“If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck it’s a duck”. Have you heard that expression?
There are some companies among us that sell like the best, hire like the best, treat their customers the best possible way. They are simply the best. Everything they do makes them great.
What is consistent with all the top marketers and business owners out there is that they usually get referrals from their customers. Some of them are even solely based on referrals.
How does that make them stand out?
Well, referral leads convert 30% better than regular leads, people are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend, and tend to refer their friends 2.68 times to the same business.
That’s some pretty strong data don’t you think?
Heinz Marketing actually asked a bunch of people what they think about referral leads and 82% of the sales leaders and 78% of the marketers that were surveyed agree that referrals are the best leads that your business could get.
Referrals are like gold, if you know how to get them they can completely transform your business.
This is why we asked the top marketing experts (from B2B to B2C and everything in between) about the top viral referral strategies that have worked for them.
These are the answers we got:
1. Create two-way referral relationships (Matt Holmes)
Most people think that referrals go one way. You get your customers to refer people to you, you thank them for it, and you’re done. Not so quick!
Matt Holmes, a marketing maverick and entrepreneur superstar, says that you need to create two-way referral relationships. This is where you refer people to other companies you know. If you pay it forward like that, you are very likely to see those same companies referring customers back to your business.
“On a smaller B2C or B2E (early-stage entrepreneur) level, the best way to get referrals is to send referrals. I saw this both with my company, Handshakin, and with our at the time biggest client Mashey. Another client, KyletheInspirer, has referred several people to us because we are also pointing many people to him!” – Matt Holmes
2. Make it super simple (Hailey Friedman)
A referral is the highest intent traffic that you can get to your website, and they convert at a 5x the rate as traffic from other marketing channels. Yet, only 30% companies have an established referral program. Maybe, they think that starting one is complicated.
That’s why the key to a successful referral program is to keep everything super simple.
Hailey Friedman, the co-founder of Growth Marketing Pro, gave us some insight into this strategy. In her own words: “When possible, offer customers the opportunity to refer friends for access to a free upgrade or additional features of your product. Otherwise, offering money or an Amazon gift card works too, just make sure to limit the program to current customers only and not keep it open to the public, as you don’t want to be paying for fraudulent referrals”.
3. Find your “Why” (Simon Sinek)
Every great company clearly explains or displays the reason that they exist, what drives them. Simon Sinek, the founder of Start With Why, said it best – “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
The way to inspire your customers to refer their friends is by building your marketing efforts around your “why“. What drives you? What made you start the company in the first place? What makes your company tick? What do you tell your employees to inspire them to come to work on Monday mornings?
If you create a brand around your “why” then your customers will feel it through and through and will be inspired to participate in your referral program.
Besides the why, what else do you need?
4. Focus on building a network (Victor Kung)
Victor Kung is the co-founder of Tandem, a growth marketing agency. They have been able to get one YouTuber named Ollie B from 324 to 50,000 subscribers in just 1 week. What does that have to do with building a network? Absolutely nothing, it was just an incredible achievement.
But Victor also happens to be the host of BAMF events in Chicago (If you don’t know about BAMF check out their site here). He brings together growth marketers to talk about innovative growth hacks, share experiences, and just schmooze.
If your customers are businesses you need to reach out and meet people. You don’t have to go to meetups, you can reach and start conversations on LinkedIn, where you can easily find professionals all over the world that would love to talk to you. You can ask for some feedback about your product, about a new project that you are working on, or even start partnerships and get more clients for your company.
An easy way to automate reach out on LinkedIn is by using a tool like LinkedHelper which allows you to make lists of people you would like to connect to, automatically send 50 “friend requests”, get endorsements, ask for recommendations, and even invite all of your connections to your LinkedIn group.
Building your network is a powerful thing so double down on that in 2018, you will see a huge difference in your business.
5. Consistently over deliver (Kale Panoho)
This might seem pretty basic but this strikes to the core of your business. Don’t just try to do more for the customer, change the way you view your customer and create a culture around that.
Kale Panoho, the co-founder of K&J Growth, gives an incredible insight into this strategy:
“Change the way you view your client or customer. A lot of people look for volume and the way to capture that customer through sophisticated growth tactics. Those are essential in the beginning if you’re competing but as a service provider, your goal is simply to be memorable for your product or the way you sell your product.
