Customer advocates are especially powerful in B2B sales. After all, most purchasing decisions are pretty fraught — make the wrong call, and your internal reputation (not to mention your budget) will suffer the consequences. Knowing someone you trust likes a certain product can definitely sway your pick.
But how do you motivate your customers to spread the word in the first place? Here are several ideas for turning your most passionate customers into de facto members of your sales team.
Create an Easy Referral Program
Your customers love your product and company and are eager to pass your name along — but only if that process is relatively quick and easy. You’ll dramatically increase the number of referrals you get by cutting out as many steps as possible.
First, decide when you’ll request a referral. Some companies simply open up a referral program and let people register leads if and when they choose. Box, a file management tool, has an application form for anyone who wants to earn commission on deals they submit. This is a good option if your brand is already well-known and you’re offering rewards to referees.
If you’re smaller and/or not rewarding referees, a higher-touch process is probably necessary. Consider asking specific customers for referrals after they complete a certain step, i.e. leave you a great review, give you a high NPS score, or have a positive experience with your customer support team.
You can set up automated emails to send to customers who check this box. Alternatively, call or email them manually. (The latter options are more time-consuming but typically more successful as well.)
To eliminate even more friction from the referral process, create a landing page specifically for referrals. This page should explain how the visitor arrived there, i.e. “Your friend thought your company might benefit from X and Y service.” (If your referrals come from several main buckets, consider making a different landing page for each.)
Send customers the landing page via email so all they have to do is press “forward.”
This strategy can’t be automated, so it requires more time and energy — but you’ll get a lot of bang for your metaphorical buck.
Go through your customers’ LinkedIn networks looking for companies and/or people who would be a good fit for your product. Alternatively, research your top accounts looking for connections you have in common. (Have everyone on your team do this to leverage the combined power of your networks.)
Once you find a candidate, reach out to your mutual connection asking if they’d be willing to introduce you. Write a sample message for your contact so they can copy and paste it into an email.
To give you an idea, here’s how you could frame your request:
Congratulations on the three-year work anniversary. Girard is lucky to have you!
Also, I’m wondering if you’d be open to connecting me with John Salme. I saw that he’s a LinkedIn connection of yours — we’ve actually been hoping to talk with his company for a while.
Please feel free to say no. But if you’re willing, I’ve gone ahead and written a potential intro email. Tweak it or write your own, whatever’s easiest.
I wanted to introduce you to Elle, the CEO of Foxer. We’ve been using Foxer for the past three months to roll out new campaigns in Europe; since your department handles similar launches, I thought you might benefit from the product.
I’ll let you two take it from here.”
If your contact agrees, make sure to thank them — maybe even with a token of your appreciation, like a gift card, discount, or complimentary upgrade. And let them know how the introduction turns out as well.
These days, consumers do most of their research online before ever talking to a salesperson. Your customers can be a fantastic source of information for potential buyers. Their recommendations have more credibility than your content — according to Nielsen’s Global Survey of Trust in Advertising, 66% of people trust consumer opinions posted online.
You want your happiest customers discussing your product online so they can positively influence future sales.
Try setting up a community forum where they can answer questions and discuss their personal experience and results. This is especially effective with gamification; for example, perhaps users earn badges based on how frequently they participate or how well their posts are received by others.
A forum can also help you attract customers via search. Suppose a user asks, “Does the product work in this use case?” Anyone who searches the same query will find the relevant forum thread. Now they can see for themselves your solution works in their situation.
Rewards programs are certainly nothing new, but they can be highly effective. You can offer a percentage of the deal size (for example, 15%) or a flat fee (Google, for instance, gives referees $15 for every user they sign up to the G Suite.)
While cash is always effective, it’s certainly not the only carrot you can use. Dropbox rewards referees with extra storage, which brilliantly encourages even deeper usage of the tool. And better yet, the new customer receives extra storage as well. Now both parties are happy.
Looking to follow Dropbox’s lead? Give referees access to advanced features, extra time or increased volume limits, or complimentary access to the next tier.
You can also reward customers for intermediary actions, which is usually easiest if you use a point system. Let’s say having one customer share a link to your site on LinkedIn typically drives two new sign-ups, while directly emailing an invitation generates a new user 50% of the time. You might award 20 points for a LinkedIn post and 10 points for every invitation they send.
Facilitate User Groups
User groups, or communities where your users can share best practices, discuss product updates, host speakers, and network, are extremely powerful. Not only do they help your current customers get more value from your product, they also organically drive new sign-ups or purchases.
For example, software developers often attend Amazon Web Services (AWS) meetups to discuss cloud computing and big data. At these events, they connect with AWS developers—who, unsurprisingly, endorse the platform. Some of those developers will go back to their companies and get them to use AWS.
The key is creating user groups that aren’t solely focused on using your product. Take a step back, and ask yourself, “What do the majority of my customers care about?”
If you sell to salespeople, the answer might be, “Getting leads and converting more calls into meetings.” If you sell to recruiters, the answer might be, “Growing brand awareness and reducing time-to-hire.”
Once you’ve honed in on a few top-level concerns, tap your most passionate advocates to start user groups. Do you have a strong base in San Francisco? Ask those users if they’d be interested in running a monthly or quarterly community event. To help them get the program off the ground, offer virtual or ground support in the form of marketing collateral, advice, and/or funding.
Launching the first of these user groups will be time-consuming. However, you’ll quickly develop a successful, repeatable model — and the ROI will be worth it.
Give Your Product Away
Some companies have adopted a “land and expand” approach. They make their product highly inexpensive or even free. This encourages individual employees to use it. Once those employees are hooked, they recommend the product to their coworkers. After a critical mass of co-workers is using the product, a usage limit sets in. Because these employees are enthusiastic fans, the decision to buy the product is a relatively simple one and often doesn’t require a salesperson.
Because the business doesn’t need to pay a rep, it makes up the costs of providing the tool for free.
Slack is a great example of this model. The company hires very few salespeople, instead preferring to let users do the talking.
“People really like it and so they tell other people about it, and then other people start using it," Stewart Butterfield said. "And that’s by far the best because when someone you trust tells you that this thing is good, then you’re much more likely to be inclined to use it."
There are two points to consider before adopting this strategy. First, does your product lend itself well to a freemium model? The free or discounted version can’t be so watered down from the full-price option that users don’t get any value — because if that’s the case, they’ll never upgrade. But it can’t be so feature-rich users don’t have any incentive to upgrade.
Second, will multiple people within a single company benefit from your product? If just one or two employees consistently use it, achieving viral growth is impossible. Third, will the return justify the investment? If it costs more to give your customers a free product than you earn with their eventual business, it’s obviously a bad strategy. (And don’t forget to account for all the customers who never buy.)
Train Your Support Reps
Your customer service team is typically talking to customers when they’re least satisfied with your product — right when they’re experiencing a problem. But that doesn’t mean there’s zero opportunity for referrals or testimonials. When a rep is able to resolve the customer’s issue, they’re typically happy enough to recommend you.
For that reason, training your reps to request referrals can have a big impact. At the end of the call, after they’ve asked if the customer has any more questions, they should say something along the lines of, “Would you be willing to write a brief testimonial for (our website, a third-party website)?” or “I’m really glad I could help. Is there anyone in your network you think might benefit from this product?”
If the customer says yes, the rep should follow up with a testimonial form or referral landing page and email. Consider giving your support team a quota around these goals and rewarding them (both individually and as a team) when they hit it.
When people are contemplating a purchase, they often turn to your current customers. Empower yours to sell for you — and reap the benefits.