The art of referral emails

If you’ve been around this blog long enough, you probably know that communication is one of the best ways to keep your referral sources engaged. But for all the talk about the importance of communication, there’s less understanding about how to do it effectively.

There are many ways you can keep in contact with referral partners and others in your channel, but email is one of the more convenient ways to fit it into your schedule and theirs. While some things may benefit from an in-person or video meeting, a lot of day-to-day communication ultimately works as an email.

Here are the steps to creating an effective email to channel partners.

Step 1: The Hook

This is the part that catches the reader’s attention. When crafting this, there are a few simple questions to ask yourself: why should the reader care? Why should they want to click on this email to open it? How do I make them feel glad that they did? The subject line is certainly part of the hook, but make sure to include one or two sentences max at the beginning of the email to keep them there, as well.

Step 2: The Message

Once you’ve got your reader’s attention, it’s time to cut to the chase. Do you have an update about channel performance? A challenge? A success story to share? Whatever it is, give it to your email list in a way that is easy to understand — now isn’t the time for industry jargon. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal, but don’t ramble, either.

Step 3: The CTA

What do you want your readers to do once they finish reading this email? Is there a contest you want them to enter, a certain number of leads you want from them before a certain date? Or do you simply want them to keep up the good work? No matter what it is, try to end the email on an action — something that your readers can get up and do once they’re done reading.

Bonus: Tips and Tricks

The above steps are the broad strokes of creating a good referral email. However, here are some other things to keep in mind.

Keep the message short and sweet. Channel partners have limited time. Don’t waste it with long, rambling messages that take paragraphs to get to the point.

Keep things aligned with your brand. If your brand voice is cool and casual, an overly formal email will feel out of place. Likewise, if you’re a more formal or professional brand, suddenly switching to a casual voice will throw readers off.

Include special offers or incentives. Nothing keeps partners clicking and opening messages like offering them special deals or prizes for bringing in more leads.

Automated doesn’t mean impersonal. Automated emails can help save time and also make it easier to track open and click through rates. Automating this and other parts of your referral channel can ultimately make it more effective.

How Marketing Can Motivate Sales (and vice versa)

We’ve all heard about the importance of sales and marketing alignment. It makes for a better business, it grows revenue, and overall it makes everyone happier.

But what does sales and marketing alignment have to do with a referral strategy? A lot, as it turns out.

It’s no secret that referral programs perform better when sales gets involved. Statistics show that, with sales involvement, leads convert to deals ten percent more often in partner referral channels and seventeen percent more often in customer referral channels. When it comes to seeing actual results from a referral channel, sales involvement is key.

But the impact of strong marketing on a referral channel can’t be ignored, either. You do, in fact, need both of these teams to be working at the top of their game in order to get results. And how do you get them working their best?

You get them working together.

Getting Sales Involved in Referrals

Engaging sales in a referral channel sounds easy on the surface. But there are actually a few ways that you can go about it, and figuring out what is the best for your channel will take some strategic thinking.

The first step is to figure out if you’re involving direct or indirect sales. This will help you get an idea of the general shape of your program.

Then, there are a few options. One is to take a direct to individuals approach, which is where an individual such as a customer, influencer, small agent, small business or employee would refer business directly to you. Another is a to-and-through strategic alliance, where you make an alliance with a company that enables their employees to refer business to you. There is also the to-and-through partner network, which is where managed partners can enable their employees to make referrals.

Whatever you choose, your sales team should be part of the equation. They will be the ones helping you recruit and keep customers, alliances, and partners referring.

But it isn’t enough to just tell your sales team about your channel. You need to get them excited about it, too. And a big part of doing that is promoting your referral program — marketing it, in other words. And this is where your marketing team comes in.

Getting Marketing Involved

When many people hear the words “referral” and “marketing” together, they don’t think of involving promotional teams. They think of referrals as a type of marketing, which is perfectly true! But many don’t understand just how entwined a referral channel and a marketing team is.

