— August 26, 2017
In the last article in this series, I highlighted the key metrics for running a referral partner program. But if you want to grow your program, the best place to start is to benchmark those metrics. You can compare your results to other companies running referral partner programs in the annual data report: The State of Business Partner Referral Programs.
After developing benchmarks, you can now set some goals for growth and identify opportunities for changes that can drive that growth. In this article I will walk you through the most common opportunities for growth and how to capitalize on them.
Key areas to consider to drive program growth:
- Do I have great partners, but just not enough?
- Is my program too complex or too limited for what my partners need?
- Is the incentive not motivating enough activity?
- Are my partners becoming disengaged with the program?
1. Do I have great partners, but just not enough?
While you may have referral partners already, in order to meet your growth objectives the question becomes how do I get more of those successful referral partners? There are a few things to consider here:
- Have you exhausted the pool of partners that you would categorize as similar to the ones that you already have? For instance, if you have a referral program aimed at small business accountants, there are probably a bunch more out there you could recruit.
- If the answer to the first question is yes, there are no other partners like the ones you have, then it’s time to consider who else in your partner ecosystem could be a referral partner? What about all of those ISVs that sell to the same target buyer as you? Fundamentally, you need to think about who touches your target buyer and consider if they are in a position to refer your product or service.
- If you are still looking for more options, how about your resellers? I’m not talking about your top tier resellers, but rather think about referrals as an entry and exit point from a reseller arrangement. For entry try establishing a referral program as a qualification step for a future reseller to prove they can reach the target buyer before putting in the effort to make them a reseller. Regarding reseller exit, there are times when your business model changes (like the shift from on premise to the cloud) and not all resellers will be able to make the shift.
2. Is my referral partner program too complex or too limited for what my partners need?
The red flag here might be initial enthusiasm, then a drop off in activity. You may want to survey your partners to understand what the issue is. There are a lot of referral software out that that allows you to automate processes for partners to make it easy to join by reducing barrier to entry, track referrals, and receive referral incentives.
Automation also removing operational hassle from the partner and making it easy to make referrals. This helps you gain their trust and increase their desire to keep referring business your way.
3. Is the incentive not motivating enough activity?
If you’ve got lower than expected participation, it just might be that your reward isn’t high enough. Revisit Step 4 in this series – How to incentivize referral partners to get a better feel for industry standards and approaches. If you are questioning your incentive, I’d encourage you to go back to your inbound marketing team and ask them what their CPL and CPA is. The goal is to be less that the cost of a marketing generated acquisition, but not so low that you are cheating your partners.
If you’re considering a change in incentive to drive more activity, make sure you also consider reward structures that encourage repeat referrals.
Lastly, make sure you aren’t “punishing” your partners for earning a reward. Put payment transaction fees and currency exchange in your budget so that the partners get what’s been advertised.
4. Are my partners becoming disengaged with the program?
Lack of engagement with a program is a daily struggle for any marketer. Luckily, there are a few key things you can do to help here with minimal effort.
- Communicate – but automate first. As a part of your referral tracking, each time a referral lead hits a different status milestone (think opportunity stages) you can trigger an email to be sent to the partner to let them know that their referral is making progress.
- Let the data trigger touchpoints. Setup email that trigger based on dashboards/reports that provide you the list of those partners that haven’t logged in in over 30 days, those that have made referrals, but haven’t been successful, those that have been incredibly successful, etc. See previous article on Key Metrics to see examples and get other ideas of what to track. [add hyperlink once live]
- Give partners full transparency. Nothing frustrates a partner more than not knowing the status of their referral and/or reward. Make sure they also have access to all the data from their personal referral activity in their referral portal.
If you can relate to any of these four points it is probably time to automate your referral partner program. The good news is that referral partner program software can remove the operational hassle of referral tracking, attribution and reward fulfillment.
I talk to a lot of people running an existing referral partner program and it is all too common for me to hear, “Honestly, I haven’t promoted the program much because I just can’t handle the manual management of the program without hiring more people . . . and that isn’t going to happen.”
Don’t let this powerful channel go underutilized because you’re still using spreadsheets!
Articles in this series:
Step 1 – How to identify potential partners
Step 2 – How to engage and recruit partners
Step 3 – How to enable referral partners
Step 4 – How to incentivize referral partners
Step 5 – How to onboard referral partners
Step 8 – Scale Referral Partner Program