Referral program

7 Steps to Implementing a Successful Referral Program

When it comes to marketing, there is no technique more effective than the power of the referral. Referrals from friends, family, colleagues and even celebrities have been some of the best ways for companies to spread the word and secure customers for centuries.


Think of the last time you needed a new hairdresser, doctor, dentist or lawyer. Did you go to Google, or did you read reviews and ask people in your life if they could recommend anyone? Chances are, with several of these areas, you asked around.

This type of word-of-mouth campaign works just as effectively for marketing goods as it does for marketing services. All it takes is a great incentive and a solid promotional campaign.

Your incentive for a referral campaign should be a business decision based on your product offering and price point. For some companies, this means offering a discount for referrals and for others, it simply means creating a word of mouth referral campaign.

Once you settle on your style of referral program, the time has come to market your campaign. Follow these promotional tips to ensure a successful implementation:

Cater your web design to your target market

No one is going to refer your product or service if your website is clunky and lacks appeal. Your website is the platform that connects your company with your target market through a multitude of sensory inputs. Conduct the proper research within your target market to see what users want to see on a website in your industry. Conduct competitor analysis to find what your competition is doing right and take what you like from their strategies. For the most part, users like to see several things when visiting a website:

  • Easy navigation
  • Real life images (no stock photos!)
  • Informative content
  • Accessible contact info
  • Signs of trustworthiness

Related: 5 Steps for Growing Your Startup with Influencer Marketing

Make the referral program easy to find

A hard to find referral page is a recipe for disaster. You do not need your referral campaign to be the centerpiece of your website, but no one will join your referral program if it takes over two to three minutes to find the correct page. Even one minute may be too long in some cases.

The cosmetics retailer Sephora has an excellent example of an easy to find referral program. They, like many successful programs, include a link to their affiliate program at the footer across every page of their website:

Sephora affiliate
(Source: Sephora)

Promote the program to current customers

Your repeat customers should be the first place to start promoting. These customers are loyal and have probably already advocated your service or product to their social networks.

A great way to accomplish this is by sharing your program in your email marketing campaigns. Keeping the beauty example going, PUR Cosmetics sends a CTA in many of their targeted email campaigns and includes their referral campaign as one of their main focal points.

PUR affiliate
(Source: PUR)

Give new customers a chance to get in on the action as well. Take advantage of their new purchase or sign-up euphoria and offer them a referral code or a chance to become part of the program. Uber does this exceptionally well by providing their users referral codes at the bottom of each and every email.

Reward both parties

Uber, Airbnb, Dish Network and many other companies implement this tactic extremely well. They all offer some type of reward for the person who is giving the referral and for the referred party. Even seen in the above example, PUR offers $10 off to both parties. Be certain not to place limits on how many referral rewards a client can earn. After all, they are helping to grow your business!

This type of referral program places emphasis on social experiences and provides even more of an incentive for current customers to bring their friends aboard.

Finally, make sure that you have a solid way of thanking people for using their referral codes. Your email marketing team should be able to set up this type of thank you email very easily.

Train your customer service

Nothing is more frustrating than calling up a customer service center only to find out that they do not have any idea about how their own service works.

It’s critical that your entire support team is aware of your referral program and the intricacies behind how it operates. Equally important is the need to respond to complaints fast and accurately. While this is oftentimes easier said than done, it will work wonders when issues arise in your process flow.

Some examples of excellent customer service are companies like Amazon and Zappos. If you have ever had an issue with either of these companies, chances are that you were able to resolve it quickly and with little hassle on your end.

Smooth support experiences are what keep customers happy and coming back to these companies time and time again. In addition, customer support is crucial in facilitating verbal referrals as we often tell our friends and family how much we enjoy a smooth interaction with a company.

Market your program outside of your current sales funnel

After conducting promotion around your current clients, consider marketing your incentive based referral campaign to those that have not yet used your service or product.

Social Rebate, for example, is a great platform to help harness the power of the social web and increase participation in your referral marketing initiatives. While services such as this do involve a small fee, there are several ways to bootstrap these efforts in-house, such as working with your social media managers.

Keeping your promotional efforts around your referral campaign socially focused is important, as it’s generally how consumers interact with one another on the web. This means including messaging and copy that encourages people to try your product or service with a friend or two. Social promotions that appeal to a wide range of people are more likely to be shared on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks, in addition to personal blogs and other websites.

You should also reach out to influencers in your industry and try to work out some sort of partnership. Influencers across different channels do not have to be big name celebrities, and even a shoutout from a small, yet engaged following can result in a hefty sales bump.

Put someone in charge of your referral program full time

A referral program has a lot of ins and outs and is a channel you should always look to grow. In order to make sure all of your referral apps, emails, CTAs and rewards are working properly and in sync, you need to have someone fully invested in watching over and promoting them. If it is at all possible, make this a full-time position.

Don’t have a financial reward based referral program? There are still several great ways to promote your product through soft referrals such as endorsements and product reviews.

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Final thoughts

In this day and age, it can take only one person posting about your company to make or break your business. Taking charge of your referral program and making it fun and easy to use with reliable and meaningful rewards will help ensure that your referral program has maximum impact on your sales!

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