Building referral programs in HubSpot

By Kai Crow
on 19 September 2017

One of the key business values of AskNicely is the ability to identify your happiest customers and turn them into advocates by driving them to your referral program. This is great, and returns fantastic results for many customers… but isn’t so useful if you don’t have a referral program to send people to.

If you haven’t yet got a referral program, but it’s on your to-do list – this post is for you.

There are some great tools around to help run referral programs but not everyone is ready to commit to an additional monthly cost without first proving that referrals work.

So I wanted to show you how to build a homespun version using HubSpot (you can do similar in other marketing automation platforms). This is the bare bones of a referral program that you can build on. We set up a similar system ourselves to test and prove the value of the program first, and have since expanded it to give us more tracking and automation capability – I’ll try to note some of the next steps you might like to think about.

Note: most of this post is a fairly detailed how-to on building this in HubSpot. It’s a little long (sorry about that), but the process isn’t super complicated – it’ll probably take you about as long to set up in HubSpot as it does to read this post. In fact, why not open up HubSpot and play along as you read.

To incentivize or not to incentivize?

We offer an incentive if someone refers a friend who then signs up for a free trial. Here’s our logic:

  1. We offer an incentive – it shows customers that we value them sharing info with us and greatly increases the likelihood that they will share.
  2. By offering an incentive only if someone actually signs up for a free trial, we incentivize people to only share contacts who are likely to be interested, rather than just sending us a contact for the sake of getting a reward. This gives a better conversion rate, and means that the referral is generally better received by the person we send it to because they’re better qualified (ie, more likely to actually sign up for the trial).
  3. We ask people to share their friend’s details directly with us. The alternative would be to give them a unique link that they can share with friends – there’s some benefits to that approach, but it’s a little harder to control so we started with the landing page approach and we’ll look at the unique sharing link in a later post.

A couple of things to think about for your own program:

  • In your case, you may not use free trial as the measure, it could be a paid customer, a webinar registration or even just a download – as long as you track the activity in HubSpot, it’ll work.
  • Deciding on how much to reward people for a referral isn’t too difficult – you can set a start value based on what a lead/trial/customer (whatever conversion point you are incentivizing) currently costs you. The beauty of this approach is it’s easy and fairly quick to adjust the value of the reward if you see more or less value from referrals than expected.

Let’s build a referral program

Here’s the process we’re going to build in HubSpot:

  1. Our customer sees a landing page where they enter details for someone they think might be interested in our product.
  2. Once they submit that form, it’ll check that person is not already a customer or prospect and create a new lead in HubSpot that is linked to the person who referred them.
  3. If the friend signs up, we’ll then get an alert, add a gift voucher code to the contact record of the person who referred the lead in HubSpot and then send them a thank you email with the voucher code.

1. Add some custom fields for tracking the referral

First step is setting up two new custom fields in HubSpot – we need to record the name and email address of the person who referred a lead to us.

Custom tracking for referrals

You’ll notice I’ve added these fields to a separate group and added referral to the start of the field name – it’s a good idea to keep these fields separate and clearly labelled so that nobody accidentally uses them in the wrong application.

2. Create the referral form

Now that we’ve got our fields, we can set up the referral form for customers to submit their friend’s details.

Fields we’ll add to the form:

  • Email (the HubSpot email default field) with the label “Your friend’s email
  • First Name and Last Name (HubSpot Default first and last name fields) Also labelled with “Your friend’s first name” etc..
  • Our new referral – referred by – email field labelled as “Your Email
  • Our new referral – referred by – name field labelled as “Your Name

Fields added to referral form

Note: The disable cookie tracking setting is important so we don’t associate the friend’s details with the cookie on our existing customer’s web browser. We’ve also separated the your details and friends details sections with a header on each to minimize the chances of someone getting them the wrong way around.

Note 2: Also important is the display captcha setting – I’d recommend turning this on, since we’re letting someone trigger an email to someone else and we want to stop bots and the like from abusing the system. Given that we’re going to be sharing this link directly with happy customers and not just chucking it straight up on our website, that risk should be minimal, but better safe than sorry.

Hopefully you can now see what we’re doing here. This form is adding a new contact to HubSpot for the friend who is being referred, which will also have the details of the referrer attached so that we can find them and reward them when the new contact signs up.

Next, you’ll insert that form in a landing page so that people can fill it in.

One thing to keep in mind when designing your landing page: make sure you clearly state on the landing page how you’ll use the details you’re given – eg We will only send your friend a one-off invite from you to try AskNicely – we won’t spam them endlessly so they won’t be angry at you for sharing their details.”

