Once you’ve onboarded your referral partners, you’ll need to find ways to keep them engaged and referring. As I discussed in Step 3 – How to enable referral partners, you’ve got to make it easy for partners to make referrals and give them full transparency into their progress. This is the foundation for engagement, but let’s build on that with ways to keep the productivity high.
Here are 7 activities to keep referral partners engaged:
- Regular status update communications
- Regular program and success story communications
- Involvement of sales to drive referral activity
- Special promotions – both internal and external
- Coaching programs – to improve performance of struggling partners
- Escalating incentives to encourage repeat referrals
- Non-monetary recognition
1. Regular status update communications
You can have the best portal in the world, but unless you are getting the attention of your referral partners, they’ll forget to visit. Automated email communications alerting them to status changes in their referrals is a great way to stay top of mind with little effort. Typical statuses to alert on would be when a referral lead is accepted by sales/qualified, when it becomes an opportunity, when it hits the various opportunity stages and of course closed won. In addition, you’ll want to notify them when they have earned their reward – which might be at closed won or after a retention period.
Simple, automated emails on referral status can keep them involved to influence the referred opportunity, but also reminds them of your program and how they can earn more. Links in your emails drive referral partners back to the portal to keep referring.
2. Regular program and success story communications
Not all referral partners will always have a referral in the pipeline to get status notifications on so you need to also provide regular communication on the program. A monthly newsletter can be a great way to do this, but make sure the content adds value to them and isn’t just “hey, remember us, we have a program”. Instead, focus on how you can make them a better referral partner. Give them fresh content on the target buyer and tips on how to make referrals. More importantly, showcase success stories of other referral partners.
This can be a simple as giving kudos to top performers, but the real value is in telling their story. How did a partner get 10 successful referrals in 1 month? What is the advice of your top referring partners? What is the key to their success? Take a few hours each month to interview a partner or two and highlight their story. I guarantee it will help to motivate and drive activity from your referral partners.
3. Involvement of sales to drive referral activity
If your direct and/or channel sales teams are not involved in recruiting referral partners and sourcing referrals from them – they should be! This has been proven as the most effective way to drive referral success.
To get them involved, make sure there is sufficient motivation in place. This doesn’t have to be compensation. For a direct sales team, consider breaking lead assignment rules so that every referral lead that comes from a partner they recruited goes to them. For business development, ensure your compensation plan accounts not just for partner recruitment, but also for the production of referrals from those partners.
You’ll also need to ensure sales has the right tools to input and track their activity. Enable sales with:
- A one-click invite in Salesforce for partners who aren’t yet in the program
- Ability to input verbal referrals in Salesforce
- Ability to “own” partners – sales leadership can then track with reports in Salesforce to drive activity and sales ops can use to route leads
- No hassle – everything tracked and automated so they can focus on selling/biz dev versus rewards.
4. Special promotions – both internal and external
Sometimes you need to do something special to get people to take notice and take action. Some of the most successful referral partner programs have big bang promotions to drive a ton of activity in a short period of time.
This can be a promotion internally to sales where there are special incentives for the latest tech gear, special trip, or whatever motivates your sales team. Get buy-in from sales leadership that during this day or week period that they spend the majority of their time filling the pipeline with leads from referral partners buy getting in front of them and asking.
The special promotion can also work going direct to your referral partners and adding a bonus incentive for referrals made during a short period of time. That incentive could be a higher bounty or percentage of revenue, but it could also be time with the CEO or training that they would normally have to pay for.
5. Coaching programs – to improve performance of struggling referral partners
Some referral partners will struggle. They may have signed up to become a partner thinking they were going to make a killing, made a ton of referrals only to have none of them make a purchase. You’ll also have some referral partners who are tentative to refer. Run reports each month on these under performers and make a point to have marketing or sales reach out and have a coaching session with them. Find out what their issue is. Some typical issues are:
- A lack of understanding of the target buyer and persona profiles – meaning they aren’t referring the right people/companies.
- Not making one-to-one referrals – blasting in social media is not the way to drive referral leads. A specific ask done in a direct digital or verbal conversation is the way to initiate interest.
- Not sure when to make the ask – some partners may be leery on the best time to recommend your product to their network.
- Not sure how to properly message the value of your product or service – hopefully you’ve got a lot of this baked into your referral methods, but even so, make sure your partners are solid in the value propositions that drive interest with your target personas.
6. Escalating incentives to encourage repeat referrals
Many referral partner programs work because you can go broad with volume of partners and even if they only make a few referrals a year, it can drive significant revenue. If you can increase the average number of referrals made across your referral partners, you can make a big impact. One of the best ways to do this is to provide increasing incentives attached to achievement levels.
This could be increasing percentage of revenue based on the number of successful referrals during a year period. Alternatively, you can bump a referral partner to a higher incentive level if their referrals move quickly through the sales cycle or if they played an influential role in the process. And certainly, there could be a bar at which the partner relationship could expand to a reseller.
Whatever your achievement bars, make partners well aware of them so that they can set goals and work to achieve them. Send them regular communications on how they are doing toward reaching the next level (this can be part of those automated status emails). This will keep partners engaged and referring throughout the year.
7. Non-monetary recognition
Of course you have referral fees for your partners, but there are additional ways you can recognize them for their efforts. Mentioning them in the monthly newsletter with their success story is a great way to make them feel engaged. Additionally, you can offer special meetings with the CEO to top performers A call from your Channel Chief thanking them for their effort can also go a long way. From the marketing side, you could show some love by helping to promote their business through your social feeds.
Fundamentally, you’ll want to identify top performers, make them feel appreciated and encourage continued productivity.
In the next article in the series I’ll cover the key metrics to collect for referral partner programs and the final article in the series will cover how to use those metrics to grow your program.
Previous articles in this series:
Step 1 – How to identify potential partners
Step 2 – How to engage and recruit partners
Step 3 – How to enable referral partners
Step 4 – How to incentivize referral partners
Step 5 – How to onboard referral partners