Everyone knows what Uber does.
Everyone knows what Airbnb does.
Everyone knows who Richard Branson is.
Everyone knows who Elon Musk is.
Each of these businesses or people have been defined by their products or the services they offer. Their brands have been enhanced by targeted advertising campaigns or social media strategies but it is not the other way around.
These people and businesses consistently over-deliver one or two benefits to their customers and fans and their branding and marketing is a side effect of consistent association with the benefits of their products or service”.
6. Reach out to competitors (Scott Britton)
This is brilliant and so intuitive you all are going to say: “duh, I wish I thought of that”. Here is an incredible strategy from Scott Britton, the co-founder of Troops and an-all around baller:
This can work for literally any company, one that sells products, services, and software. Let’s say you have a marketing tool that a big marketing agency just bought. If you reach out to the competitors of that agency you will likely be able to sign them up.
7. Automate social proof (Scott Britton)
Social proof is super important, it showcases your work, helps convert customers, and helps land bigger deals. In order to use social proof to get referrals the key is really to automate it.
Scott Britton strikes again!
Scott says – “automate your social proof by setting a certain threshold of value like product usage and then automatically ask that person for a referral or public review on a site like Capterra or G2Crowd”.
For example, if you are using Intercom, you can create a message that will be automatically sent to users that have used your product every week for over 6 months, with a link to your review page. This is a super efficient way to put your social proof on auto-pilot.
But what about your personal brand? Let’s look at that.
8. Ask for recommendations (Deepak Shukla)
Deepak Shukla, the founder of PurrTraffic and UnsheathedReviews, is a master of personal branding. He’s got so many LinkedIn recommendations and Google reviews that he makes the rest of us look like interns.
Of course, you should ask for a recommendation from every client that you work with. Personal recommendations on LinkedIn do really well if you are B2B and/or if you’re a business owner or entrepreneur.
But ideally, you need to be specific. Get a recommendation from the account manager, the actual person that you ordered your product or service from, or from the head of that department at the company.
9. Build a 100% referral business by bringing value to people (Zach Benson)
In all my years of marketing, I have never seen a business that is 100% referral-based. Well, I just found one and it blew my mind.
Zach Benson is the founder of Assistagram, which is a social media tool that grows your Instagram by doing hundreds of thousands of manual actions that make your Instagram account go viral. Zach spent $0 on marketing last year and got all his customers from referrals.
Here is how he did it:
“Offer to do things for free and ask for a referral and testimonial in exchange. Lots of people have been burned in the past (maybe they have lost money or it just didn’t work out with a company they hired) so they operated from this fear mindset that the same thing will happen again.
One way to build their trust is to simply tell them that you will do something for free for 1 month get them crazy insane results, offer a ton of value to them and they will end up probably hiring you”.
Did you miss that?
This is what happened.
Zach offered people the free use of his tool Assistagram and was able to get them really awesome results. That made them immediately sign up for it, and pay him money ($$$).
Try it in your business and see what happens.
10. Be super specific when asking for referrals (Joe Apfelbaum)
A lot of people say that the best way to get referrals is to ask for them. But what does that really mean? How do you get the best referrals out of that?
The secret sauce is by being specific.
Joe Apfelbaum, the CEO of Ajax Union, a badass marketing agency, gave me the recipe for this sauce. Check it out:
“Be as specific as possible when asking for a referral. For Ajax Union I would ask a client, Who do you know that is a Marketing Director at a B2B company with a sales team in NYC? That will get them thinking specific and make it more likely to get an actual ideal referral”.
11. Find a product partner (Matt Holmes)
Have you heard of startups finding re-sell partners in other countries to re-sell their products or services? A lot of companies are doing that now. If you are a US firm and you want some more European clients the easiest way for you to expand is to get a company in Europe to expand your product.
That’s way easier than hiring a sales team that speaks other languages, that’s for sure.
But Matt Holmes took this strategy to a whole another level:
“I used this strategy for my client Mashey. They found a product partner that they would essentially re-sell, and in turn, that partner would refer their customers to Mashey if they needed services in addition to the product”.