Referrals can fit into just about any partner channel marketers are actively using. That means, no matter what, your marketing team will be a part of your channel. Instead of having this deter sales from getting involved, you should use it to your advantage.

Promoting your referral program is an important part of a channel’s success, and it doesn’t end one or two or ten days after you start the program. It should, in fact, continue to go throughout the life of your channel.

And just as you’re promoting to partners and customers, you need to be promoting to sales, too. Remind them of why they’re doing what they’re doing, and make sure you’re promoting your successes to them, as well! The more they can see the positive effect that the referral channel is having, the more they’ll be able to be involved in it.

This will cause a positive feedback loop, where marketing will have more positive things to say, which will bolster sales even further. And that will make your referral channel more effective than ever.

Get Inspired! Promote Your Referral Program like These Brands

Promoting a referral strategy is a daunting task. It helps to have a plan for every phase of your referral program’s life, but that can be difficult to put together when you don’t have any concept of where to start.

That’s why we gathered some of the most exciting referral program marketing techniques. We’re breaking down how these brands did them, and how you can apply them to your own B2B business.


Tesla is known for its innovation, and its referral program is no different. Making the most of its excited and incredibly loyal fanbase, it created a referral program that saw over 40x ROI!

What can other businesses learn from Tesla’s referral program marketing?

  1. Cultivate loyalty. This is the driving force behind Tesla’s success. Tesla fans are incredibly loyal, with most of them willing to evangelize the cars for free. Almost all of Tesla’s success comes from word of mouth.
  2. Offer incentives your customers — and partners — want. Tesla calculated their incentives carefully and made sure that they were giving their customers what they actually wanted. You should be doing the same thing — calculate incentives based on your audience.
  3. Stay top of mind. Elon Musk is still generating headlines everywhere he goes, which means that customers have no opportunity to forget him or his business. While you probably won’t want to take that route, regular communication with your partners can achieve the same effect.


Rothy takes a smart approach to referral programs by using post-purchase pop-ups to encourage referrals from happy customers. While this is a reasonable way to approach B2C referral marketing, many B2B companies might find it difficult or pointless to implement.

This does not mean that B2B companies should ignore these tactics altogether, however. Here are just some things that can be learned:

  1. Ask for referrals at the right time. Timing is key for referrals. Asking for them when your customer or partner is happy with you and ready to sell you to someone else is far more effective.
  2. Make your partners happy. Even if you aren’t necessarily trying to sell your partners on your product or service, you should still be making them happy and excited to be a part of your channel.
  3. Be direct but simple. Pop-ups are attention-grabbing. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to have the customer or partner’s attention forever. Notice that Rothy kept their message short and sweet — and you should, too.


Companies like Huckberry have had great success with referral contests — offering special prizes to whoever brings in the most referrals in a set amount of time. Huckberry used a lot of the tactics that we already discussed: short, effective messaging and powerful incentives. But they also had something more.

What can your business learn from this?

  1. Make referring fun. A little friendly competition makes participating in a referral program feel less like a chore and more like a game. This will make referring for you more memorable, and feed into your channel even after the campaign is over.
  2. Give things a deadline. Deadlines help add a sense of urgency to your referral channel. Instead of telling partners and customers to refer whenever is convenient, having a set, near date will prompt many into action.
  3. Be creative. While Huckberry offered a traditional cash prize, they had a little extra fun by offering bourbon along with. These tiny, humanizing touches will make your referral campaign more memorable and fun.

#Growthhacking: 5 Ways to Boost Your Lead Generation

How many of you have stuck to your New Year’s Resolutions? Many of us start the year with lofty goals for lead generation, but by the time Q2 ends, we become disillusioned with how much work is left to go. Maybe we don’t see the progress that we wanted, and we consider giving up entirely.

