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B2B Referral Program 101 – 6 Simple Ideas to Drive Leads and Generate Sales

In the B2B space, customer relationships are essential. But how do you build them at scale

The answer is as simple as it is elegant: a B2B referral program.

Built on the ancient concept quid pro quo (i.e. you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours), the referral model is a way to nurture brand ambassadors and reward them at the same time (encouraging further loyalty).

So how can your business get started?

Let’s dive in.

The basics of B2B referral programs

Before we get into the practical stuff, let’s first cover the theory: just what is a B2B referral program, exactly?

Perhaps the best place to start is with a distinction, because — while often confused — a referral program is not the same thing as affiliate marketing. Admittedly, there are a few similarities, but the key distinction is this:

  • A referral program relies on existing customers recommending a product or service to individuals they know, then receiving a reward for doing so.
  • Affiliate marketing is the process of selling a product or service to anyone, as though it were your own product, then receiving a reward for doing so.

As you can imagine, referral programs are far more suitable for the B2B realm — introducing a colleague or a friend to a new business tool or supplier is just another way of saying, “Our business has benefited from this, and I want you to experience the same”.

This kind of word-of-mouth marketing has been the cornerstone of business for hundreds of years, and a referral program is just a modern day extension of that. The rewards are usually financial, with kickbacks to a user’s account or discounts off future purchases, but there are some more creative incentives, too — as we’ll see later.

What do successful B2B referral programs have in common?

It’s clear that launching a winning B2B referral program can be a huge boon for any business, but what characterizes a winning approach?

It’s easy to launch a program and hope for the best, but it’s far better to go in with an idea of what works and what doesn’t. So, let’s take a look at some of the key ingredients that make up a truly successful B2B referral program — and hopefully we’ll spark a few ideas for your own.

  • An incentive which really incentivizes. If you really want your customers to go out there and advocate for your brand, be realistic — you have to make it worth their while. This means you need to deliver a reward which is worth their time. Sorry, but a 2% discount off your next order just won’t cut it. 25%? 50% even? Now that’s going to get some interest. Of course, being too rewarding has its own downsides, also…
  • Financial viability. No matter how many new customers your referral program brings in, if it costs you more than those customers are worth, then it’s not a good idea. Put simply, you should do the math before you deploy any referral program, and ensure that this form of lead-gen is financially viable. A good tip is to frame the cost as a CPL (Cost Per Lead), and go from there.
  • Simplicity. Humans are straightforward creatures really, and most of us will follow the path of least resistance. When it comes to referral programs, the amount of effort we’ll put in to making the recommendation will be finely balanced against the reward. This means that the simpler you can make the referral process, the better. “One click” referrals are always your friend.

B2B referral program examples: killer ideas to get you thinking

Okay, so we’ve looked at what a B2B referral program is, and the key ingredients for making one that really works, but how about some real-world examples?

We’re so glad you asked.

Below we’ve compiled 3 excellent B2B referral programs examples which might just inspire you to build something amazing, too.

#1: FreeAgent

FreeAgent’s small business accounting software uses a unique referral scheme built on the concept of stacking to incentivize referrals. 

Put simply, for every new user a customer refers, they’ll get 10% off their subscription for as long as they’re both paying customers. And, before you ask, yes: this means that, if a person can refer 10 people — and keep them on board — they’ll get their subscription for free. How’s that for an incentive?

#2: Evernote

Evernote, the SaaS answer to Notepad, provides an interesting referral program which relies not on financial incentive, but in-product perks. 

Here’s how it works: for every person who uses your referral link, you’ll receive a certain number of points. And these points can then be redeemed against an Evernote Premium subscription. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can also use your saved-up Evernote points against cell phone carrier promotions and physical items like a Moleskine Evernote notepad, or Jot Script 2 stylus. 

Evernote’s approach is a fun, but super motivating, way to gamify a B2B referral program — could you do the same?

#3: Google GSuite

GSuite, formerly Google Apps, is the business email and cloud software suite which powers many modern businesses — chances are, you use it in one way or another yourself. 

And referral programs don’t come more direct than GSuite’s. Why? Because Google will straight up pay you to refer other users. If you’re on their Basic plan, you’ll get $15 per referral; on the Business or Enterprise plans, it’s $30 — and it stacks all the way to $3000 paid by direct deposit. Money talks, right?

Level up your lead-gen today with LinkTrust

This primer should contact you the foundations you need to start building your own B2B referral program — reaping the rewards through increased leads, sales, and loyal ambassadors.

Of course, once your referral program is up and running, you’ll need something powerful under the hood to manage attribution, analytics, and more. And that’s where LinkTrust comes in.Want to discover how easy launching your own B2B referral program could be? Find out today with a free 14-day trial.