People talking about your business is incredibly effective. In fact, business referrals have some of the best results among our clients and throughout the B2B world. Word of mouth and earned media advertising produce very powerful results – people simply trust their peers more than they trust marketing straight from a business. That’s one reason we recommended focusing on talk triggers to make your business memorable.

But let’s say you want to take this word of mouth stuff a step further and give it more structure. Then it’s probably time for your business to start working on a referral program – a digital program where you request that specific customers join, refer their associates, and are rewarded in some manner. It’s a lot like a highly targeted customer rewards program, except you get more customers instead of more purchases! If you aren’t sure what a good referral program may look like, we have several tips to help you out.

Clearly Explain the Process and How It Will Unfold

Your referral program needs an introduction so that your customers know what to expect, and this introduction should be very complete. You will need to detail what information (especially personal information) they will need to submit, and how that data will be used. Remember to talk about the specific point of contact for the referral program, and how they communicate with referral members. Discuss what is expected in terms of referrals and how much work it will take. Also, don’t forget to talk about timelines – when referral statuses are updated, when rewards are given out, and similar information.

The good news is that crafting such a complete introduction will also require you to answer a lot of important questions about your program. Such an introduction works hand in hand with a clear blueprint for the program, and will help you spot any questions your plans fail to answer.

Give Your Customers Some Ideas to Work With

Members of the program won’t necessarily know where to start with referrals. They may have read about the process, but applying it to their real business situation is a different story. The best things to help them is a quick guide on who to pick for referrals and where to find referral information. Tell them about your goals and the ideal customer personas that you are targeting, then ask them to think about people they know who match those personas. Mention some social media sites where they can probably find the contact information necessary for referrals if they don’t already know it.

Based on your own goals, you can also go much deeper than this! Some brands, for example, prefer to automate the process as much as possible. They only ask members to submit a name, position and email, and then the program automatically sends out an introduction email. If you don’t want to go this far, consider offering a boilerplate email that members can use when first inviting their peers.

Consider Asking for Specific Referrals

Another option companies have is to pick specific contacts and ask for referrals. Brands can do this by looking at the LinkedIn profiles of their program members and making a list of contacts that members already know. The company can then make a specific request for a referral to those contacts from people who already know them (make sure you explain this process if you plan on doing it). This is a great way to target the most high-value leads you can find. However, it does take some extra work.

Decide on Your Reward Structure Early

Referral programs typically involve some type of gamification. How much and what kind is up to you. For a common example, you could try a point system. Members get, say, 20 points for contacting a referral, 50 points for having a referral ranked as a quality lead, and 500 points if that lead makes a purchase. Points can then be traded in for “prizes,” or awarded automatically once the points reach a certain level.

You can see from this example what needs to be done, and how important it is to create this structure early and iron out any flaws…as well as finding rewards that will entice members to act! Also keep in mind that you can plan mini-events for your referral program, such as a weekend where you award double points and so on.

If you’re really scrambling for ideas on this point, Extole has a list of top referral programs and the sort of things they use as rewards – everything from stocks to purchase discounts.

Have a Plan for Exactly How These New Leads Will Be Processed

Coordinate with your sales and marketing teams so that you’re prepared to deal with the referrals that you get. Have a plan for rating them, putting them in the system, and “approving” the resulting rewards based on the outcome. This could take some changes throughout the company to work properly.

Give Feedback

Let the members of your referral program know how things are going! This step doesn’t have to be complicated: You can give periodic updates on the number of successful referrals, referral award winners and top rankers, and more. If there are issues with the referral process or ways that people can improve, you should also mention these!

Remember to Thank Participants

Your referral members are helping you grow your business. Please remember to thank them for working with you. You may even want to plan an event that you can invite all your members to for a little bit of casual dining and networking.