relationship and shows that you appreciate their contribution to your success.

PartnersPartners are one of the highest-quality referral sources. Partners have an inherent knowledge of their customers’ challenges and goals in addition to your product or service. They already have a symbiotic economic relationship with you and therefore if you win, they win. Asking for referrals is a natural extension of that.  And because partners have already provided a good business experience to their customers, their customers trust that your brand will replicate that experience. Consider offering an incentive that is authentic to your business relationship with the partner and will improve the value for both parties. These types of incentives could include training credits, exclusive access to new product or features, or incremental discounts on your service or products.

Employees – Employees have a stake in the success of your company. Employees know the ins and outs of your business. This makes them experts when referring family, friends and peers. With this unique position they can emphasize the benefits of your company to the people who trust their opinion and insight. When asking for referrals from them, they are more likely to make a referral if they understand that as the business grows they have a better opportunity to grow within the company. While employees have your best interests at heart, making employees efforts feel noticed and appreciated has become a necessary part of retaining talented individuals and making them want to continue working on your behalf. Consider combing a monetary reward with a public form of recognition so everyone in the company knows that this is a very valued contribution to the business.

While it’s true that leads have gotten harder to reach, these types of challenges make room for businesses to continually innovate and grow. Now, with the advent of the self-qualified buyer, peer opinions, aka referrals, have become a new stop on the buyer’s journey. I believe that by embracing this change through different advocacy technology like referral software, you can continue to have insight and input in this stage of the sales cycle.

To learn more about how to motivate customers, partners, and employees when asking for referrals, checkout the whitepaper, How to Incentivize Referrals: The process of questioning, calculating and structuring incentives.

And if you’re ready to see if referrals are the right path for you, try taking the quiz, Are referrals a fit?

cta referral quiz

3 ways to incorporate brand authenticity into your referral marketing strategy

How authenticity breaks through the marketing noise

Marketers often ask me what causes referral marketing to be successful and more specifically what motivates a Customer to refer a product.  The most obvious answer is satisfaction with the product or service purchased. Without that, you can’t expect someone to refer.

The next factor I mention often surprises Marketers.  But in addition to customer satisfaction, it’s perhaps the most important factor in getting referrals. That factor is brand authenticity.

At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach, being totally clear about who you are and what you do best. When a brand’s message gets out of sync with Customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.

Customers are drawn toward brands with an original story, an engaging and powerful identity and an unwavering and visible commitment to deliver on their brand promise. Think of fast-growing brands like Google, Apple, Salesforce and Uber and you’ll realize they all have that level of authenticity at their core.

Authenticity speaks volumes. Brands that tell a genuine, honest story resonate with people. People believe in honest brands. That belief leads to their willingness to communicate with others about the brand and the product and yes, refer it to others.

When I say this to my marketing friends, the response I often get is, “Sure, but I’m not Google or Salesforce so what can I do to be more brand authentic and generate referrals through referral marketing?”

Here are three key considerations for generating referrals by staying true to your brand’s authenticity.

The when, how and what of keeping referral marketing authentic   

1)   When to ask: Make it a natural extension of the customer’s experience

Once you have engrained brand authenticity into your user experience, try to identify when the most effective time is to ask for a referral. One company that excels at asking for a referral is Lyft. Lyft incorporates authenticity at the core of their business by making sure their drivers keep true to their slogan, “My friend with a car.” Because of this, Lyft has identified the opportune time to ask riders to refer Lyft or even a specific Lyft driver–at the end of a pleasant ride. Once the ride is over and the rider rates the driver, the app gives the option of referring while the ride is still at the forefront of the rider’s mind.

But leveraging the user experience to generate referrals isn’t just relegated to the ecommerce world.  If a primary element of your go-to-market model is a field sales team or an inside customer service team, you can ask for referrals in person.  The key is doing it at the right time. Highly engaged field teams that deliver great value to Customers are absolutely part of your user experience.  Therefore, why not have them ask for a referral after they have provided a positive experience to a Customer.

RingCentral is one brand that successfully extended their selling strategy to customer engagement in a brand authentic way to include their referral program.

