How to adapt to a more complex B2B buyer journey

The B2B buyer environment is more complex than ever before. Unlike marketing in the past, the digital ecosystem changes so fast that marketers and salespeople can barely make one pivot before another one is required. Luckily there is still a channel that greatly impacts the B2B buyer and lets marketers enable their journey – peers . But why have peers become so highly prized over other channels?

Even though we continue to point to digitization as the reason for the perpetual B2B buyer development, it is but the catalyst. As marketers tried to adopt new digitized strategies the ecosystems became increasingly crowded and the tactics become more aggressive as companies fought for mindshare. Buyers were being flooded with misleading content and bias information. Google and other content hubs saw the declining user experience and realized if they wished to continue to be a credible source of information there would need to be some changes. Consequently:

  • Link buying got banned
  • Third party content sites created restriction on linking to product pages or a homepage
  • PPC quality scores came into effect
  • Google PPC banned words for being misleading/spam
  • Ad blocker
  • Social ads being labeled as sponsored
  • Paid brand content got labeled as sponsored
  • Wikipedia started requiring the citation of sources and non-bias information

With search engines like Google and content hubs putting more restrictions on marketers’ ability to make an impact digitally, it sends a clear message – user experience is now more important than selling and filling the funnel.  Marketing is now in the age of the buyer journey, and building trust with peer referrals has a big impact on it.

The new B2B buyer journey

In 1882 Nietchzsche proclaimed “God is dead.” In 2017 marketers are proclaiming, “Leads are dead.” Both were never meant to be taken literally but rather the idea we once held dear was no more. But what has caused this figurative death?

Buyers have so many different touchpoints involved in their research that the traditional campaign method of serving up an offer and expecting it to illicit the desired response isn’t practical or profitable anymore. Logically at some point a campaign will hit an intended target. But there is a reason that prospecting, ppc, and social media has decreased in effectiveness when done as an individual campaign. Most of the time campaigns  won’t resonate with the B2B buyer because it doesn’t represent where they are in buying journey. It isn’t about filling the funnel with leads anymore but guiding buyers through their buyer journey. In the Forrester blog, Myth Busting 101: Insights Into The B2B Buyer Journey, it shows a chart of the many different contact points that impact the decisions of the buyer journey.

The arrows show just one path a B2B buyer can take among many. Within each point on the buyers’ journey the B2B buyer use multiple channels, and peers or referrals are a big part of it (light blue squares). Zooming in, you will notice that peers are but one of three channels that will build trust with the B2B buyer. This makes it a very important channel to enable.

However, while this chart shows how influence is dispersed it doesn’t tell us how to optimally impact each touchpoint at each stage. That’s because you can’t enable every full buyer journey with so many different variations of buyer stages and channels involved. For instance, a buyer could go Hear, Learn,  Research, Trust and Decide most of the time but than an outlier could have a totally different path .  All you can do is identify  the most likely path of your B2B buyer and enable the channels that inform that journey.

But what channel can most influences the B2B buyer? Analysts and industry leaders say peers.

In the report Be Informed to Connect with B2B Buyers, “Interviewees told Forrester that they want to talk to ‘consultants’ who know their business—at their convenience and with less pressure to sign on the dotted line.” These usually mean peers that can help inform the buyer on the ins and outs of the product or service.

Buyers want to have their peers involved in the buying experience. It has been found that an average 6.8 people are involved in each buying decision (Harvard Business review). While this may often be perceived as people within the organization this usually involves at least one person outside of it (a peer) who is giving a referral and speaking for the service or product’s capabilities.

The new B2B buyer requires a new channel strategy – peer referrals

Peers are an integral part of the b2b buying process. In the Forrester Webinar, Today’s Path to Purchase and the Changing B2B Tech Buyer, analysts name peers as the highest source that influences business decision makers (BDM) in the discovery stage and the second highest source that influence B2B tech decision makers (TDM). For most, BDM are the intended target as TDM are more focused on the IT side.

