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How to: Build a referral outreach program

When you think of your target audience, do you think consumers? For many product-focused businesses, the buyer or consumer of your product is an obvious target. In the B2B realm, there’s often a longer sales cycle. The decision maker and buyer of your business-oriented product or specialized service typically needs many touchpoints with your brand and time to build trust in you and your organization. Often, referrals from a third party play a critical role in establishing credibility. Communicating with referral sources can be just as important (if not moreso) as reaching consumers and clients directly.

Step 1. Segment your audiences.

In addition to building a marketing plan aimed at reaching your consumers, ensure you’re not leaving gaps in your outreach by developing a program that also targets your referral sources. We think of audience as segments (i.e. a healthcare client might have several audience segments including prospective patients, current patients, referring physicians/clinics, employees and community partners).

We’ve talked previously on the blog about thinking strategically when it comes to your referral network, and that’s a great place to start. Once you’ve identified the referral sources that will best help you reach your target customers, there’s an art that goes into building an effective outreach program to keep them engaged.

Step 2. Identify the best way to reach your referral source segment.

Before you begin thinking about WHAT type of content you can provide your referral sources, start thinking about HOW you’re going to reach them.

Going back to our healthcare client example, to reach a referring physician, which channel is best? For those who prefer physical marketing materials, is it most effective to drop them off in person or send via email? Is there a staff person that might be the best point of contact to help you connect with an office of potential referral sources? For some people, the best way to connect might be taking them out to lunch or inviting them to a networking event for a closer look at your industry and the services you offer.

Step 3. Consider what value you can provide.

Before you do anything else, remember that this relationship is a two-way street. To remain top of mind among your referral sources, consider how you can provide value to establish yourself as a credible, trustworthy provider. This might mean hosting an educational webinar that benefits people in their industry and inviting them personally, developing a one-page infographic about your industry that they can share with their audience, or even sending referrals their way or giving them a shout out on your social channels or in your owned content.

Think of it this way: when you make a recommendation, chances are you’re providing the name of someone who is exceptional at what they do and/or has provided superior customer service to make them stand out in your mind. When building a strategy to market to your referral sources, figure out what will make yours the first name that comes to mind.

Step 4. Utilize a call to action and tracking code.

We’re advocates of building brand awareness through paid media placements, but it can also be impactful to incorporate a specific call to action in your outreach that will give you a sense of which outlets or referral sources are driving the most traffic.

In its simplest form, this might be something like a coupon or a promo code specific to this referral source. It might have an expiration date to encourage potential customers to get in touch sooner rather than later. If it’s a physical coupon or mailer (either print or email) it might have a specific code that allows you to identify which referral source distributed it, and you can customize the offer based on what might be of interest to your referral source’s audience.

Step 5. Monitor and measure referrals from specific sources.

Along with a tracking code on the marketing materials, we also advise clients across industries that one of the best ways they can help measure the impact of marketing efforts is to have a new client intake process that asks new customers to specify how they heard about the business. When we’re running a marketing program that spans multiple channels, this can be key in seeing which efforts are converting. Be as specific as possible when asking this question – it’s easy to get answers like “I saw you online/on TV/in the newspaper,” which could mean any number of advertising efforts, interviews, social media, etc.

The good news when it comes to referrals is that new clients should be able to easily name the specific person that sent them your way so you can track where most of your referrals are coming from.

Step 6. Nurture referral source relationships.

Once you see an influx of new business from a specific source, it’s important to show your appreciation – not only because it’s polite, but because it will help keep you top of mind the next time your referral source has a potential lead for you. Consider sending a thank you note after you receive a referral and think about how else you might show your thanks, either by offering to partner on a co-branded marketing collaboration to boost your source’s visibility or by sending referrals in the other direction.

Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications.


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