In the past month alone, I’ve had numerous conversations with CEOs whose firms have still not embraced referral marketing in any programmatic fashion, despite recognizing that many of their best leads and clients have come in this way.
Referrals can come directly from firms who’ve experienced your solution—clients, past clients, and partners—or, they can be driven by your brand awareness or reputation in the market. Both are important elements to consider as part of your referral marketing efforts.
In addition to building a basic internal discipline to determine when and how to ask for referrals regularly from satisfied customers or partners, there are a number of elements you should put in place as part of your marketing programming to amplify lead generation from expanding your network.
It can be boiled down to what type of information you share and how you share it.
The content you share with your network to support referral marketing efforts should be educational and value-driven. It should position you or your colleagues as a thought leader, thoughtfully showcase your firm’s successes and subtly promote your firm’s unique value—while adding educational value each step of the way. It should not be purely self-serving or salesy.
For example, instead of sharing a case study in the traditional challenge > solution > result format, turn the client’s story into a lesson learned that can benefit others – how other firms could have prevented experiencing the same challenge by engaging your company, or what best practices they can employ to overcome such challenges in a way that suggests your offering as part of the solution.
How you disseminate this information largely depends on your marketing programs and the channels available to you, but two important and foundational channels for most B2B firms are LinkedIn (and/or other social media as appropriate) and email nurturing to your prospect database (and depending on your business, perhaps your clients, as well). Other examples include speaking at events, securing media placements, and building up partnerships with synergistic firms.
Brand building should often be a core driver for these efforts—making your firm known among target buyers and influencers, so you make it into the consideration set when a need arises. Done right, pairing thoughtful, educational content development with smart, consistent dissemination of that content will help keep you top-of-mind, increase referrals in your direct and extended network, re-engage old customers and prospects and get you in front of new audiences.
That said, brand building can get a bad rep in the SMB market for being fluffy or hard to measure. Yes—these efforts are about raising your brand visibility, but they should always be executed with the longer term purpose in mind of generating leads and uncovering opportunities. All content development and associated distribution efforts should keep that objective top of mind.
1. Prove your Smarts – Content is King
Why is content so important? When disseminated correctly, it helps you stay in front of your important familiar audiences in an efficient and value-driven manner—past clients, partners, prospects, and an important ‘others’ category (past colleagues, acquaintances, etc.) It’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, business transactions happen between people. And people may forget what you’re doing, unless you remind them. And people also change jobs, so your past colleague might very well be a prospect today.
What kind of content are we talking about? Anything that’s educational or thought leadership oriented, with the majority needing to align with your firm’s offering or industry space, as well as—in some cases—your personal brand. Sharing ideas and information that make people smarter or push them to think differently, or even that entertains them a bit, maintains the ties of the relationship and puts you or you or your firm in positive favor.
Implemented correctly, your content’s reach can compound exponentially. LinkedIn is perhaps the best example of this: Anytime someone likes, comments, or shares your updates, it appears in their news feed and is then shown to their own network. A single LinkedIn post can get in front of hundreds (or even thousands) of people within a couple hours and continue to compound over time—a result we see regularly when working with our clients to drive visibility and opportunities through LinkedIn.
2. Make Some Noise – Broadcasting Your Content
While solid content is the foundation, unless you have a plan for activation, efforts are all for naught. The key is to think multi-channel. Some people are on LinkedIn daily, others attend events regularly for information, and others scan their email inbox for interesting reads. You want to be visible to your network on a consistent basis. As part of this, it’s important to consider who in your organization should have their own visibility and presence (e.g. sales, founders, etc.) and who will manage the company’s overall presence.
While there are a myriad of other marketing strategies and tactics that can be folded into this type of multi-channel effort, for folks or firms relatively new to a formalized approach, key channels to consider are:
Social media: Focus on the channels most relevant to your audience. Pay attention to how you activate your company page as well as individual employee profiles, especially those in executive and customer-facing roles.
Email marketing: Share your educational content with your prospects and installed base (and grow your email list if it doesn’t contain the audiences you seek to engage)—and don’t be afraid to suggest they share it with their networks.
Events: In addition to merely attending events, identify the right opportunities for speaking. This is another place where you might leverage your partner organizations to speak at their events, jointly host an event, etc.
Partnerships: Last, but certainly not least, build relationships with complementary or like-minded firms that can help drive referrals or join you in co-marketing activities. This may include joint content, event collaboration, or simply support in disseminating your content.
Partnerships can help drive tremendous growth and other business value, and while sales partnership development and channel marketing are vast topics in their own right, as it relates to referral marketing programs, partnerships can be viewed as any ‘friendly’ organization where there’s a formal or informal relationship or agreement to help drive opportunities for the other firm. It can take the form of introductions to their client base, opportunities to share educational content with their network, joint marketing or go-to-market efforts, or more formalized referral relationships.
Most companies will develop partner relationships organically over time, though some smartly opt to invest time and resources to build and manage this effort more proactively and programmatically. Whichever the case, once these relationships are established, it’s valuable to explore co-marketing opportunities to help drive more referrals and increase visibility. Before diving into joint marketing efforts, it’s important to ensure you’ve selected partners that align with your firm— complimentary cultures, targets, future visions, etc. – and most importantly, that you both hold the other firm in high regard and are invested in making the relationship work. At the end of the day, the company you keep reflects strongly on your company and brand.
With the right firms on board, co-marketing can take many forms and can be a powerful channel for extending your reach with target audiences. In our work with client partner programs, we’ve seen success in areas including:
Creating joint thought leadership content on a topic of mutual interest that gets disseminated to both firms’ audiences
Developing an industry research report with original data that leverages the network of a larger partner to field a survey
Hosting an educational event for the partner’s client base as a means of gaining access and credibility with their network
Conducting joint public relations efforts, whether telling a broader story of the collaboration itself or pitching a thought leadership topic with subject matter expertise from both firms
These are just a few examples, and there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation. The magic in this approach really happens when organizations take a closer look at what each company has to offer the other and plan accordingly.
Dive in – Something is Better than Nothing
While referral marketing programs work best when they’re developed, managed, and executed across multiple channels and in adherence with a plan, not having the ability to invest full throttle should not stop an organization from getting started. Adopting even some of these concepts will start to pave the way for success.
Interested in understanding what the right plan looks like for your organization based on your goals and resources? Contact us to get a conversation started!