For B2B sales teams, referrals are worth their weight in gold. They can provide companies with perpetual revenue, and they can solidify your organization’s reputation as a great company to work with. When customers or other companies refer people to you, your company is viewed as more trustworthy in front of those leads, and because of that trust, you can expect a faster – and more successful – sales cycle. In fact, most companies experience close rates of 10% to 30% from most lead sources, while referral-based sales tend to close at 50% to 70%.
That’s a huge jump.
But if you want to build a successful referral partner program to generate those opportunities, you have to put in the work today to set up your company to be a referral machine in the future. The secret? Building deep relationships with companies and individuals who could recommend your services to others because they truly believe in the value you bring to their networks.
To do this at scale, you need systems and a repeatable process in place. After years of developing this for our agency, I learned a few foundational principles about building successful referral partner relationships:
1. Map out a pipeline for your partnerships.
If you want to secure valuable partnerships to generate referrals, you have to take a strategic approach. To do that, treat your partnerships like a sales pipeline and map out deal stages to make sure you engage with partners in the right way throughout the relationship. For me, it looks something like this:
At this stage, you and your referral partner are just getting to know each other and exploring how you can provide value to each other’s networks. We might begin the process by identifying a few good initial contacts to share with each other, but this is still the discovery and education phase. To continue to engage partners at this level, I maintain a partner nurture email list and share relevant content that educates our partners on our industry and how we help our clients. This content can include blog posts, case studies, whitepapers, or media coverage – as long as it highlights who we can help and how.
When high-quality referrals start happening and we prove our helpfulness to each other, I move the partner to the “active” deal stage. I live in my HubSpot pipeline, and this stage helps me keep that specific partner top of mind for all of my business development conversations. When in this stage, I actively brainstorm creative ways we can team up with each other on a broader scale. Ideally, we touch base a few times a year. One of the biggest – and most often missed – opportunities for improving the partnership at this stage is giving the partner feedback on prior referrals. It keeps you top of mind, improves results moving forward, and gives you a chance to thank your partner as an appreciated advocate. When giving partners feedback on the introductions they send your way, be specific. Also be sure to ask how your intros are doing. It’s a two-way street.
These partners are the heart of your referral engine. They are bought into what you do, how you do it, and for whom you do it. They consistently send valuable introductions. To engage this crowd, have regular calls (consider monthly), and spend real time and energy finding ways to help them. Then follow through on those ideas.
I remove advanced partners from my general email list and instead opt to have more frequent personal communication over phone calls or in person (whenever possible). I have found the 80/20 rule applies: 80% of your high-quality referrals will come from your top 20% of relationships. Really invest in these folks. It makes a world of difference.
2. Build your referral toolbox.
Now that you have a consistent method to organize and manage your pipeline of partners, it’s time to systematize how you can provide value to them. Start by building a “toolbox” of assets that you can bring to the table. This will list look different for everyone; get creative. Here are a few tools I use:
- Introductions to potential prospects for them from my network
- Introductions to potential referral partners for them from my network
- Co-hosting an event together (virtual or in-person)
- Introductions to hirable talent from my network
- Co-creating content (blog posts, webinars, etc.)
- Introductions to media in my network (conference organizers, journalists, podcast hosts, etc.)
- Free consultations or workshops for partners’ teams
Efforts to go above and beyond for them like this allow you to build relationships based on genuinely caring and helping out. I recommend creating a spreadsheet where you can track every asset you have brainstormed for your referral toolbox. This sheet should continue to evolve as you adjust your strategy and as you move partners through your referral partner pipeline.
3. Help your partners help you.
You’re actively managing a pipeline of relationships, staying top of mind with them, and helping them out on a consistent basis. But you are still missing one key ingredient to help turn your company into a referral generation machine.
If a partner asks how they can help you, make it easy for them. Be very clear about your niche and how they can help. Spell out the exact industry, company size, and role that you’re looking to connect with. Give your partners email templates they can copy to make intros to you. Share case studies and other content that reminds them of specific people they know. Show them how you will make them look like a rock star for introducing you to their network.
Referrals should be a key revenue driver for your company, but that can happen only if you take a strategic approach to generating those referrals. Your success depends on building deep, mutually beneficial relationships with other companies. Take these three steps to get your referral program off the ground and your company on its way to becoming a referral machine.
Matt Kamp is senior vice president at Influence & Co., a content marketing agency specializing in helping companies achieve measurable business goals through content marketing. Influence & Co.’s clients range from venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 brands.