Currently, RingCentral employs a relationship-focused selling approach. For RingCentral this often pays off when pursuing a company that has more than one location. RingCentral noted that the relationship-focused selling approach opened the doors for a Client to test out their product in one location, and when it succeeds, fully implements RingCentral. This period of success also made these Customers highly likely to refer and open a door to other Customers by simply asking for a referral at the right time.

From this approach, a referral marketing program was a logical next step to take their relationship-focused sales approach to the next level.

To reproduce these two referral marketing successes, ask your Customers or Partners for referrals immediately after your service or product has had success or has created a positive experience.

2)   How to ask: Be true to your brand’s voice and image

Along with knowing when to ask for a referral, understanding how to ask for a referral is equally important with referral marketing. An essential part of this is sticking to using brand authentic format, creative and voice.

Frontier Telecommunications is one company that has done an excellent job at extending their authentic brand creative and voice to include their referral marketing program. As an extension of the name Frontier, the company embeds their mascot, Frank the buffalo, into their brand and creative. The humorous voice and creative of Frank the buffalo was extended into their referral program.

frontierfrontier 1

Along with the above email and social media posts, Frontier included their brand voice and creative in their referral program through bill inserts and on the web. By sticking to their authentic brand creative and voice, the familiarity of the messaging and format contributed to the success of their referral marketing program.

DIRECTV is another brand that has become experts at understanding how to ask for referrals. Video is one of DIRECTV’s most popular vehicle for their promotional efforts. Their brand authentic creative is humorous and irreverent, so it was only natural that this brand authenticity format and voice extend to their referral program.

DIRECTVreferralmarketingDIRECTV_REFERRALMARKETING

And since DIRECTV’s double reward strategy offers a $100 bill credits to the referral (prospect) and the Customer who referred, this format allows them to speak to both demographics at once and increase the number of new Customers generated by their referral program.

 3) What to offer:  Understand what customer’s value

Authenticity is also a key factor in determining how to reward for referrals.  At Amplifinity, we’ve learned to first understand the relationship our brands have with their customers and what the customer values before recommending an incentive model that will drive referral behavior. There is considerable research on what motivates people to refer and the short answer is that there is no one right way. Monetary motivation, social sharing and ego can all play a role. But finding the right method starts with understanding your customers, their relationship with your brand, and what will cause them to make a referral during an interaction with others in your target market.

ADP is one company that has created brand authentic referral rewards. ADP knows that their Customers and Partners highly value their services and have developed their rewards from that knowledge. For each of the first three successful business referrals ADP gives $100 off their services. On the fourth successful referral ADP gives the business one year free payroll, a highly valued reward for any customer or partner. Because the forth referral reward is valued so highly, it engages Customers and Partners in way that enhances their connection to ADP.

The trigger that causes us to refer a product is engaged when the reward is genuine and consistent with the relationship that we have with that product or service. To apply this practice to your referral program, find a reward that amplifies the benefits of your current relationship and you’ll greatly improve your results.

Bottom line – Referrals with brand authenticity leads to higher revenue growth

When you project brand authenticity in your referral marketing initiative your program will succeed because it’s recognizable and reflects the reputation that the rest of your brand projects.

If you are looking for more best practices on launching a successful referral marketing initiative, check out our resources page to help your referral marketing flourish.

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I had 5 awesome C-level sales meetings in one week. Here’s the secret to how I got them.

It was a great week. I had 5 quality C-level meetings with potential new customers and partners for Amplifinity in the short week before a holiday. The opportunity to meet with current and prospective customers is my favorite part about being a CEO.  As I reflected back on the week and what made it a success, a common thread emerged, REFERRAL – Everyone I met with was introduced to me by someone who knew me and my company and wanted to help. Interestingly, while they were all referrals, each one emanated from a different type of relationship.  My objective with this blog post is to help you think about the foundation of relationships you have in your network and how they can be leveraged to help you generate new business opportunities.

1. A current customer referred me to a new prospect: 

I was having a conversation with an executive at one of my largest accounts. She mentioned how pleased she was with our solution. After thanking her for the feedback,  I used the opening to ask her if she knew anyone who would benefit from our product. Note that the “ask” came as a natural part of the conversation. It wasn’t forced and was not perceived as bothersome. In my experience I’ve found this request actually improves my relationship with a customer. If they respect what you’ve done for them, they want to see you succeed, and by giving you an introduction to someone else, they are now invested in your success. By the way, don’t be surprised if they follow-up with you to see how it went. And better yet, follow up and let them know how the meeting went. They will appreciate it–and they may even provide you with another referral (double bonus!)