Moving onto the exploration phase, Forrester found that peers still have the highest influence on BDMs and an above average influence on TDMs. This is where peer referrals done in conjuncture with sales can have a tremendous impact on the B2B buying process.

Taking advantage of this insight, enterprise companies like ADP, Citrix, and RingCentral established an automated referral program to scale peer referrals and increase the influence of the peer on the deal. As shown in the chart demonstrating the many paths of the buyer journey, peer referrals are no longer just a strategy or campaign but a channel that impacts every portion of the buyer journey. This is because peers are one of the main staples of building trust with the b2b buyers. In fact,  at the 2016 SiriusDecisions summit, referrals were named as ADP’s top source of demand creation.

While it is impossible to be up front and center at every contact point in the buyer journey, it is possible to win top mindshare with the most influential touchpoints. If peers are your priority, discover how referral program software can help evaluate some of that pressure with automation. And to get your personal referral program ROI, try the free ROI calculator now!

How marketing can get sales asking for referrals

Innovative . . . at one point being described this way by an industry expert would have given a company a huge differentiation. But in the past few years the title of innovator has become less of a differentiation and more of a requirement in business in order to even compete in an overcrowded ecosystem. While innovation can be broadly defined, when talking about innovation it is usually referring to the reinventing of business process, structure, or model.  One area this has been evident is in the sales and marketing arena. Between marketing taking majority responsibility for lead generation and sales becoming key to the success of marketing initiatives like referrals, the inclusion of sales enablement functionality within marketing programs has become vital. In fact, Hubspot discovered that sales and marketing misalignment costs companies $1 trillion per year in decreased sales productivity and wasted marketing efforts.

Referral marketing programs have become an established way to generate leads, and have even been called innovative. But in order to take referrals to the next level and make them a transformative lead generation initiative, marketers need a technological catalyst that can align sales with marketing and motivate sales to generate more marketing leads by asking for referrals.

Here are three ways to accomplish this task.

3 ways to motivate sales to increase referral leads

  1. Promote your referral program to sales

When thinking about promoting a referral program or any program, companies generally don’t include a campaign to sales in the promotional strategy. But like with customers and partners, sales is an integral part of a referral program and that means they need to be engaged in it.  Many times what happens with a referral program is sales doesn’t feel driven enough to start or continue asking for referrals. And if the referral program isn’t implemented as a strategic channel worked by marketing AND sales it could be forgotten about. One company who understood the need for sales to be an engaged is Cable One Business. At launch, Cable One Business:

  • Had an email blast targeted at associates that emphasized the value of the program
  • Made program specific branding to give the referral program a recognizable look to salespeople
  • Put up flyers around the offices that had details about the referral program to create awareness and understanding
  • Hung flyers in the bathroom with the theme of cheesy pickup lines that would teach sales how to start asking for referrals

Through Cable One Business’s promotion to their sales teams they were able to successfully align sales and marketing goals in the referral program.

  1. Structure your referral program to incentivize sales

For companies that have run a referral program they know that along with being motivated by loyalty, advocates are motivated by incentives. When asking for referrals, salespeople are no different. Salespeople have a hard job and high quotas to fulfill. So what do they get out of taking some of their precious time and using it for a marketing owned program? Well, by instituting a program that can enable advocate ownership, sales can overrides the normal lead routing rules. This way any referrals that come from the advocates owned by a specific salesperson will go to that salesperson instead of keeping with regular lead routing rules. The referral functionality motivates sales to invite and nurture customers to become engaged advocates while working their referrals. This then becomes another means to meet quotas and get sales commissions. By aligning sales and marketing goals within the referral program a company can drastically increase revenue. Hubspot discovered that companies whose sales and marketing teams are aligned generated 208% higher marketing revenue when compared against misaligned teams.

In addition to implementing this type of functionality, many companies have also made referrals a part of sales team’s quota incentive. Cable One Business offered their salespeople a $4,000 incentive if they hit certain revenue goals which included submitting at least 4 referrals.