Tip: If you’re sharing the link via email or a live chat client, make use of HubSpot’s ability to prefill form data from the URL (since we’ve disabled cookie tracking, this won’t be done via the cookie as it normally would be). – eg, send out a link to your landing page like this:

www.yourlandingpage.com/refer-a-friend?referral_referred_by_email= {{contact.email}}&referral_referred_by_name= {{contact.firstname}}%20{{contact.lastname}}

Note that we’re pre-filling the referred by details with our existing customer’s details – this ensures that when they hit the landing page, the your details section is already filled out. Here’s HubSpot’s info on pre-filling details using URL parameters: https://knowledge.hubspot.com/articles/kcs_article/forms/can-i-auto-populate-form-fields-through-a-query-string

3. The email to the friend

Setting up the email to go out to the friend isn’t too hard:

  • Keep it short, but briefly explain what you do: this might be first time they’ve heard from you
  • Build a referral-specific landing page that gives them some basic info before asking them to start a trial etc…
  • Clearly identify that the email is a referral and who made the referral – I’d recommend doing this in the opening sentence.

4. Processing the referral and sending your email to the friend

We’re just about ready to send the email out. But first!

I’ve set up a very simple check to see if the contact is already in our system because we don’t want to reward someone for referring an existing customer or prospect. You might include something like has started a free trial rather than a created date – that way, if someone is already in your database, but hasn’t started a trial, you’ll still count the referral.

Processing the referral

More advanced stuff:

At this point, you might also like to automatically update or send an email to the contact who made the referral. You can use HubSpot’s send internal email function to do this (granted, this isn’t exactly what this feature is designed for, but it does the trick.)

 

Note: adding a step like this to the flow will send an alert every time someone makes a referral, so if you end up with someone making five referrals in a row, they will get five separate emails. There’s no way to avoid this when you’re using this method.

Another thing you may want to do is to update a property on the contact who made the referral to show how many referrals they’ve made. This means you can limit how many confirmation emails they receive and can also help with controlling your campaigns (ie give you a way to avoid promoting the program to people who have already referred leads.)

Unfortunately, that’s a little harder to do, although not impossible – I won’t cover that in this post, but feel free to drop me a line if you’d like details on how we do this using a webhook and Zapier.

5. Picking up a successful referral and saying THANKS!

Identifying a successful referral will depend a bit on your data structure. In our case, a free trial gets their account plan contact field set to trial, so we simply trigger the workflow for anyone who has a free trial and a value for the Referral – Referred By Email field. One slight addition we make is to also include a primary contact flag – this tells us the contact referred was also the person who started the trial (so that we don’t pay out if someone is added to an existing account)

Successful referral

Remembering that this is about getting a MVP for a referral program up and running.

As a starting point we’re just going to send an internal email (this time using that workflow action as it was intended) which will alert us that the referral has been successful. We can include the Referral – Referred by – email field in that email so we can easily identify the person who made the referral and send them an email with their reward.

6. Paying up

These days it’s fairly easy to find different e-reward cards. Our current favorite option is Amazon, because for their rewards can be used almost universally, though there are a few markets that don’t accept the USD cards (check first!) It’s best to start small and send the successful referral emails out manually initially, so you get a feel for what rewards work best across most of your customer base.

Pre-paid credit cards are also a good option, with many providers now offering an online option too:

More advanced incentives:

The advantage of online gift cards is that you can email out a unique URL to the card. This means that you can further automate the process, creating a list of gift card URLs or numbers and then using that to automatically send out rewards.

However I’d recommend not entirely automating the process of sending out a paid reward. It’s best to just streamline it – put a link in the internal alert email that, when clicked by one of your team, will trigger the reward email to the contact who made the referral. That way you know someone has checked the lead to confirm it’s a legitimate referral before you go handing over cold hard soft cash.

Again, there’s a few ways of skinning that cat, so if you want some tips – drop me a line.