So Mashey actually re-sold another company’s product and in return asked them to refer people to Mashey. Brilliant!
12. Offer a reward for social shares (Sam Hurley)
One of the most popular ways to get referral leads is through social media. The problem is that those leads are not going to be the highest quality – people tend to click on things they see and quickly go to something else. So the strategy is to get as many leads off of social media as possible to hopefully convert some of them to referred customers.
Sam Hurley, the guy that went from “nobody” to #1 marketing influencer in 15 months and now manages an influencer marketing business, believes that social media should be at the center of referral marketing.
Here is what he told us – give your audience and customers an incentive to spread your word across all the top social networks by rewarding many types of prizes — from special social mentions on brand accounts, to cash rewards and holidays!
13. Use gamification (Sam Hurley)
People love to play games, get points and level up. Gamification is so powerful to our human brains that 72% of all American households play video games, and the average length of time spent playing is 20 hours per week.
Why not make gamification part of your referral strategy?
Here is what Sam Hurley had to say:
“Turn your referral program into an addictive game! Create a well-planned value system — badges, credits, coins or something similar — but make sure it’s not too superficial. The whole idea is to make your brand advocates feel special and rewarded, not manipulated or like they are victims of a gimmick.
Attach rewards to milestones, in such a way that bigger achievements yield better rewards. I highly recommend creating a public-facing leaderboard to show who has unlocked the most benefits, introducing an exciting element of friendly rivalry”.
14. Build strong relationships with the right people (Deepak Shukla)
According to Deepak Shukla from PurrTraffic, “No matter what your service is, it’s super important to build a good relationship with the account manager of the company you already delivered service to, because then they will see you as a friend and they will want to see you ‘win'”.
Deepak is the master of making friends, he has friends everywhere. The reason? He takes every work relationship and interacts with that person on such an authentic and personal level that they become friends. It’s never just business for Deepak, it’s more than that. It’s winning at life together.
15. Pamper your top clients (Gilles de Clerck)
One thing that every business needs is an engaged and loyal community. A lot of people think that if they build a large following on social media then they will automatically have an online community, and this is not necessarily true.
You can build a community without going all in on social media. All you have to do is to build strong relationships with your existing clients and give them a ton of value.
Gilles de Clerck, the head of growth at SalesFlare and the co-founder of The Growth Revolution, summarized it best – “you need to build strong relationships with your top clients by featuring a testimonial of theirs on the website, including them in case studies, interviewing them, and featuring them in a blog post”.
16. Create an ambassador program (Gilles de Clerck)
Now that you’re engaging with your top customers you need to make it more official by creating an ambassador program. Why all the fancy terms you ask? Let me explain.
According to Gilles, “people don’t tend to like the word “referral” so much. Affiliate, which often comes down to the same thing, is even worse. Ambassador sounds way more spectacular. An ambassador program helps you phrase the message differently and give your customers a feeling of inclusion in your mission rather than being some sort of sales guy trying to bring extra leads”.
So ambassadors are what you really need. You need to make your top customers the advocates for your brand – those people that can make others excited about your product or service. Create a program that rewards your top customers with either gifts or discounts to use your product/service.
17. Use data to find top ambassadors (Gilles de Clerck)
A lot of businesses have loyal customers that are super passionate and enthusiastic and can qualify to be ambassadors but how do you find them?
One brilliant way is to use your data and look for them. For example, you can use any CRM tool to check for the highest paying accounts or the oldest accounts you have. But that’s not enough. You need to find those people that use your product the most.
SAAS companies can use a tool like Intercom to quickly segment their customer list and identify potential ambassadors.
18. Use a keyword search to get referral traffic (Tuba Tezer)
Let’s talk about SEO because no one has mentioned that yet. Most people know the terms paid ads and organic traffic, but there is also a subcategory of organic traffic called referral traffic. Referral traffic is anytime another website (other than a search engine) refers visitors to your site. This happens when you build online communities, become an expert in a subject matter and people read your stuff and check out your site to learn more about you.
One brilliant way to find new blogs and online communities to write on is by doing a quick keyword search. This brilliant tip was given to me by the awesome Tuba Tezer who is a growth marketer and developer evangelist at Botanalytics.