  1. Make it easy for sales to take part in the referral program

A company can promote and incentivize their sales team all they want, but if it isn’t easy to see advocate and referral data, and recruit and nurture customers, they aren’t going to put the effort in. This is where having the referral program data and functionality integrated into the sales CRM is critical. It’s not surprising that Aberdeen found that salespeople spend up to 43 hours/month trying to find information. To put this in perspective, that is 10.75 hours a week, and over one day of work. A referral program shouldn’t add to that struggle. By having a sales enabled referral program, sales has access to everything they need in their CRM instead of having to search through multiple programs and locations to find it. This includes functionality and data such as:

  • Ability to invite customers to the program
  • Seeing referring advocate information to reach out and qualify the referral and get a facilitated introduction
  • Seeing advocate referral metrics in order to nurture them to refer multiple times
  • Ability to input trackable verbal referrals for both registered and unregistered advocates
  • See lead source as a referral

Aberdeen proved that companies with top-tier sales enablement strategies experience 13.7% annual increase in deal size. Discover what a sales enabled referral program will do for your ROI. Try the ROI calculator now!

How RingCentral overcame common referral marketing challenges

Everyone knows the metaphor of the caterpillar turning into the butterfly. A transformation from an existence only slightly more spectacular than a worm to defying gravity in a beautiful array of color. But becoming a butterfly doesn’t just happen. It takes work and labor by the caterpillar to surround itself in the cocoon and then break through all its hard work to escape the confines it created and fly. However, we rarely talk about the struggle the caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly only the marvelous fact that the transformation happened.

A similar occurrence happens in the business world. Sometimes it appears as if businesses are just naturally blessed with successful lead generation initiatives like referral marketing. But the truth is that most businesses just don’t talk about the challenges they faced. For obvious reasons, they prefer to talk about their success. However, a business that overcame their referral program challenges are a trove of information since many referral marketing programs can face similar roadblocks to growth including:

  • Friendly fraud – When Salespeople and customer Advocates find a way to game the system and take advantage of it.
  • Breakage – The referral program isn’t able to successfully attribute the Advocate back to the lead causing dissatisfaction among users and poorly effecting the success of the program.

One business that has done a marvelous job overcoming referral marketing challenges and understand the value of sharing this information is RingCentral .

How RingCentral overcame referral marketing challenges

RingCentral has had 3 different referral marketing programs. They launched their first referral marketing program between 2010 and 2011 as a homegrown referral program. They understood the value of referrals and while it was one of their top performing channels it had some challenges.

What worked:

  • eCommerce made it easy to generate leads
  • Great customer loyalty
  • Small customers making small referrals resulted in good conversions

What didn’t work:

  • Small leads made for low revenue contribution
  • Difficult to resolve attribution which caused a high number of customer complaints to Sales
  • Strained communication between Sales, Marketing and the Advocates

This lead to the realization that they needed a more robust platform.

The second referral marketing program was a combination of Marketo and Crowd Factory, and while it was an improvement they still found some functionality lacking.

What worked:

  • Automated fulfillment removed manual hassle
  • Improved ways to refer with social media and email
  • Sales integrated into the process

What didn’t work:

  • A complex system with too many points of failure and no visibility to troubleshoot
  • So many layers to the program that there was no way to know if something failed unless a customer complained which hurt the success of the program
  • No visibility for customers into their referral status
  • No way to easily get Advocate data/reporting
  • Significant resources needed to manage the program’s operation and keep it up and running
  • Lacked clear communication back to Sales

From these challenges, RingCentral understood that they needed a purpose built referral program software that specialized in referral marketing instead of general customer advocacy.  After looking at different referral platforms they settled on Amplifinity for its targeted solution.

Why this referral program continues to excel:

  • Sales can enter verbal referrals
  • Sales can check the status of referrals in their own platform
  • No breakage
  • Easily update creative with no IT needed
  • Easy reporting showing direct ROI
  • Advocate homepage with real time transparency into their referral status
  • Operational resources reallocated from maintenance to program improvement and growth
  • Customers and reps like it
  • Easy to use
  • Easily add and change promotions
  • Can dive deep into the data of the program
  • Thorough validation of Advocates’ email
  • Eliminates the possibility of Friendly Fraud

By going through three variations of programs, RingCentral learned what features are necessary for a referral marketing program to optimize resources and deliver the most ROI to a business.