2. A current customer referred me to a new opportunity within their own company:

According to Nielsen, 92% of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew. If you are working with enterprise level customers or prospects there are often many potential new prospects inside that same customer waiting to hear your value proposition. Think of these as “buying centers”–separate groups within a company that represent a new sales opportunity for you or one of your peers. Large companies are siloed, so the chances of cross-selling or upselling are high because different departments have different needs to be met. If you are referred to a new prospect from someone within their same company, your odds of getting a meeting are very high and you have a built in reference.

3. A board member referred me to an executive at another company:

In my role as CEO, I’m fortunate to work with a terrific board of directors. Each is a high profile business leader in their own right and is very connected.  Even if you don’t report to a board, executives within your company can provide the same conduit to meet other decision makers in different companies. I find this works best if I can be specific and have a company in mind where I know they may have a relationship.

4. A current prospect referred me to another prospect:

I admit this doesn’t happen often, but it recently did for me. I didn’t even ask. I was offering a prospect some helpful advice unrelated to my company business (I essentially referred her to someone who could help) and unprompted, the prospect sent me an email later that said he knew of someone that could really use our solution. Awesome. I think most of us are naturally wired to help others. Help others succeed, and you’ll often get rewarded in return.

5. A current partner referred me to another new prospect:

Growing our partner network has been key to our success at Amplifinity. Successful SaaS companies invest in becoming connecting to partners within their ecosystem in order to extend their overall value proposition. At Amplifinity, being a member of the Salesforce ecosystem has added tremendous value to our business. We are now part of a large and ever growing community of hundreds of other SaaS companies that share common interests and goals.  That very same ecosystem is also a naturally interconnected network that can help you find new business or potentially use your product or service.

I encourage you to make that leap to adopt  referrals as a business strategy. If you do, you’ll quickly see that systematizing it with a referral automation platform can be a very powerful channel for organic growth for your business.

If you’d had success using referrals in your business, send me an email with your story. I’d love to repost it here on the Amplifinity blog so that others can benefit.

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Care to further the discussion? Tweet me @Larryangeli

 

The best sales channel you’re probably not using

I’ve been in technology for nearly 30 years and I’ve watched many tech businesses attempt to grow their businesses “through the channel”. This is code for various forms of business partnerships or distribution models that drive incremental revenue.  These partnerships come in many shapes and sizes and include industry designations such as resellers, agents, integrators, etc.

 Back in the day…

Whether the nature of the partnership is “sell with” or “sell through” you usually consider the trade-off between investment in the channel partner, and the potential lift to sales. The investment comes in the form of training, enablement materials, support personnel, commissions etc. and usually mirrors the amount of the sales process you are expecting the partner to carry. The expected payoff is incremental revenue you would not have received through your direct or ecommerce channels.

 Too complicated

Many of these traditional partner efforts fail to live up to expectations. Without early success, execution quickly wanes and eventually the partnership flames out and the investment is written off.  There are a host of reasons why partnerships can be challenging, but one that I often witness is that channels partners can rarely execute the sales process as well as the primary supplier. If they don’t have immediate success, they lose focus and move on to where they can make money faster and easier.

 Watch out for an upset (aka, don’t get Uber-ed!)

In the same way that technology has disrupted markets (think Uber, Lyft, AirBNB), etc.) technology is poised to disrupt the nature of these traditional channel partnership models. And, just like the aforementioned disruptor companies, cloud/SaaS, and mobile technology will provide the crucial linchpin that drives obsolescence of these traditional channel models.

The concept is a simple and elegant, but also powerful and scalable– leverage technology to quickly and inexpensively ramp channel relationships that can drive new customer acquisition and revenue generation. The referral of an opportunity that results in a closed sale becomes the unit of exchange in this new channel ecosystem. It’s pretty much a given that referrals are the highest quality leads with higher close rates than traditional lead methods.