You can use any keyword or SEO tool for this. Look up a keyword and get a list of similar searches that have a substantial volume. Then plug those keywords into a blog outreach tool like NinjaOutreach to create a list of people that you can reach out to and write a guest post for.
I did this a few months back. I was writing about chatbots and wanted to find some good sites to publish on. I used several keywords – AI, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and bots – to create a list of a few hundred leads and in the end, I now have 20+ bloggers that I’m building a relationship with. Every time I publish something I put ShareSomeFriends in the bio and get referral traffic.
19. Use advanced search queries for blogger outreach (Aaryn Kobayashi)
Another way you can find bloggers and get referral traffic is by using advanced search queries. We got this tip from Aaryn Kobayashi, who is a growth marketer at Kahuna. Advanced search queries help you find exactly what you are looking for, all you have to do is to know how to use them.
Let’s say you wanted to find a few online publications and write some guest posts. Here is what you would do:
intext:”editorial calendar” AND intext:(“check out our” OR “see our”) AND -your topic.
This would find all of the sites that have the words “editorial calendar” and either “check out our” or “see our” as well. Also, put a few words that pertain to your topic (marketing, chatbots, whatever it is).
20. Incentivise bloggers with affiliate commissions (Gavin Hammar)
One way to get a lot of referrals in a systematic way is to create an affiliate program. This is where your customers refer their friends and get a reward or a discount for using your product.
We got this tip from Gavin Hammar, the CEO and Founder of Sendible, a really cool social media management tool. They worked with a handful of really popular social media bloggers that had engaged and loyal audiences. The results they achieved are incredible. Their conversion rate from trial to paid account for a referral was 15-20%. So about 1 out of 5 people referred would sign up for the product.
The key here is to focus on an ideal audience for our business and pick a specific medium. Sendible picked social media bloggers that used written content. They also supplied the bloggers with materials, information, use of the tool, basically anything they needed to learn about and promote the product.
21. Use empathy to create a compelling customer experience (Toby Corey)
Toby Corey is a very unique entrepreneur. He is a board member at numerous startups, he lectures at Stanford University, and most recently he was the President of Global Sales at Tesla.
What’s really fascinating about him is that he has built his businesses on a strong foundation of ethics and empathy. He has worked on his own character in such a way that he uses it as a compass in every aspect of his work – from marketing strategy to meetings, business relationships, and especially the way he treats his customers.
Here is what he had to say:
“First, be yourself, be authentic and honest, customers can sense disingenuousness instantly. Second, do your homework, find out everything you can about your customer (before, during and after the sale) so that you can ‘connect’ and build a truly meaningful relationship. Don’t try to fake it, you know if you are connecting or not.
Third, go above and beyond every step of way; keep them informed, be transparent, anticipate problems and get in front of them; it’s your responsibility to create a compelling customer experience, more so when things go sideways – customer empathy is crucial – pretend your customer is your Mom or Dad, what type of experience would you want them to have?”
22. Leverage the customer journey (Savvas Zortikis)
The customer journey is another great way to get ambassadors and high-quality referrals. Map out the journey that your customer experiences – from sign up all the way to successfully using your product or service. Then, identify the specific point when a customer reaches a milestone or has a successful outcome from using your company.
For example, if you were the CEO of Fiverr you would want to contact all the sellers the moment they reach “level 2” or a certain threshold of sales from their gigs and ask them to refer their friends. At that moment that they are happiest that’s when they are the most likely to tell people about your company. All you have to do is just to find that moment and automate the process.
This tip was brought to you by the entrepreneur superstar Savvas Zortikis, who is at the CEO of Viral Loops and the co-founder of a growth agency called GrowthRocks.
23. Automate engagement to perfect the follow-up (Shane Barker)
Since we’re talking about engaging with your customers I wanted to bring another brilliant strategy to your attention. 2018 is the year of automated follow-ups. If you’re not using outbound drip campaigns and automatic email follow-ups prepare to become a dinosaur, an artifact, a thing of the past. The entire success of a sale depends on the follow-up and often you need 5 or 6 follow up emails or conversations to get it.
