6 referral-selling killers

Originally published on June 29, on Salesforce.com/blog

Brad had a “problem.” He had more referrals than he could handle. (Is there really such a thing?) Using a homegrown program, he’d booked more business in one quarter than in the entire previous year.

“I have about 200 referrals since working with you, and I literally cannot keep up with the volume,” he told me. “I plan to catch up next quarter. Right now my staff and I need a breather.” Brad’s advice for sales leaders: When you commit to referral selling, you get what you ask for, so get your team ready to service your new referral business.

John faced a similar challenge when he decided to go on a “referral tour” and meet with his clients. He’d been depending on his consultants to ask for referrals, and (surprise, surprise) they almost never did. Throughout the tour, John expanded business with his existing clients, who then introduced him to their connections. By the time he returned to the office, he had more new business than he’d ever imagined.

John now makes it a priority to ask for referrals—and to ensure his team knows how to do so—and he continues to receive introductions to prospects that know his value and actually want to talk to him. John’s advice: “You’d better have the infrastructure in place to support all of the referrals you’ll receive.” To help his team organize and follow up on all the great leads, John is now researching referral automation platforms that integrate with Salesforce.

Referrals Don’t Manage Themselves

Want to have Brad and John’s problem? Simply tap into the business opportunities your team has been leaving on the table.

Referral selling eclipses any other business-development strategy. When you implement a strategic referral program, you:

  • Double your sales force without adding to your payroll
  • Penetrate prime accounts with personal introductions to exactly the decision-makers your sales reps want to meet
  • Get only qualified meetings at the level that counts
  • Ace out the competition and seal the deal
  • Convert prospects to clients more than 50 percent of the time

Yet, few companies have a disciplined, systematic process to build referral skills for their teams, and to create solid metrics that ensure accountability for results.

6 Barriers to Referral Success

Implementing a referral process sounds simple in theory, but it’s easier said than done. Here are the challenges—or better put, the excuses—that can derail your best referral intentions:

1. “Other things took precedence in my business.”

Really? That means you haven’t truly committed to referral selling. You still think it would be great if referrals just happened. You don’t have the guts, the will, and the resolve to put a stake in the ground. What’s more important than getting new, qualified clients for your company?

2. “My reps forget to ask.”

Do they “forget” because they’re still not comfortable asking? Or because you haven’t incorporated referrals into your sales process? Either way, you have a choice. You can continue to let them “forget,” or you can put a process in place to ensure they remember, with rewards for referral success.

3. “I’m way too busy to track referrals and make sure my reps follow up.”

Some say that salespeople are lazy. Wrong! We just have tons of balls in the air, and they get dropped from time to time. We need tools to simplify our processes, accelerate customer acquisition, and ensure customer retention and loyalty. Sales doesn’t want the operational hassle of managing a referral program at scale. That’s why we need referral automation software that helps remind reps to follow through, extend their relationships with customers, and ask for more referrals.

4. “My salespeople don’t have enough time to implement their referral plans.”

Salespeople bemoan that referral selling takes too long. They believe dialing for dollars builds their pipelines faster. No way! Referrals do take time. Salespeople have to reach out to their networks, actually talk to them, and meet with people in person. But considering the dismal success rates of cold calling, and the 50-plus-percent conversion rate of referred prospects, what’s the problem here?

5. “My team hasn’t identified enough people.”

If your salespeople haven’t identified enough referral sources, they haven’t identified everyone they know. Their job is not to evaluate whether people would be great referral sources. Their job is to get their contact lists together. Your job as a sales leader is to help them understand that everyone knows someone, and referrals often come from the most unexpected places.

6. “I haven’t set specific metrics for referrals.”

Maybe you’re afraid to be accountable for leading referral success? If you don’t establish specific referral metrics, you’re off the hook for coaching your team to success with a new prospecting system. But more than likely, you just aren’t sure what referral metrics look like.

Keep your metrics simple. Set too many, and you’ll confuse people. You could create metrics for the number of referral introductions reps will ask for each week, how many referral meetings they’ll conduct, the number of new clients you expect them to bring in through referrals and in what timeframe, or increases in revenue and profit.

A referral automation platform helps you set goals and track performance. It also helps your team manage follow-up, track referral activities, and enroll customers and colleagues in your referral program. This takes the pressure off reps and guarantees a dependable and measurable referral process, which is half the battle.  The other half is ensuring reps know how to leverage their referral networks and ask in a way that gets results.