But all hope isn’t lost! Even if you didn’t see the lead gen growth that you wanted in the first or second quarters, there’s still plenty of time to meet and even exceed your goals.

Referrals are a great source of lead generation. In fact, they produce a higher quality of lead, with more of a focus on building connections as opposed to just cold calling. But even referral channels aren’t foolproof — you need to do them correctly if you want to see results. Here are five ways that you can supercharge your lead generation.

Know where you stand

How can you fix your lead generation if you don’t know what’s broken? It’s helpful to compare yourself against industry benchmarks to see how you stack up. As referenced in some of our annual benchmark reports, the kind of performance you can expect from referral partners is not the same kind of performance you can expect from customers. Make sure that you are comparing “like for like” when optimizing your program is key.. Once you do that, you can see where your programs exceed expectations and where there’s room for improvement.

Rethink where your leads are coming from

The quality of the lead is often determined by the source of the lead. This is why referrals are such a good option, but it goes even further than that. For example, a message on social media is an easy way to give a referral, but it isn’t always the most effective — only one percent of social media leads from customers convert, and nearly none from referral partners do. For example, social media is a great way to drive awareness through referral partners, but social generated leads tend to convert at a lower rate as compared to lead suggestion tools. Furthermore,verbal referrals are consistently the most successful. By empowering the right referrals sources with the right tools, you can greatly improve lead generation.

Engage your sales team

Sales involvement in a referral program is the secret ingredient to successful lead generation. In customer referral programs, lead quality increases 17 percent with sales involvement, and in partner referral programs it increases by 10 percent. Developing a formal sales engagement plan, then, might be beneficial to increasing the number of leads generated. Focus on making it easy for your sales team to get involved. This will help them actually get excited about providing referrals, which will increase leadgen!

Rethink your Incentives

Incentives encourage action. But there’s a big difference between an incentive that’s good, and one that either doesn’t produce the right results or isn’t cost effective enough to sustain itself. Calculating the right incentives is often the deciding factor in the success of your program.But when done correctly, great incentives will encourage repeat referrals, and can get more people generating leads than ever before.


All of these tips are great, but they often aren’t realistic for busy business owners. Who has time to be constantly tracking metrics, encouraging verbal referrals, engaging sales teams and handing out incentives? That’s why more people are turning to automated referral channels managed at scale. These are easy to adjust as needed, and they stay running without constant supervision! Best of all, they’re easy for partners and customers alike to use — ensuring that businesses see more lead generation, and more revenue growth.

Top 5 must-dos for a successful referral program

Organizations looking to develop a referral program have a lot to consider.  Everything from finding the appropriate technology to determining the best date for launch to figuring out their reward structure, it all takes deliberate thought to make sure the right decisions are made. Of all the moving parts to consider, following these top five must-dos will ensure your program is a success:

1)  Devote the time, money and resources needed to set the program up right the first time.

Companies sometimes think launching their referral programs as pilot studies and then growing them into more robust programs later is the way to go.  Typically this is because they either don’t have the IT resources available to create important integrations, or they don’t have complete buy-in from corporate. This is a mistake. Referral programs need to be designed and implemented from the get-go to be full-fledge functional and efficient tools for the audiences they serve.  Approaching a referral program with “one toe in the water” will net potentially inconclusive and often mediocre results.  If the referral program is going to be an integral part of the enterprise, then find a way to incorporate all the parts of the enterprise necessary to ensure program adoption and success right from the start.

2) Understand IN PRACTICE how leads are currently making it into the sales funnel.

