The best sales channel you’re probably not using

I’ve been in technology for nearly 30 years and I’ve watched many tech businesses attempt to grow their businesses “through the channel”. This is code for various forms of business partnerships or distribution models that drive incremental revenue.  These partnerships come in many shapes and sizes and include industry designations such as resellers, agents, integrators, etc.

 Back in the day…

Whether the nature of the partnership is “sell with” or “sell through” you usually consider the trade-off between investment in the channel partner, and the potential lift to sales. The investment comes in the form of training, enablement materials, support personnel, commissions etc. and usually mirrors the amount of the sales process you are expecting the partner to carry. The expected payoff is incremental revenue you would not have received through your direct or ecommerce channels.

 Too complicated

Many of these traditional partner efforts fail to live up to expectations. Without early success, execution quickly wanes and eventually the partnership flames out and the investment is written off.  There are a host of reasons why partnerships can be challenging, but one that I often witness is that channels partners can rarely execute the sales process as well as the primary supplier. If they don’t have immediate success, they lose focus and move on to where they can make money faster and easier.

 Watch out for an upset (aka, don’t get Uber-ed!)

In the same way that technology has disrupted markets (think Uber, Lyft, AirBNB), etc.) technology is poised to disrupt the nature of these traditional channel partnership models. And, just like the aforementioned disruptor companies, cloud/SaaS, and mobile technology will provide the crucial linchpin that drives obsolescence of these traditional channel models.

The concept is a simple and elegant, but also powerful and scalable– leverage technology to quickly and inexpensively ramp channel relationships that can drive new customer acquisition and revenue generation. The referral of an opportunity that results in a closed sale becomes the unit of exchange in this new channel ecosystem. It’s pretty much a given that referrals are the highest quality leads with higher close rates than traditional lead methods.

Let’s look at what we really want out of our channel partners and how technology enables could enable a truly disruptive new channel model:

Low friction: Both suppliers and partners want easy and simple. Complex partner models decrease the odds of success.  Today, mobile and social technologies combined with the networked nature of relationships can allow you to make almost anyone a partner that helps you identify and influence qualified buyers.

Speed: The more extended partner network you can build, the better opportunity you have to quickly identify in market buyers and beat your competition to the sale.

Scales easily and effectively: SaaS software can provide a platform for a 100% closed loop process that fully automates tracking, attribution, compensation and communications to the parties in real time.

 

Are there leading edge companies doing this already? You bet!

In the B2C world, the aforementioned Uber and Lyft utilize this method to drive a fast, frictionless growth in a way that is authentic to their brands. Immediately after a ride on Lyft, I am prompted to post a tweet to my network embedded with a referral link. I get my reward if they use my referral. A great example of levering customers as a channel.

In B2B, fast growing SaaS players like RingCentral and Citrix GoToMeeting are using referrals as growth channels with both partners and influencers. Citrix’s Senior Manager, Randy Fahrbach recently wrote a piece on Referrals as a Service (RaaS) for his interesting take on this channel trend.

Who are your potential new channel partners? It can be anyone! Open your thinking to any groups, companies, communities or professionals that may have experience with your product or are in a position to influence your buyers. As an example, if you target small businesses, accountants can be very influential in the certain buying decisions that an SMB makes.

What about companies that sell an adjacent product or service to yours? These companies may be interested in becoming your partner. With little additional work or distraction from their core business, they get to create an additional revenue stream from the relationships they already have today. You can also use the same model for companies that may already be a partner, but you need a lower cost, lower friction way to make the relationship productive and profitable.

Once you are freed from the cost and effort of ramping a traditional partner relationship, you’ll be able to brainstorm many new potential partnership opportunities. Think about your end buyer and what natural partner synergies might exist if you could enable them to refer your product cheaply and easily.  With a simple referral execution, you can engage this channel and make it very easy for them to identify leads and be rewarded for doing so.

 If you go down this new channel partner path, here is what you need to be successful:

  1.      Make it easy for them to partner with you
  2.      Make it easy to refer — direct and indirect
  3.      Clearly delineate rewards with prompt fulfillment
  4.      Provide transparency so the partner is kept up to date on progress
  5.      Reinforce positive behaviors

What is brand advocacy?

 

Selling is hard! Tracking referrals in Salesforce is easy

I have a confession to make: I don’t always like sales people.  But over time, I have come to realize that being successful in sales is hard.  I’ve seen it firsthand, through all the times that I have curtly ended a phone conversation (while wishing I hadn’t picked up in the first place).  And all the times I’ve chosen to ignore a prospecting email that arrived in my inbox.   These poor sales reps were doing their job – digging and searching for leads anywhere they could, trying to grow their business. There are stats and benchmarks out there about how many contacts you need to make on average to get a single qualified lead.  I don’t know those numbers by heart, but I can tell you one thing – it’s enough to make sales prospecting a very tough job.