Referral Selling Is a Complete Shift

Like any new way of working, a successful transition to referral selling is common sense but not common practice. It seems easy, but it takes work—including regular feedback and coaching to help your team learn and grow.

Clarity is essential. Stay focused on your referral-selling strategy. What is the cost of NOT executing your plan? When you can answer that question—for yourself and for your team—then referrals are yours for the taking.

But first, you must let go of your sacred cows—the way you used to prospect. There are many traps that can undermine your best intentions to build a referral business. But to successfully shift your sales team to referral selling means integrating referral activities into your sales process and making it your #1 priority. And that all starts with you—the sales leader.

The faster you transition to referral selling, the more introductions you’ll receive, and the faster your revenue will soar. Remember Brad and John’s problem? It could be yours.

 

What is brand advocacy?

The advocacy market explained

I’ve been to three analyst conferences already this year and each one is creating buzz around the term “advocacy”.  Unfortunately, they all talk about it differently.  Some on the social media side simply use advocacy as a synonym for word of mouth marketing.  Others label it brand advocacy or customer advocacy. To marketers like myself, it is all a bit confusing.  I wondered what type of solutions are considered advocacy solutions and who is buying them?

After doing some research in the space and having many discussions with analysts, I realized that there are two major buckets of advocacy: advocacy to drive brand awareness and advocacy to drive demand generation.  These are two totally different initiatives and two totally different buyers.

Once you understand that separation, it is clear that there are also differences in the types of solutions that enterprises need versus those targeted at SMB.  The result is 4 segments of the advocacy market.

Advocacy explained

 

 

There is a great new white paper called “The Advocacy Market Explained” that details each of these segments as well as the buyers.  The best part is that at the end it helps you to analyze where you should get started to begin taking advantage of advocacy in your organization. I highly encourage you to read and start thinking about how to leverage advocacy to meet your objectives.

Want to further the discussion? Tweet me at @TrishaWinter

What is brand advocacy?

5 key factors in a successful referral program (hint: closed-loop!)

Here at Amplifinity, we’ve been helping great brands run and grow referral programs for over seven years. I’ve been here since the beginning, and I’ve learned many things. As Manager of Client Services, I can tell you there are five factors that really make a big difference in running a successful referral program.

 

1. Maximize Awareness

In order for any referral program to be successful, it must have lots of referrals! Getting a large number of referral prospects into the pipeline and engaged with your sales team is critical to your program’s success. The most effective way to ensure that your referral pipeline is full is to have a referral marketing plan that utilizes all available communication channels with your customers and partners – your referral advocates. Referral marketing plans are always-on, integrated strategies that should be central to your company’s sales and marketing efforts.

2. Make it a seamless experience

A key factor that determines the success of your program – and whether or not your advocates make multiple and repeat referrals – is your advocates’ perception of how easy it is to refer to you.

The easiest referral for an advocate to make is one where they see opportunity in knowing or finding out that someone whom they know is in the market for your products or services. When this opportunity presents itself, the advocate needs to be able to quickly and easily communicate the referral and give a clear path to purchase, either online or off-line.

The referral program website must be both comprehensive and easy to use and understand. In addition to giving your advocates many options to refer, it must also define the referral process for them, give a status for each of their referrals, and help answer common questions they may have with an FAQ section. The website should also have both a desktop and a mobile version; the mobile version will be easy for the advocate to access when they are out and presented with the opportunity to refer.

3. Keep your advocates and prospects in the loop!

Keeping your advocates informed by communicating the status of each referral is key to keeping them happy. If an advocate does not receive regular updates about their referrals, they’ll wonder “What happened?” and “Where’s my reward?”

Proactive communication regarding each referral is not only helpful in keeping your advocates informed and happy, it also provides you with an opportunity to nurture your advocates, remind them about the program’s benefits, and ask them for additional referrals. If an advocate knows where their referral is in the sales process, they may even be happy to follow up with them and nurture them towards a successful purchase.

Each time a referral moves through a step in the sales process, an email notification should be sent to them to let them know. When a referral becomes a lead, when they purchase, and when the referral reward is paid out all represent key opportunities to nurture each advocate and improve their performance. Receiving an email notification that says that a referral has purchased and a reward is on the way has a huge positive impact on the advocate’s brand equity, especially in regards to a closed-looped, referral program. Why not capitalize on it by asking for another referral? This will help your advocates with one referral to achieve two, two to achieve three, and so on.