The same principle applies when you’re dealing with existing customers. The “sale” in this case becomes getting a referral from them. You want them to be so happy with your product or service that they will start referring their friends to your company. This requires strategic follow-ups. Identify specific points in the customer journey where the customer will either be happy, or will have possible questions about it, and set up an automatical email to go out. Make it friendly, appealing, use some emojis, show them that you really care.👌😁😘🌹
If you already have an ambassador or referral program consider using gamification (tip #12) and send out automatic emails for every new level unlock.
This tip was brought to you by Shane Barker who runs an influencer marketing agency. He helps brands work with influencers and get a ton of referral traffic to their site. Shane is not only an excellent communicator but he is a master of the follow-up. He will check on you even if you’re an old client, a business acquaintance, or an old classmate. And that’s one of the secrets of his success.
24. Use referrals to unlock new features in your product (Haris King)
Let’s talk about your product. A great way to build your referral program into your product offering is to have it unlock new features as the customers refer their friends. This is a super popular model.
Haris King, a startup growth consultant and previously the head of growth at Curl, gave us this tip and the example of Revolut which is a tool for free bank transfers between currencies. In order to unlock the ability to use cryptocurrencies a user would have to refer 3 of their friends, then they could use the feature and transfer money to them for free.
Another great example of this is the video tool Loom which offers a really easy way for anyone to create short 5-10 minute feedback video and email them to a co-worker. They also require 3 referrals to unlock all the features and actually offer a credit of $5 for every new referral.
25. Offer exclusive content (Ben Sardella)
Besides offering a cash reward or a new feature of your product you can also offer exclusive content. This is a great way to build a community using your content. This might not work for every company, you would have to be really content-based for this to work. A great example of this is Patreon where creators raise money and offer rewards in the form of exclusive content.
The same is happening with online publications like Medium where members pay $5/month to unlock a certain number of highly well-written stories. It’s an excellent way to build a community and a loyal following if you are a content creator.
26. Leverage your social media presence (Brian Peters)
Social media is a great avenue to build an online community and create ambassadors for your product or service. You don’t have to be super famous to be a micro influencer. If you consistently publish content that’s engaging and brings value to your audience then you will slowly begin to build a following. Use that following to get traffic to your site, get referrals, and boost your revenue.
Or in the words of the famous Brian Peters, the digital marketing strategist at Buffer:
“Build and grow tight-knit social media communities that act as ambassadors for your brand. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Slack Groups are all massive opportunities to develop your loyal customers and followers into advocates. This will help grow brand awareness around your product and engagement across social media”.
27. Don’t forget to be yourself (Ben Kazinik)
And last but not least, the tip that tops all the tips – please be yourself. Don’t try to fake it, don’t pretend you know something when you don’t. Be 100% honest and genuine with every single customer, partner, brand ambassador, influencer, everybody!
The advice that I grew up with is “show up, do the job, no one is hiring you because you’re a nice guy”. The reality couldn’t be more different. I’ve gotten countless jobs, worked with numerous influencers, and have built a ton of content relationships all because I was genuinely being myself. I find that people like to work with nice people.
That’s just the truth.
So don’t be afraid to be yourself.
This is probably the most comprehensive list of referral strategies for any kind of business – B2B, B2C, and everything in between.
Here is the recap in case you missed some of the main points:
1. If you don’t have a referral program – start one. Find existing customers that could be your brand ambassadors and work with influencers to promote your product.
2. Build and nurture relationships with everyone – your clients, potential business partners and LinkedIn connections.
3. Automation is key – automate asking for reviews/recommendation, following-up with the customers, and all communication with regards to your referral program.
4. Be smart about finding influencers and conducting blogger outreach – use keywords, advanced search terms, and leverage your customer journey and your social media audience.
5. Build viral referral strategies into your product by offering exclusive content, access to events, or unlocking new features for each referral.
Did we miss anything? Is there anything you would like us to add? Send your tip to ben@sharesomefriends and we’ll see if your tip deserves to be on the ULTIMATE GUIDE to Referral strategies for ultimate growth for 2018.
Ben Kazinik is a marketing manager and growth hacker for ShareSomeFriends, a referral app and lead management platform. He does all the lead generation, inbound marketing, and content management. Email him at – firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Twitter (@BenGrowthJunkie) and LinkedIn.