Help your salespeople out

That’s why organizations are always looking for the best possible tools and resources for lead generation.  At Amplifinity we have built our success on the proven value of referral leads, which are cost effective to acquire, close at a higher rate than other leads, and turn into clients that have a higher lifetime value.

But while referral automation programs are often thought of as the purview of the marketing department, the most effective referral programs also leverage the strong relationships that individual sales reps have with their customers.  The most effective programs enable reps to directly ask for referrals in the field, while ensuring that these referrals are a part of the company-wide referral program so that advocates will be rewarded properly and quickly for their successful referrals.

Tracking referrals in Salesforce

Amplifinity’s platform offers a range of useful tools for sales reps.  For Salesforce.com users, tracking referrals in Salesforce is easy! Our platform enables reps to invite their contacts to participate in the referral program with just a single click  In other cases, we’ve configured our system to enable reps with tools such as emails, printed materials, and social media posts to recruit new advocates.  And most importantly, reps can register someone for the referral program and enter a lead on their behalf on the fly, as they are talking to a customer.

While I might not always want to admit it, achieving success as a sales rep is hard work.  Amplifinity’s referral automation software can make it so much easier, and we can all dream of the day that sales reps can spend their time following up on high value referral leads, rather than cold calling the rest of us.

Want to further the discussion? Email me at jvanhaaften@amplifinity.com

What is brand advocacy?

 

 

 

 

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 buying process: I get ‘buy’ with a little help from my friends

Do you remember your first car?

Lately I find myself dreaming about a new car. While I have fully enjoyed the functionality of my mini-van, my inner self is screaming to be shown in something stylish that hugs the road.  You don’t have to tell me, I already know the sigh and judgmental look that comes the minute I confess my ride is a mini-van.  It’s okay, I have embraced this phase of my life but it’s time to move on to some sporty style.

 

First Love

My first car was a red Camaro, she was used but had kept all her good looks, could still take every curve and when I drove her off the parking lot she was 100% mine. Do you remember your first car?  I bet you didn’t find that car on your own. A good car buying story always includes some buddies, a dad, maybe your network of trusted friends and family or even co-workers.  I would guess you could think of many purchases you have made that included any one of these key people.

The first car I wanted was a SAAB. It was pretty and had shapely curves, it just looked classy, but of course I had not met my Camaro yet.  Do you know I would have never met my Camaro, if not for the input from my dad.  He knew a lot about cars and I trusted him. Dad knew just what to say so I would walk away from the only used SAAB left on the lot, and keep moving toward a car that would be a better fit for me.  I have come to rely on those I trust when I want to make a purchase.

 

Major purchases require major input

I have noticed how others do the same. Like my good friend trying to buy a house. Do you know how she found her mortgage lender? Well silly, me, of course! I referred her to him, because I too just bought my first house and he guided me through that process with a level of customer service that is rare to find any more. It happens that I also referred her to my fabulous real estate agent, by my girlfriend was already excited about the one she already knew. That’s okay, it is good when you have choices but oh the influence of your friends, family and those in your network when you are looking to buy! Priceless.

I have had such good luck with referrals when making large purchases, I have expanded my influencers to include those in my local community. Those bats I can hear in my rafters, yeah, those creepy things really need to go but I don’t want to just grab a name out of the yellow pages or off Yelp.  I asked for referrals on my hometown FB page, like so many others do on a daily basis. When I see those referrals by my local community I start saving their names, so I know who to call when my insurance is up for renewal or when I need a new internet provider or when I want to rid my yard of pesky ticks and mosquitos.  In truth, I can see how people influence buying decisions in my professional network as well.

 

Referrals at work

Professionally I have experienced high level Executives requesting referrals when making buying decisions. For instance, when Healthcare Directors and CTO’s are deciding on high level IT solutions, they invest many hours in understanding what others are doing in their industry. With tight budgets and more work then staff, understanding what solutions make the most sense for business and what is working for others is critical. I could always count on the buying process to potential customers including a call to my current customer as a reference about what solutions were working best and the service levels we were providing.  My current customers served as vital influences on what future business I could close.

Are you missing out on the valuable influencers all around you or do you do the same when making a purchase? You can answer, but I already know you do. The proof is all around me, but if you’re more of an analytics person the supporting statistics can easily be found. I prefer what experience shows me. Someone should really figure out a way to capitalize on all of our experience, don’t you agree!

