3 ways B2B referral success can be on the cards for your brand

Even though referral marketing is commonly associated with B2C companies, there is a place for it when developing B2B marketing tactics. Jeff Epstein explores

To use some poker parlance, when it comes to referral marketing, B2B players don’t believe they've been dealt the same winning hands as their B2C counterparts.

That belief, though common and long-held, is a misconception. B2B marketers who think they can’t possibly win at referral marketing like their B2C cousins should understand that whether they’re marketing to consumers or businesspeople, those buyers — and potential referrers — are humans, not corporations. For that reason, all types of companies have similar odds of benefiting from referrals.

Now, it’s important to consider why getting referrals is a maddening, frustrating process for everyone. A Texas Tech University group researched the trend and found that only 29% of people provided referrals, even though 83% said they happily would. What gives?

Well, it’s not like great companies with fantastic account managers get referrals faster than lackluster ones. More often than not, the challenge stems from poor management, as well as lag time between referral solicitation, activity, and rewards. But even addressing some of those challenges doesn’t guarantee victory.

Who is winning the referral wars, then? The moneymakers are forward-thinking B2B corporations that have prioritized scalable referral marketing programs.​

Build a B2B protocol that cashes out big

All successful B2B referral campaigns share one trait: they constantly tweak their approaches to find better ways to target their audiences. Not only do winners tend to create and automate monitoring, tracking, and incentivizing processes, but they’re always sifting through their data streams for ways to improve.

Put another way, referral marketing is part of the company’s DNA and not just some nice-to-have afterthought. As a result, everyone’s email signature has a referral call-to-action link, the company’s website includes referral elements throughout, and referral channels follow solid, predictable funnels.

Interested in building a B2B referral strategy that wins you the pot? Try these three techniques.​

1. Identify and recruit your strongest brand ambassadors

At some point, you've probably been recommended a company but have disregarded the referral. Think about what was off-putting about the experience. Did the referral seem cold and spam-like? Did it interrupt your daily tasks in an unauthentic or unprofessional way?

You obviously don’t want a similar reaction when fans refer your services and products, which is why you must develop an evaluation system for all your prospective ambassadors. Vet them before approving them to speak on your behalf. Otherwise, you could wind up wasting time on referral campaigns that fall flat because the referrers weren’t champions after all, which could cool off the campaign before it can really get fired up.​

2. Map out practical, appealing incentives

No two businesses are the same, which means their customers will want different incentives in exchange for singing the businesses' praises. At the same time, you should reward your referrers consistently. Determine a setup that’s economically sensible for all parties. For instance, if your profit margin on a widget is $50, an Amazon Echo wouldn’t be a smart incentive because it would wipe out your earnings.

Ultimately, you’ll want to play around with a balanced incentive structure that’s effective without draining your system. Experiment with a focus group of your best brand ambassadors or try some old-fashioned A/B split testing with differing incentives. Discovering what works and what doesn’t can help you build a program that can scale and succeed over the long haul.

3. Automate wherever possible

Growing your referral program means you can’t just set it and forget it. Put tracking systems in place that will allow you to automatically link a customer with a referrer, send out timely incentives, refer clientele, and more.

Automating and documenting referrals without bogging down your marketing team also allows you to gather insights along the way. Consistently study the data you’ve gleaned, and use it to strengthen your referral system further.

Suggesting the B2B marketplace isn’t ripe for referrals only keeps you out of the game. You’ve already spent years developing customers who appreciate what you do. Now, give them the nudges they need – and the rewards they deserve – to serve as an ancillary sales team that’ll go all-in for your brand.