A potential customer came in with an existing referral program that needed improving.  Their executives explained how the sales process worked: sales reps were currently using a home-grown referral database to enter leads and then managing those leads using their CRM.  But the home-grown referral database was unsophisticated and the data proved hard to track referral marketing success; they needed a more streamlined approach whereby the sales reps could simply enter leads into the referral program and have them sync to the CRM, updating automatically as the sale progressed.  After much hard work, the customer launched a cool new referral platform that met their requirements.  The result? Their sales leads decreased by half.  Why? Because the business did not understand how their sales team actually used their CRM.  As it turned out, reps had never utilized the home-grown referral database at all; instead, they were entering the leads directly into the CRM. By developing a new process to “streamline” things, they had inadvertently introduced a whole new step in the sales process.  This is not an uncommon discovery for companies when they start to dig into the details of how their sales processes work.  Before considering a referral program, companies need to truly understand how their sales team interacts with the tools they are provided when it comes to current customers and potential leads.  There are ways to successfully integrate referral programs into CRM systems that can streamline the work being done and increase ROI without introducing a change in the organizational culture or sales process.

3) Make the call-to-action for customers crystal clear.

Drop-offs in referral program participation often occur in two spots:  the registration point for customers, and the call-to-action point for leads.  Why?  Because customers may be drawn to look at what the referral program is offering, but at the point they need to make a decision to join, if the message is vague or cumbersome, they are less likely to complete their registration.  Similarly, leads may click through the emails or social posts from their friends, but if they can’t tell what they get for providing their personal information, the drop-off rate will increase.

A company with a successful referral program used the following headline in their recruitment emails to customers: “Get a $20 card and 1000 reward points when you get your friends to buy our product.”  In the body of the email, there were three steps to achieving the reward.  That’s it.

The message is simple: 1) Tell your customers what you want them to do. 2) Tell them how to do it. 3) Tell them what they will get for doing it.

4) Promote the referral program everywhere customers go, and promote it constantly.

Research on referral program success rates shows that broad promotion of a company’s referral program is a significant step in getting customers to refer multiple times.  On average, twenty percent of customers will register for the referral program.  A significant proportion of those who register for the program will only make one successful referral during the lifetime of the program.  Customers who have a positive experience with the referral program are twice as likely to successfully refer again, and one-fifth of any company’s customers who register for their referral program will refer successfully multiple times.  One of the key values customers who refer successfully over and over bring to a company’s sales process is their knowledge of others who are in the market for a particular product. However, timing is critical. If a current customer gets a referral program invitation email from a company but has no referral in mind, the email will be ignored.  However, weeks later, the same customer may identify a referral and will need to be able to easily find a link to the company’s referral program, preferably on the website or through the online account pages.

On average, the number of days between successful referrals for customers who will refer more than once is sixty-three.  Companies must advertise their referral program everywhere their customers go, and promote it constantly through as many channels as possible.  Without frequent and continued promotion, referral program success is left completely to chance.

5) Follow FTC compliance and IRS tax laws.

Companies with referral programs need to be aware of the various laws and regulations around solicitations (CAN SPAM), promotions, and rewarding.  In an earlier blog post I talk about CAN SPAM, but there are two other regulatory considerations companies need to keep in mind:

First, the Federal Trade Commission recently passed a law under its 16 CFR Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   The regulation states if a person makes a post on any social network (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn) and stands to gain a profit from the endorsement or testimonial, he or she must at a minimum include a statement such as, “This is a paid endorsement,” or “#paidad.”  Your referral program Terms and Conditions should include this language so you can be certain your program is compliant with the most current statutes and you are protected against legal action.

Second, depending on the amount of the referral reward and the rigor it takes to achieve it, companies need to consider how much money any one customer could potentially earn in a calendar year.  The reason for this is simply the IRS. If a customer receives over $599.00 per year in rewards, to be compliant with US tax laws the company who paid those rewards must collect a W-9 from that person and submit a 1099 to the IRS on the customer’s behalf.  There are referral program vendors that will track 1099 information and disseminate the paperwork as needed to be certain you stay compliant with US tax laws. Be sure to ask if these are features of their platform when talking with a potential referral program vendor.

Questions? Email me at

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What is brand advocacy?


6 referral-selling killers

Originally published on June 29, on

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?