4. Help people to refer off-line as well as online 

Earlier in this post, we talked about advocates needing to be able to to quickly and easily communicate a referral, especially when the opportunity presents itself. Each referral program should give advocates the opportunity to refer both online and offline in a variety of ways. Referrals will most often choose the easiest path in front of them to make a purchase, so it is of paramount importance that the referral program supports their choice to aid in a seamless, closed-loop experience. Some common and important referral methods to leverage include:

  •  Printed referral cards, which can be mailed to an advocate or printed at home.
  •  Verbal referrals, where an advocate gives their referral program number or account number to their referral, who will then give it to a salesperson when making a purchase.
  •  Email referrals, which leverage branded referral program content, and are available in the referral program website.
  • Social media referrals, which also leverage branded referral program content, and are shared by the advocate from the referral program website to their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc).

5. Recognize the power of referrals

Referrals have the power to create an enormous amount of brand equity in prospects that are interested in your products and services. This leads to higher spend on the initial purchase, higher lifetime value for each customer, and greater engagement with your brand. This should be a central focus in sales and marketing strategy and planning, from the CMO’s office to each individual salesperson. The referral program should be a central part of a salesperson’s training, where they should be taught to recruit advocates who will naturally recruit people whom they feel are a good fit and help make warm introductions. Those prospects will naturally have a higher amount of brand equity in your business when they are introduced to one of your salespeople.

This is the case both for prospects who are unfamiliar with your business, as well as those that may have shown interest in the past. In addition to creating new leads, a referral will sometimes re-activate an old lead, or sway a purchase decision on an existing opportunity. A good referral program will recognize this, and credit advocates for these referrals when they happen. Referral program policies should be written with the flexibility to recognize such referrals, prioritize them as the source of the purchase, and credit them when they have a been a factor.

Photo Credit: Magdeleine

 

What is brand advocacy?

 

Promoting your B2B referral program: Don’t forget the SPICE!

A B2B referral program will be a highly successful as a source of new business if you promote it with success in mind.

Marketers generally like acronyms, so in the interest of the K.I.S.S. principle, I offer my fellow marketers an acronym to emphasize the key principles of referral program promotion:

S marketing

P ainless

I nnovate often

C reate trust

E mpower your advocates

 

SMARKETING

Smarketing is a cool term that denotes the mutually beneficial and strategic alignment of sales and marketing teams.

Make it your top priority to involve sales at every point in your planning from concept to benefits to how the program is promoted and optimized.

A successful B2B referral program is dependent on smarketing to bring home the ROI, so the more you work with and prove the benefits of your program to your sales team, the more successful and visible your program will be.

 

PAINLESS

A basic marketing principle, keeping your program simple and painless from registration to making referrals to earning rewards will ensure that your advocates stay engaged, excited and empowered.

 

INNOVATE OFTEN

You’ve geared up for a killer program launch and taken every step to drive your customer or partner advocates to refer and refer often. And it works! You’re a marketing star! Everyone is lavishing praise on you and your team and asking how they can create their very own referral program thanks to your super powered marketing ingenuity!

Don’t get too comfortable, Mister and Missus Marketer.

Just like you wouldn’t run the same TV spot for years on end, you can’t just let your referral program go. It’s like any other marketing or promotional best practice: keep it fresh and innovate often. Change it up. Offer a “double your rewards” promotion. Spice up the creative. Stay on your toes!

 

CREATE TRUST

A referral program requires the same marketing discipline as any other strategic initiative. We mentioned that a lack of planning for your referral program can result in a flop.

The same goes for creating trust with your advocates and the prospects they refer to you; if you fail to create it, your program won’t work.  We’ve seen it happen and we don’t want it to happen to you.

But you can still easily lose all that hard-earned trust if you:

 

  • Try to run your referral program manually, which more often than not, leads to missed or dropped referrals, forgotten rewards, or a lack of appreciation for every advocate’s referral and closed deal that results from that referral.

 

  • Make the program clunky, cumbersome, difficult-to-understand or too much work to implement.

 

EMPOWER YOUR ADVOCATES

There are numerous ways to empower your advocates but the three most important are:

 

  1. Give your advocates many ways to refer – email, social, printed cards, SMS, and any other way they communicate with your brand.

