How to create engaging B2B referral emails

As the saying goes, you never know unless you ask. But when trying to generate referrals and motivate customers to register for your B2B referral program, you’ll never know unless your referral emails asks correctly. While prospecting emails for lead generation continue to decrease in effectiveness with the increasing saturation of the email channel , email is still the most desirable way for a company to communicate with a B2B customer. . . if done in an engaging way.  The success of email communication to customers is a result of B2B customers already having a relationship with the company, along with email being the easiest way to communicate information without taking up their time (after all time is money for a B2B customer).

So what does this mean for your referral emails?

Well for one, it is vital to have referral emails not only at launch, but throughout the different stages of the referral program to start and keep B2B customers engaged and referring. You could have the greatest referral program in the world but if no one knows about the referral program it won’t become the fantastic lead generation channel you are trying to make it.

And two, referral emails needs to be done in a way that maximizes your B2B advocates time while communicating value. A 2015 study found that recipients decide whether to open an email in zero to three seconds after seeing it. But even after opening your referral emails how can you create a message that prompts customers to read and click-through?

5 Referral email do’s and don’ts

1. Keep referral emails short and sweet

Companies are constantly trying to get across multiple messages and make large amounts of information resonate with customers. But this doesn’t mean that customers have the time, patience, or interest in reading it. I have seen brands wondering why they aren’t getting click-throughs after sending out promotional referral emails that are over five paragraphs long. The fact is, psychologist have found that adults have less than an eight second attention span. That eight seconds includes someone having to read, process, and make a decision about your email. This means that most of the time we are scanning emails and articles.

To make your promotional referral emails readable and attractive, have the hero image text call out the referral benefit, aka, the reward. If you’re offering a reward to your advocates and the referral, make that evident. By making a double sided reward (rewarding both the advocate and referral) visible it removes barriers to refer by giving the advocate something extra to offer their referral.

An example of the language you could use is:

Introducing, the (Brand) referral program

Enjoy $100 for each success referral!


Refer. Success. Reward

Refer and get $100 for you and your referral

Start now!


This can then be followed up by a small paragraph going into basic details about the referral program. The faster you can get across the benefits to the customer and their referral, the more likely you are to have them click through to register. These promotional emails aren’t meant to contain the micro details about your ideal referral or every feature in the referral program. A basic overview and an emphasis on benefits is all that should be included.

A more detailed emails can come after a customer has registered. For instance, a welcome email is a good place to explain the program more thoroughly. At this point you have already communicated the value of the referral program clearly enough to your customer so that they have registered. Now they will care more about the referral process and what goes into making a successful referral.

2. Only include one call-to-action

Another thing I have seen in referral emails is more than one call-to-action (CTA). At one point I read a referral email with an upwards of four CTAs. While most of these CTAs led to the same page it was still very confusing and overwhelming.

The point you have to remember is that whether this email is a referral program launch email, special offer, or referral status update, it should have ONE specific purpose and therefore only ONE call to action. Don’t try to pack in other information. It will just become confusing and will lead to a higher bounce rate.

3. Keep referral emails aligned with your current brand creative

A referral program is an extension of your brand. Therefore, you want it to mirror your brand’s look and feel whether this is a home grown referral program or specific software designed for B2B referrals. This is important because if you go off brand it will decrease the trustworthiness of the program and the referral emails. With a promotional email you are trying to prompt customers to click through to the referral program and provide their information, which requires trust. When thinking about this crucial element be sure to insist upon white labeling, especially when using automated referral program email notifications. If a program is run by a referral company you don’t want it to appear as if another company is sending your customers emails or collecting their data. By making sure the automated status emails that come from the referral program are completely white labeled, you increase engagement.

4. Include a special offer

Special offers are great way to motivate registration and generate referrals at launch. They are also good for re-engaging advocates to refer during slow periods. When sending out a special offer email, only emphasize the special offer. Don’t put emphasis on the regular reward or it will become confusing to advocates on what is being offered. If it takes too much time to understand what reward you’re offering, advocates won’t click-through.

If you are trying to make it clear this is a special offer use language like:

  • For a limited time (DD/MM/YY – DD/MM/YY)
  • Limited time only
  • Exclusive, limited time offer
  • Enjoy double rewards for a limited time

This type of language can make advocates feel like your offering them something special to show your appreciation. If you want to include a specific time frame, try just including the date range under the heading in smaller letters. What you don’t want to do is emphasize language that will make customers feel after the time period is up they will have something taken away. By writing a paragraph or even a few sentences about what the referral reward will go back to after a certain time it puts too much emphasis on what an advocate will be losing after that period of time. Instead of making an advocate excited about a special offer it makes them feel resentful. However, if you feel like you must include something about the regular reward, do so in a way that explains that you are offering this special offer to reward loyalty.

5. Automate notifications but keep them personal

Keeping advocates engaged is a key part of B2B referral emails. This is especially important since B2B companies need to nurture customers to extend their lifetime value and have a long-term relationship to increase ROI. Manually updating advocates when their status changes can be time consuming, lead to errors and will never allow for a referral program to be scaled. If you plan on using referral marketing software that automate email notifications and communication make sure to keep it personally. Try to include the advocate’s name and the name of their referral.

When a referral status is moving closer toward successful, include a CTA that prompts the advocate to refer again. This can take advantage of the excitement and good feelings an advocate gets moving closer toward their reward to obtain multiple referrals.

8 steps to launching a referral program

Do you have suggestion or want to discuss other referral email strategies? Tweet me @ContentMktg2