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?




Top 3 reasons referral programs fail

As marketers and salespeople, we all know the power and impact of word-of-mouth on our business, yet we still struggle to leverage it.  Why?  Because it’s hard to measure, difficult to systematize, and seemingly impossible to monetize.  While these challenges exist in some cases, Amplifinity continues to prove every day that the best way to solve them is through closed-loop referral marketing programs.  Before launching another mediocre referral program that will fail to drive meaningful long-term lead volume, consider these three common referral program mistakes:

#1 – Failure to support them with the right systems, processes and strategies

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com said it best: “Although every company knows customer references are important, most companies have a lax approach to managing them.” Just like any other marketing program a referral program must be well strategized, tested and continually optimized to ensure peak performance. And when you automate a referral program and take the manual tracking and management aspect out of the equation, the results are even better. 

Takeaway? You can’t just ‘set it and forget it’ and expect good, long-term results.

#2 – Lack of executive sponsorship

Typically, a referral program is initiated by an executive and handed off to a junior-level employee to drive – often without the proper knowledge or bandwidth. As a result, the program is launched haphazardly and left to run itself.  Sure this method can provide average results, but we all know average isn’t gonna’ pay the bills.

Takeaway? Referral programs that are continually improved upon – and viewed as long-term acquisition channels have the power to produce just that: ongoing and sustainable customer acquisitions.

#3 – The Black Hole effect

In order to manage lead volume and quality, it’s important that every customer, prospect, and sales rep enrolled in the referral program is kept in the loop regarding the status of their referrals and any incentives tied to them.  When referrals are made and disappear into a “black hole,” engagement plummets, operational costs of managing escalations increase precipitously, and the program loses credibility.

Takeaway? Customers who refer new business to you are your BEST customers. Regular communication and nurturing them results in satisfied, high-producing additions to your company’s “sales team.”

Do you have a tip for building successful referral programs for your business? We’d love to add them to our blog!

Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ and employee referral programs

Sun Tzu was a pretty ferocious character. For over 2,500 years, the ancient Chinese general’s Art of War has been studied by military scholars around the world. Many regard it as the greatest treatise on war strategy ever. In recent decades, business scholars have mined it for business advice, pretending that Sun Tzu was really talking about corporate strategy when he wrote it. Indeed, nearly all of his verses apply to the business world. Except for maybe the ones about dropping fire out of the sky on people. But we’ll skip talking about those.

Today, let’s focus on Chapter II, Verses 16 – 18. As you read the following, do so in a slow loud, growling voice. It helps to understand where Sun Tzu was coming from…

“Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength.” — Sun Tzu, 500BC

That was really awesome. Clearly, Sun Tzu is talking about the importance of incentivizing employee referral programs. Let’s break it down together:

1. Reward your employees when they steal customers from your competitors.
2. Reward your employees when they recruit employees from your competitors.
3. Stealing customers and employees from your competitors will make you even stronger.

That sounds really cool and scary, doesn’t it? The only problem is that when Sun Tzu was around, even a gang of a hundred guys was considered an army. How do you keep track of things when you have thousands of employees and millions of customers to steal? The best solution is to have a software platform like Amplifinity integrated with your CRM system or billing system that keeps track of who is stealing whom. This ensures that customers don’t get lost and that employees always get rewarded when they earn it. Our platform works well for employee recruiting on behalf of human resources too.

So, if you need a software platform for your own competitive Art of War marketing warfare, Amplifinity is the strategy for you. Our software is Sun Tzu on an enterprise scale. We allow employees to reach out across their social networks (online and offline) to nab friends, family members and colleagues from competitors.

Truths and myths of brand advocacy

No marketer, brand manager, marketing automation professional or even an advocacy marketing exec would look you in the eye and tell you that they’ve got a no-fail brand advocacy marketing strategy. The development of brand advocacy marketing is still in its infancy, though there is a set of variables generally agreed upon as necessary for success. If marketing was foolproof, Coca Cola would never have spent millions to market New Coke back in the 80s. Walgreens would have immediately rejected the offer to carry Barack Obama Chia Pets on its shelves.

That doesn’t mean that brand advocacy is a precarious use of your time and budget. Far from it. In fact, brand advocacy programs are generating huge ROI and delivering measurable results that far exceed results from traditional marketing initiatives. More importantly, the data that results from running a skillfully developed and implemented advocacy program can shape future marketing efforts in a targeted way that wasn’t possible until now.

referralsSo what do we know about brand advocacy?

Brand Advocacy: True or False?

1) A brand should know who their brand advocates are, and to what degree they will advocate on a brand’s behalf before running a brand advocacy program.


Surveys and scores based on a set of variable criteria determined prior to implementing a brand advocacy program are not the best indicators of program success.

Even formulas developed with scientific precision that purportedly reveal who among a brand’s customers will more than likely advocate on its behalf? There are quite simply too many deviations and factors to consider that make such formulaic approaches highly effective at the onset of a program.

The truth is, a brand will miss out on major opportunities to activate hundreds, even thousands of customers who happened to tell you that on a scale of 1-5, they’d recommend your brand only “sometimes.”

Further, it is often the initially uninspired customer who will turn around and become your most passionate advocate when properly motivated or nurtured.

2) Incentives are an effective and profitable way for a brand to nurture its brand advocates and encourage future advocacy.


Whether you’re a lab rat or a consumer, rewards drive fairly predictable behaviors. The truth? If they like, love or are loyal to a brand, consumers will advocate on its behalf, and will appreciate the brand’s token of gratitude when they take time out of their busy schedule to do it.

Have you ever recommended your hair stylist to a friend and, in return, received a reward for a free trim for yourself and your friend next time you both set up an appointment? Did you feel it was a gratuitous reward for what you’d have done regardless of the free haircut? Probably not.

Ever been asked to refer a friend to the same bank you left a few months ago because of its horrible customer service? Did you refer your friends anyways, just for the $100 reward the bank was offering? Your enemies maybe, but probably not your friends. No reward can motivate most customers to refer a friend to a brand that the customer doesn’t actually like.

3) When running a referral program for the first time, if a customer does not respond to your initial request for a referral, the customer should be eliminated from the second wave of the program.


People are busy. And when they’re really busy, they probably won’t respond to your brand’s referral request. But, as life typically goes, those same busy people eventually become less busy at some point. Sometimes the very people who seemingly snub you the first go-round, become passionate and proactive advocates the next go-round. Happens all the time.

The truth is, if your customers or employees or partners really like what you do, they will happily help out your brand. You’ve just got to ask them at the right time and place – and sometimes it takes asking more than once.

AMP blog, brand advocacyOriginally published on Wired.com Innovation Insights January 16, 2014