Bottom line – RingCentral used their previous referral challenges to understand what they needed in a referral program and take full advantage of the amazing lead generation referral marketing provides.

 

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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 B2C referral strategies enhance B2B referral programs

Why B2B businesses should incorporate B2C referral strategies

It has been widely recognized that referral software is highly beneficial for stimulating strong revenue growth. But a successful referral program doesn’t just happen. It needs to have a dynamic promotional strategy.

Most of us will remember hearing versions of George Berkeley’s philosophical question even if we didn’t know it was him who originally conceived the notion: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? In 1710, the original question appeared in his work, Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, and unintentionally and unexpectedly it applies to referral strategies today.

Berkeley’s conclusion was that, “The object of sense exist only when they are perceived; the tree therefore are in the garden . . . no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them.”

In context, even if you have the best referral program, without the right promotional strategy that allows constant and increased perception it essentially doesn’t exist. After all, if advocates don’t know about your program there will be little to no participation, and soon enough your program really will cease to exist.

But understandably, it may be difficult for B2B business to kick off the right promotional strategy for their referral program. This is based off the idea that multi-channel advertisements and promotional strategies that drive immediate action are not as much a natural part of many B2B’s overall business model. The majority of always on advertisements, special offers, and promotions having largely been a B2C game because of their shorter or immediate sales cycle.

So instead of thinking along the lines of regular B2B promotions for your referral program, try taking a page from a B2C business. DIRECTV is one such business that has rocked the promotion of their referral program which has resulted in the utmost success.

DIRECTV’s referral strategies

DIRECTV has created an extremely successful promotional campaign for their referral program. This success stems from the fact that their referral program promotion campaign came as a natural extension of their current promotional strategies. DIRECTV employed an entertaining and engaging promotional strategy that aligns with standard practices for a B2C. But that doesn’t exclude it from being extraordinarily beneficial for B2B referral promotions.

Through the use of multiple channels and an always on approach, DIRECTV created awareness of their referral program with the majority of their customers knowing the benefits of referring their friends and how to do so. By taking a similar approach to referral promotions a B2B referral program can garner the same kind of success that DIRECTV has been able to accomplish. The channels DIRECTV used to build awareness are:

Video – DIRECTV created a variety of short commercials that were built around humor and entertainment but communicated how to refer your friends and the benefits clearly. These commercials engaged customers and their entertainment value improved how viral their videos became. For B2B businesses these videos can be posted on social media, the homepage, the account page, and on any online communities.

DIRECTV Refer a Friend IMAGE 1

DIRECTV Refer a Friend IMAGE 2

Special Offers – DIRECTV continues to create renewed special offers that reengage their customer base and continue to motivate referrals from their advocates. For a B2B, these special offers can be sent in the mail, by email, posted on social media, or posted on an online community. This will not only drive continued engagement by advocates, but help recruit new advocates by offering an incentive that is too good to pass up.

Referral Rewards

Website and Account Promotion – Together with DIRECTV’s other offers, homepage and account referral promotions help to increases their referral program awareness. This strategy can be applied to B2B business to ensure that each interaction with your brand encourages engagement in the referral program.

DIRECTV is Amplifinity's customer

Regular Email  – Regular email are advantageous by reminding customers of a way to reduce their bills when they receive it. For B2B businesses, email is already a part of the promotional strategy. Try to include referral promotions in the footer of regular subscription emails along with creating dedicated promotional referral emails.

Learn more about what it takes to develop a winning referral promotional strategy by downloading the free e-book, 8 steps to Initiating the Right Launch Sequence for your Referral program.

launching a referral program

Photo Credit: DIRECTV

Originally published on Customer Think

Questions? Email me at JEdmondson@amplifinity.com

 

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.