7. Next steps to think about

So we’ve now got a basic referral program in place – great! Time to test it out and start improving it. Here’s where I’d start:

  • Test a few different incentives: with HubSpot, it’s easy to A/B test a landing page. Create different forms for different versions to make sure the follow-up matches the reward offered on the landing page (you might also need a new custom field with the type of reward offered)
  • Work on how you invite people to refer a friend. Craft a few different emails at different stages of the customer’s life cycle to see what works best and when. And consider using AskNicely data within HubSpot to segment your audience, so you know you’re asking for referrals from people who actually like you.
    There’s also options beyond just email to target happy customers – use HubSpot’s content personalization to insert custom calls to action within your webpages, or trigger in-app messages if you use a chat client.
  • Definitely also look at how you can tag people who make referrals so you can see what customer segments are giving you the most referrals, which segments make more successful referrals etc…

Hopefully you can see how easy it is to start testing the waters with referrals. Once you’ve started getting results you might decide to invest in a SaaS referral or advocacy program to help you grow your program further. But this is a good first step!

One last note about incentives

When you start offering rewards, you will be governed by local marketing and trade laws around incentives, so it’s a good idea to check out if there are any potential gotchas. General requirements:

  • Make it very clear what you’re offering (eg amazon USD gift card – be specific so people aren’t caught off guard if they use a different currency)
  • Outline the requirements for a successful referral (signed up for a free trial vs opened an account)
  • Note if there are any limits (it’s always best to set an upper limit: we’ll only reward you for up to X referrals).
  • Including a general out clause like “rewards will be given upon our discretion and we will review each submission to verify its eligibility before sending your reward” is also a good idea in case you come across an unexpected situation, but it shouldn’t be used to give you a way out of paying for any valid referrals.

Happy referring! If you like what AskNicely does and want to recommend us to a friend or colleague, feel free to let us know here

One of the key business values of AskNicely is the ability to identify your happiest customers and turn them into advocates by driving them to your referral program. This is great, and returns fantastic results for many customers… but isn’t so useful if you don’t have a referral program to send people to.

If you haven’t yet got a referral program, but it’s on your to-do list – this post is for you.

There are some great tools around to help run referral programs but not everyone is ready to commit to an additional monthly cost without first proving that referrals work.

So I wanted to show you how to build a homespun version using HubSpot (you can do similar in other marketing automation platforms). This is the bare bones of a referral program that you can build on. We set up a similar system ourselves to test and prove the value of the program first, and have since expanded it to give us more tracking and automation capability – I’ll try to note some of the next steps you might like to think about.

Note: most of this post is a fairly detailed how-to on building this in HubSpot. It’s a little long (sorry about that), but the process isn’t super complicated – it’ll probably take you about as long to set up in HubSpot as it does to read this post. In fact, why not open up HubSpot and play along as you read.

To incentivize or not to incentivize?

We offer an incentive if someone refers a friend who then signs up for a free trial. Here’s our logic:

  1. We offer an incentive – it shows customers that we value them sharing info with us and greatly increases the likelihood that they will share.
  2. By offering an incentive only if someone actually signs up for a free trial, we incentivize people to only share contacts who are likely to be interested, rather than just sending us a contact for the sake of getting a reward. This gives a better conversion rate, and means that the referral is generally better received by the person we send it to because they’re better qualified (ie, more likely to actually sign up for the trial).
  3. We ask people to share their friend’s details directly with us. The alternative would be to give them a unique link that they can share with friends – there’s some benefits to that approach, but it’s a little harder to control so we started with the landing page approach and we’ll look at the unique sharing link in a later post.

A couple of things to think about for your own program:

  • In your case, you may not use free trial as the measure, it could be a paid customer, a webinar registration or even just a download – as long as you track the activity in HubSpot, it’ll work.
  • Deciding on how much to reward people for a referral isn’t too difficult – you can set a start value based on what a lead/trial/customer (whatever conversion point you are incentivizing) currently costs you. The beauty of this approach is it’s easy and fairly quick to adjust the value of the reward if you see more or less value from referrals than expected.

Let’s build a referral program

Here’s the process we’re going to build in HubSpot:

  1. Our customer sees a landing page where they enter details for someone they think might be interested in our product.
  2. Once they submit that form, it’ll check that person is not already a customer or prospect and create a new lead in HubSpot that is linked to the person who referred them.
  3. If the friend signs up, we’ll then get an alert, add a gift voucher code to the contact record of the person who referred the lead in HubSpot and then send them a thank you email with the voucher code.

1. Add some custom fields for tracking the referral

First step is setting up two new custom fields in HubSpot – we need to record the name and email address of the person who referred a lead to us.

Custom tracking for referrals

You’ll notice I’ve added these fields to a separate group and added referral to the start of the field name – it’s a good idea to keep these fields separate and clearly labelled so that nobody accidentally uses them in the wrong application.

2. Create the referral form

Now that we’ve got our fields, we can set up the referral form for customers to submit their friend’s details.