Let’s look at what we really want out of our channel partners and how technology enables could enable a truly disruptive new channel model:

Low friction: Both suppliers and partners want easy and simple. Complex partner models decrease the odds of success.  Today, mobile and social technologies combined with the networked nature of relationships can allow you to make almost anyone a partner that helps you identify and influence qualified buyers.

Speed: The more extended partner network you can build, the better opportunity you have to quickly identify in market buyers and beat your competition to the sale.

Scales easily and effectively: SaaS software can provide a platform for a 100% closed loop process that fully automates tracking, attribution, compensation and communications to the parties in real time.

 

Are there leading edge companies doing this already? You bet!

In the B2C world, the aforementioned Uber and Lyft utilize this method to drive a fast, frictionless growth in a way that is authentic to their brands. Immediately after a ride on Lyft, I am prompted to post a tweet to my network embedded with a referral link. I get my reward if they use my referral. A great example of levering customers as a channel.

In B2B, fast growing SaaS players like RingCentral and Citrix GoToMeeting are using referrals as growth channels with both partners and influencers. Citrix’s Senior Manager, Randy Fahrbach recently wrote a piece on Referrals as a Service (RaaS) for his interesting take on this channel trend.

Who are your potential new channel partners? It can be anyone! Open your thinking to any groups, companies, communities or professionals that may have experience with your product or are in a position to influence your buyers. As an example, if you target small businesses, accountants can be very influential in the certain buying decisions that an SMB makes.

What about companies that sell an adjacent product or service to yours? These companies may be interested in becoming your partner. With little additional work or distraction from their core business, they get to create an additional revenue stream from the relationships they already have today. You can also use the same model for companies that may already be a partner, but you need a lower cost, lower friction way to make the relationship productive and profitable.

Once you are freed from the cost and effort of ramping a traditional partner relationship, you’ll be able to brainstorm many new potential partnership opportunities. Think about your end buyer and what natural partner synergies might exist if you could enable them to refer your product cheaply and easily.  With a simple referral execution, you can engage this channel and make it very easy for them to identify leads and be rewarded for doing so.

 If you go down this new channel partner path, here is what you need to be successful:

  1.      Make it easy for them to partner with you
  2.      Make it easy to refer — direct and indirect
  3.      Clearly delineate rewards with prompt fulfillment
  4.      Provide transparency so the partner is kept up to date on progress
  5.      Reinforce positive behaviors

What is brand advocacy?

 

Amplifinity welcomes CMO Trisha Winter

In 2014, Amplifinity experienced incredible growth. We partnered with many large enterprise clients in the SaaS, business services, telecom, financial and consumer services industries. Our success is based on powerful solution that delivers outstanding value to enterprises. As we look ahead, we see an incredible market opportunity for Amplifinity. To capitalize on that opportunity, as CEO, I’m excited that Trisha Winter is joining our leadership team as Chief Marketing Officer.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with Trisha at Compuware where she held a series of leadership level product and brand marketing roles in Compuware’s fastest growing SaaS business unit.

Trisha’s experience is already proving invaluable to the executive team as we continue to execute our growth plan and build out our brand, including a multi-channel marketing strategy.  She also brings her passion and expertise in referral marketing, brand advocacy, and demand generation to our team of enterprise SaaS experts.

From the beginning, Amplifinity has built our business on generating demonstrable revenue generation for our customers through the unique ability of our platform to drive sales ready leads and buying decisions. Leveraging enterprise’s existing customers, partners and employees to drive revenue growth just makes sense. We think it is the highest value form of “advocacy marketing”—the market category that is exploding around us as we demonstrate, in case after case, that advocacy marketing works.

The fact is that enterprise brands continue to struggle with the need to generate higher-quality leads, and acquire and retain loyal customers. Trisha knows these challenges from a buyer’s perspective, and that is enabling her to connect with our clients’ demand gen needs in a unique way. Trisha views marketing not only as a way to build brand awareness and drive sales, but as a tool to educate prospective customers who are looking for measurable ROI and customer engagement solutions over the long-term.

In addition to leading Amplifinity’s maketing efforts, Trisha will collaborate with her peers in the CMO community to help them take advantage of the power of advocacy marketing. Within that community, she’ll make a great advocate for Amplifinity.  For that reason and many more, I am proud to welcome Trisha to the Amplifinity team.

Learn more about her from the infographic below.

Introducing-Trisha-2