 

  1. Offer advocates a pre-written suggestion for social sharing, but also allow them to change your suggestion and personalize it.

 

  1. Make registering for the program as quick and easy as possible so that they can advocate for you without too much effort.

 

Remember that a B2B referral program can easily become your demand-gen bread and butter. Your bacon when you bring home the bacon. Your referral program will take the cake. But when you’re shakin’ and bakin’ up your program, don’t forget the SPICE!

What is brand advocacy?

Customer referrals are the problem and solution for banks

Capgemini and Efma’s World Retail Banking Report was recently issued, and the news for world banks was anything but bullish. Drawing on responses from over 16,000 customers across 32 countries, as well as in-depth executive interviews—the 2015 WRBR reports on critical performance metrics for the banking industry.

A simplified summary of the most salient challenges for banks in the US and worldwide according to the 2015 study, looks something like this:

  • Banks are experiencing measurable deterioration of profitable customer behaviors
  • “Switch kits” make moving from one bank to another easy and fast, resulting in an increase in customers in every region of the world who report that they are likely to leave their current bank within 6 months
  • The numbers of high customer experience ratings are exponentially decreasing in large part because of banks’ inability to digitize, relying instead on inflexible legacy systems
  • Across the globe there was a sharp increase in customers who said that they would not be likely to refer a friend or colleague to their current bank

It is a certainty that banks must innovate and drive their business into the 21st century. And those banks that do not begin putting systems and programs in place to counteract some of the damage already done, will not stay competitive. Consumers are far too empowered and educated to stay with a bank that does not meet their standards or needs.

One solution to bank’s lack of referrals is…a referral program
You heard correctly! If a growing number of a bank’s customers report an unwillingness to refer people they know to their bank, then one rapid and highly effective solution that creates demand generation is through a referral program. While that may seem counter-intuitive at first, consider this:

  1. Even if 40% of a bank’s customers are unwilling to make a referral, that still leaves the 60% who either are willing to make a referral today, or who would consider making one or more if asked in the future.
  2. Referred customers are highly desirable for multiple reasons, but as the report mentions, referred customers require fewer marketing resources, which causes them to generate more revenue at a lower cost.
  3. It has been proven in many recent studies that customers acquired through a referral are more loyal and stay with a brand longer than customers acquired through other channels.

In fact, the often-cited longitudinal study, “Why Customer Referrals Can Drive Stunning Profits,” conducted by Harvard Business Review, found that customers obtained through referrals are more loyal and more valuable. HBR calculated that referred customers are nearly 20% more likely to stay with a bank, and generate over 15% more profits than other non-referred customers.

Amplifinity understands a bank’s need for demand generation
Amplifinity’s own clients in the financial and banking industries have reaped tremendous value from their customer referral programs. One of our large banking clients launched a referral program that actively engaged almost half of their registered customers. Each of these customers made an average of 1.7 referrals, and some have made as many as 3 referrals (to date). Even more impressive is the fact that just over 80% of those referrals resulted in a new customer for our client.Enterprise-level referral software quickly contributes to building and retaining relationships with the loyal customers banks do have, by leveraging them to drive higher quality customer acquisition. And because an automated referral program does the heavy lifting for bank marketers – with the demand generation, tracking, monitoring and fulfillment of rewards taken care of, this allows banks to focus on solving other challenges.

Banks are clearly at a crossroads as the WRBR makes alarmingly clear, and they must quickly make radical, organization-wide business decisions to address these challenges. But as Amplifinity’s banking clients are well aware, customer referral programs are a strategic, highly effective strategy for mitigating some of the damage, and building a stronger and more loyal customer base.

What is brand advocacy?

3 ways to kick start your referrals into overdrive

Originally published in Sales and Marketing Management, April 20, 2015.

 What’s the best way to reach my prospects? How do I get past the gatekeeper? How many touches do I need before talking with someone? What do I do when the prospect’s assistant wants to put me into voicemail?

Sales leaders are constantly bombarded with these questions, because getting meetings with target prospects is the #1 business-development challenge for most sales reps. Some sales managers say to keep calling. Others tell their teams to send emails or to connect with prospects on LinkedIn. The latest advice is retro: snail mail.

They’re ignoring the only prospecting strategy that guarantees buyers will talk to salespeople—referral selling.