I would love to hear about your stories, if you would dare to share. When have you counted on those in your network to be a part of your buying process? Contact me at lskipworth@amplifinity.com

What is brand advocacy?

 

The stormy challenges of an in-house referral program

Developing software in-house is always a risky business, and this is as true for referral programs as it is for other types of software systems. Marketing lead-gen teams must fight through stormy weather when having to design requirements from scratch while simultaneously navigating the turbulent waters of IT concerns and project priorities.

At Amplifinity, we’re proud to say that some of our most successful referral programs are for customers that had endured the storm of their home-grown systems before turning to us. These are both B2B and B2C brands that were unable to scale their programs sufficiently to meet their referral goals.

With their in-house programs, these brands had high operational costs and frustrated their advocates with poor communication. While these programs achieved some level of referral success, they did not achieve the level of solid lead generation and closed sales that was anticipated.

Here is a typical example from our most successful telecom customer::

This customer had a home-grown reward fulfillment process that took 30 to 45 days to issue a bill credit to their customers. In addition, their referral program did not generate any status communications to the advocates, so advocates had no clue whether or not their referrals were even processed. This resulted in large volumes of calls to the call centers to inquire about the status of referrals and referral credits. And, because there were no automated status updates to inform advocates about referral progress, the advocates lost interest and made few additional referrals. With these program weaknesses, this customer was more than ready to graduate to an automated referral platform when we reached out to them.

In this post, I’ll focus on three challenges of in-house programs: scale, advocate experience, and operational costs. Implicit in the text is the understanding that a solid SaaS referral platform addresses the challenges with the right mix of enterprise hardening and rich feature sets. In future posts, I’ll focus more on the best referral practices and program features that make for the most successful referral experience.

Scale

By “scale”, I mean the ability to support millions of referral events without depending upon IT to keep the software running, without requiring manual intervention to complete any of the referral processes, and with sufficient tooling to support program changes without involving IT.

We’ve seen in-house referral systems that successfully empower advocates to make referrals, but then require manual intervention to complete the referral process. They don’t effectively close the referral loop so that advocates get rewarded in a timely manner, they may calculate rewards with a spreadsheet, or they may require manual steps to fulfill the rewards.These manual steps are manageable at the outset of the program, but when referral volume climbs to hundreds or thousands of successful referrals per month, manual processes cannot keep up. Operational costs go up and advocate experience goes down, as in the telecom example above.

Advocate Experience

The number one factor driving successful referral programs is a fully-engaged advocate base. Once a customer, employee, or partner accepts your invite to become an advocate, your referral program has to do everything in its power to deliver a positive advocate experience.  Happy advocates make more referrals. Unhappy advocates abandon the program.

In-house programs often struggle to keep their advocates happy. We hear stories like:

“My friend told me he bought your product, but I never got rewarded.”

This happens when the referral loop doesn’t close, either because of inadequate system design or because of dependence upon a manual process. That hurts!  It drives calls to your call center and discourages the advocate from making more referrals.

With in-house referral programs that successfully close the loop, which is great news, there remains a missed opportunity to stimulate the advocate to make more referrals, which is an active, and automated, nurturing program. Every time a prospect takes action, whether responding to an advocate’s email or completing a purchase, the brand has an opportunity to reach out to the advocate, thank her for her referral activity, and ask for more referrals. In-house programs generally don’t have this capability and lose out on a key method for amplifying the success of the program.

A closed-loop assures a positive advocate experience. An effective nurturing program turns that experience, and the referral results, to great!

Operational Costs

Above, I mentioned how manual processes and an unclosed referral loop increase operational costs. Interestingly, these are not IT costs, but the cost of extra work on the business side to keep things moving.

On the IT side, the largest operational cost for in-house systems comes from the management of the referral program content. This includes the web pages that advocates and prospects use, the referral tools, and the emails that go to prospects and advocates. What we’ve seen in home-grown systems is that it is expensive to maintain this content, and that maintenance generally depends upon IT involvement.

Successful referral programs are built on platforms that remove IT dependency from the equation once the initial integration to the back-end systems are completed. This require tools that allow marketing teams to manage their own content and to configure their reward rules. We have found this self-management capability to be very popular with our customer base.

Summary

It takes time and money to build and maintain an effective referral program. Organizations that choose to go it alone find that they are putting Referral Program Calm Watersmoney and time into an unproven, incomplete referral platform, which more times than not results in lackluster referral results. This blog has focused on the turbulence of in-house referral programs as compared to using referral software. In subsequent blogs, I will address specific capabilities that the most successful enterprise referral platforms use to calm those stormy in-house waters.

 

Questions? Email me at lbloom@amplifinity.com