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    Referral Marketing Automation: What Is It and How To Find The Best Software For Your Brand

    7 minute read

    Whether you're a referral marketing pro or getting your program off the ground, we can all agree that manually sorting through who referred whom, approving and sending out rewards, and then tracking all efforts in a convoluted spreadsheet can consume A LOT of time. 

    Especially as Marketing Managers are are taking on more and more responsibilities. But we know the effort is worth it. In fact, referrals are the most valuable form of marketing.

    That’s why it’s so important to eliminate as many tedious tasks related to referral program management as possible. This not only frees up stress - and your schedule - but also allows you to spend more time building customer relationships and driving tremendous ROI.

    How do you make it happen, though?

    Look no further than referral marketing automation.

    In this blog post, we’ll highlight actionable ways to use automation to streamline your referral marketing efforts and stay focused on your most important tasks.

    What exactly is referral marketing automation?

    Referral marketing automation takes the guesswork out of manually running your referral program. From enrollment and sharing to rewarding and optimizing, it allows for an efficient process to engage with referral program members, or as we typically call them, brand ambassadors. Each referral comes with many data points that are tracked through a powerful platform and can be used to guide future strategic decisions.

    Referral marketing automation is not just a fancy term for a revenue generating robot. Okay, maybe it kind of is. Here are a few examples of referral automation in action:

    1. Boost referral program conversions directly from your website

    One of the toughest challenges for marketers trying to scale manual referral programs is how to increase sign-ups and attract new prospects to their brand. 

    In fact, 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer products and services. But only 29% actually do. Don’t leak referrals that could lead to new business! 

    The good news is referral marketing automation tools, like Ambassador, can help grow your program and get more referrals, while keeping visitors on your site.

    referral marketing automation image 1
    Create a seamless, native, and most importantly, organic sharing experience right on your website. From the enrollment module and custom share links to the welcome message on your program landing page, easily design and optimize your entire refer-a-friend workflow with our visual editor.

    Referral marketing automation that allows you to directly import contacts also gives you the option to make sure that everyone who interacts with your brand is given an opportunity to participate as a brand ambassador in your referral program - without having to sign up.

    2. Simplify the reward and payment process

    When it comes to formulating a plan for your organization's program, outlining the referral marketing incentives portion can be tricky. How much to reward? When to reward? How many activities to reward? When to approve commissions? Is it better to batch send rewards or pay out as they come in?

    An economically sound incentive structure is one of the most important components of an effective referral marketing strategy. That said, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to incentives and rewards. Two companies in the same industry might offer completely different incentives depending on their economic model, customer target, brand awareness, and referral goals.

    This is where referral marketing automation can do the heavy lifting. Technology can help automate the manual parts of this strategy, so you can test and optimize to find what works best for your unique use case.

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    For example, with Ambassador, you can deliver real-time, or scheduled, automated cash payouts to your brand ambassadors - no more manual checks, excel files, or logging into multiple accounts or systems. Want to pay out differently based on number of sales, revenue thresholds, or specific purchases? No problem. We can structure different payout models based on brand ambassador type, sales generated, or special promotions.

    3. Measure referral program performance and optimize for success

    Move over color-coded spreadsheets with multiple tabs, there's a new dashboard in town! Don't waste your valuable time sorting and sifting through data to track the performance of your referral program and brand ambassadors.

    With referral marketing automation, you get a clear dashboard view of program performance. You can tailor specific programs, commissions, or revenue shares for each program or segment, while ensuring the lead/prospect, sale, and commission are all tracked. More so, you can measure performance by seeing which landing pages and links are driving the most conversions.

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    Stay in the know by easily running cohort analysis and optimizing your program in real-time. For example, our intuitive technology lets you see which brand ambassadors are generating the most referrals, customers, and revenue, as well as by channels.

    Having a referral marketing robot on your team sounds pretty nice, right?

    8 Questions to ask when shopping for referral software

    With the evolution of the digital landscape and new marketing technologies constantly emerging, it's important to consider which referral software will be the best fit for your company. Does your brand need a platform that handles the complexities of a robust referral program or do you need software to kick off a new refer-a-friend initiative?

    We’ve put together a list of key questions to ask during the vetting process because asking the right questions helps you select the best software for your brand’s needs.

    1. How do I run multiple programs (with unique messaging and rewards) at one time?

    You want to ensure that an important feature of the software, like the ability to run simultaneous programs, is included. But you also want to ask how this is done via the technology to ensure that automating a program is a relatively simple and smooth user experience. Since scaling referrals efficiently is a primary benefit of referral software, this is a key question to ask.  

    2. How do I make changes to my programs? Who is involved?

    So you know the software can run multiple programs. Great! But what happens when you need to make changes to these programs? Is it a drawn-out process within the system? Can only certain users do this? Does a system administrator have to do it? Can an end-user do it? What about making changes to programs that are currently running? These are all valid questions that should be asked. Vetting vendors by asking for the specifics of program automation will help you hone in on what software best delivers in speed, usability, and features.

    3. How do I manage the customer journey and sharing experiences for users?

    Similar to making changes to programs, you want to ask vendors how you’re able to change sharing experiences. A critical component of programs, this should be a no-brainer feature included in a software’s feature set. From mobile to social, it should also be user-friendly and simple.

    4. Is there complete white-labeling? What do your share links look like?

    A seamless referral program should not disrupt your current customer journey. Be sure to discuss white-labeling, and ensure the software provides it. Specifically, study their share links (and APIs) to determine if the software they're selling you is fully white-labeled. 

    5. What does the API documentation look like?

    For interoperability with your other systems, it’s critical that the software you are vetting is accompanied by clean, easy to ingest, and API documentation. It’s also helpful for any future accompanying systems that you may have.

    6. For attribution: What happens when someone clears the cookies on their device or cookies aren't allowed? What happens when someone clicks a link in one browser but converts in another?

    Okay, this is technically two questions, but it’s critical to ask your potential vendors with questions that address common and unique user scenarios. It’s important to know how the software handles these scenarios, especially ones that may present an “alternative path” to a planned automated program, such as when a user disables cookies or converts in a non-referred browser. You want to make sure that users are still being captured and their referrals are being served regardless of common actions that they might take.  

    7. Can I manage & segment the contacts in our system?

    You certainly should! Optimizing your program will require communication management, workflows, and segmentation based on criteria most important to your business. Additionally, look for ample metrics, engagement functionality, and strong reporting capabilities. These features go a long way in both saving you time and increasing your ability to optimize quickly, driving better results!  

    8. Is there someone I can lean on for coaching or assistance? How do they help us?

    When leveraging technology in an emerging category it's imperative to lean on the software provider to assist with account management and share best practices. You'll likely want to find a provider who has experts (or success coaches) assigned to your account with the experience of scaling referral programs in similar industries.

    Ready to reap the benefits of referral marketing automation?

    Referral marketing automation is here to stay and more and more marketers are taking notice.

    The tips and strategies above all represent smart, actionable ways businesses can use referral marketing automation tools to save time and grow their presence.

    And if you’re looking to do the same, you are in the right place! To learn how referral marketing can drive more new sales, check out our eBook below.

    Download The eBook

    Posted in Referral Marketing

    Amity Kapadia

    Written by Amity Kapadia

    Amity Kapadia heads up content marketing at Ambassador. When she's not writing a blog post, editing an eBook, or reading copy, you can find her watching Real Housewives.

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