 

The Ticket to the C-Suite

Sales leaders want their reps to score essential meetings—preferably at the executive level, but at least with someone responsible for the P &L of a business unit. However, getting meetings at that level is a significant struggle for most sales teams. Why? Because executives don’t take cold calls, and neither do their gatekeepers. Those receptionists or administrative assistants will shut salespeople down without a second thought.

When you receive introductions from people your prospects know and trust, they will always take your calls. No duplicitous gatekeeper tactics, no wasting time with a barrage of phone calls and emails. The so-called gatekeepers will become your allies. They will put your call through because their bosses actually want to talk to you.

Research has shown the two main reasons executives take sales calls are:

 

  1. A referral from someone within their companies
  2. A referral from a trusted source outside their companies

 

(Source: Selling to the C-Suite, Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz, Ed.D., 2009)

LinkedIn surveyed 1,500 B2B purchasers/influencers at the director level or above, asking about their likelihood of engaging with a salesperson. These decision makers said they want to work with sales reps who possess thought leadership, reach out through personal connections, and share industry knowledge.

3 Ways to Kick Start your Referrals into OverdriveA 2014 social selling study by LinkedIn and IDC also revealed:

 

  • 2 percent of buyers prefer to work with vendors they know or who have been recommended to them by people they know.
  • 73 percent prefer to work with sales professionals who have been referred to them by people they know.

Case made.

 

Building Your Referral Business

 The business case for referrals is clear. Yet, 95 percent of organizations don’t have a written referral-selling strategy, written weekly referral goals, referral-selling skills training, or a disciplined system to track and measure results.

Achieving referral-selling success means adopting it as a strategic initiative for your company. Like anything worth doing, it’s not just point and click. It includes three essential components: Strategy, Skills, and Implementation.

 

1. Referral Strategy Development

Referral selling becomes the primary outreach for attracting new customers. This doesn’t mean other sales initiatives go away. (Well, maybe cold calling.) You’ve already built a foundation: You have an optimized website, measurable marketing campaigns, and a social media plan. But when it comes to salespeople bringing in their own qualified leads, referral selling is front and center.

Referral selling must be driven from the top so the entire organization understands that referrals are the way you do business. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the company to contribute to the referral initiative, regardless of whether they have “sales” in their title.

Adopting a referral-selling strategy to accelerate business means transitioning to a new way of working. This doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires some legwork from sales leaders to get up and running, including:

 

  • Integrating referrals into your workflow
  • Ensuring both sales and marketing plans include referral selling
  • Setting referral sales goals for salespeople, sales teams, and the entire company
  • Setting customer acquisition goals to define the types of customers you want to attract
  • Establishing reward and recognition activities for salespeople and other employees who bring in referrals
  • Implementing software to track successful referrals to the customers who made them
  • Determining how you will evaluate the success of your referral program

 

2. Skills Building

Transitioning to referral selling is a behavior change. It requires focused skills development and ongoing practice to achieve proficiency.  Salespeople must learn how to:

 

  • Position themselves as thought leaders
  • Articulate the business impact of their solutions
  • Identify and describe their ideal clients
  • Integrate all these talking points into asking for referral introductions

 

3. Implementation

Investing in a referral program and/or referral automation software is a good place to start. But that alone will not get the results you seek. Studies have shown that adults forget 87 percent of what they learn if there’s no reinforcement or assessment of skills learned, and no measurement of success.

Once your team has the skills to ask for referrals, and you’ve implemented your carefully-crafted referral process, keep the momentum alive with consistent, proactive, and disciplined coaching with accountability for results.

Why is coaching important? Take any sports analogy you want. Top performers have coaches. Why do we need trainers at the gym? All the equipment is there. Trainers serve three main purposes. They:

 

  • Demand we show up and be accountable for getting results
  • Fine-tune our workouts
  • Push us to achieve even more

 

The same is true in business, but we frequently shortcut the process. We say we don’t have time to coach and follow up on new skills. We pound our sales teams to make their numbers with endless calls and emails. The velocity increases as we get closer to quarter-end and year-end. After all, when our teams make their numbers, we make ours.

What if you stopped this vicious cycle and relied on the only business-development strategy that converts prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time? You would have more time for coaching, because your team’s sales pipelines would be full of qualified prospects who actually want to talk to them.

What steps will you take to create a referral program that sticks? What steps will you take to establish a formal referral coaching program? The time is now.

Continue the conversation with Joanne Black on Twitter @ReferralSales

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

What is brand advocacy?