Fields we’ll add to the form:

  • Email (the HubSpot email default field) with the label “Your friend’s email
  • First Name and Last Name (HubSpot Default first and last name fields) Also labelled with “Your friend’s first name” etc..
  • Our new referral – referred by – email field labelled as “Your Email
  • Our new referral – referred by – name field labelled as “Your Name

Fields added to referral form

Note: The disable cookie tracking setting is important so we don’t associate the friend’s details with the cookie on our existing customer’s web browser. We’ve also separated the your details and friends details sections with a header on each to minimize the chances of someone getting them the wrong way around.

Note 2: Also important is the display captcha setting – I’d recommend turning this on, since we’re letting someone trigger an email to someone else and we want to stop bots and the like from abusing the system. Given that we’re going to be sharing this link directly with happy customers and not just chucking it straight up on our website, that risk should be minimal, but better safe than sorry.

Hopefully you can now see what we’re doing here. This form is adding a new contact to HubSpot for the friend who is being referred, which will also have the details of the referrer attached so that we can find them and reward them when the new contact signs up.

Next, you’ll insert that form in a landing page so that people can fill it in.

One thing to keep in mind when designing your landing page: make sure you clearly state on the landing page how you’ll use the details you’re given – eg We will only send your friend a one-off invite from you to try AskNicely – we won’t spam them endlessly so they won’t be angry at you for sharing their details.”

Tip: If you’re sharing the link via email or a live chat client, make use of HubSpot’s ability to prefill form data from the URL (since we’ve disabled cookie tracking, this won’t be done via the cookie as it normally would be). – eg, send out a link to your landing page like this:

www.yourlandingpage.com/refer-a-friend?referral_referred_by_email= {{contact.email}}&referral_referred_by_name= {{contact.firstname}}%20{{contact.lastname}}

Note that we’re pre-filling the referred by details with our existing customer’s details – this ensures that when they hit the landing page, the your details section is already filled out. Here’s HubSpot’s info on pre-filling details using URL parameters: https://knowledge.hubspot.com/articles/kcs_article/forms/can-i-auto-populate-form-fields-through-a-query-string

3. The email to the friend

Setting up the email to go out to the friend isn’t too hard:

  • Keep it short, but briefly explain what you do: this might be first time they’ve heard from you
  • Build a referral-specific landing page that gives them some basic info before asking them to start a trial etc…
  • Clearly identify that the email is a referral and who made the referral – I’d recommend doing this in the opening sentence.

4. Processing the referral and sending your email to the friend

We’re just about ready to send the email out. But first!

I’ve set up a very simple check to see if the contact is already in our system because we don’t want to reward someone for referring an existing customer or prospect. You might include something like has started a free trial rather than a created date – that way, if someone is already in your database, but hasn’t started a trial, you’ll still count the referral.

Processing the referral

More advanced stuff:

At this point, you might also like to automatically update or send an email to the contact who made the referral. You can use HubSpot’s send internal email function to do this (granted, this isn’t exactly what this feature is designed for, but it does the trick.)

 

Note: adding a step like this to the flow will send an alert every time someone makes a referral, so if you end up with someone making five referrals in a row, they will get five separate emails. There’s no way to avoid this when you’re using this method.

Another thing you may want to do is to update a property on the contact who made the referral to show how many referrals they’ve made. This means you can limit how many confirmation emails they receive and can also help with controlling your campaigns (ie give you a way to avoid promoting the program to people who have already referred leads.)

Unfortunately, that’s a little harder to do, although not impossible – I won’t cover that in this post, but feel free to drop me a line if you’d like details on how we do this using a webhook and Zapier.

5. Picking up a successful referral and saying THANKS!

Identifying a successful referral will depend a bit on your data structure. In our case, a free trial gets their account plan contact field set to trial, so we simply trigger the workflow for anyone who has a free trial and a value for the Referral – Referred By Email field. One slight addition we make is to also include a primary contact flag – this tells us the contact referred was also the person who started the trial (so that we don’t pay out if someone is added to an existing account)

Successful referral

Remembering that this is about getting a MVP for a referral program up and running.

As a starting point we’re just going to send an internal email (this time using that workflow action as it was intended) which will alert us that the referral has been successful. We can include the Referral – Referred by – email field in that email so we can easily identify the person who made the referral and send them an email with their reward.

6. Paying up

These days it’s fairly easy to find different e-reward cards. Our current favorite option is Amazon, because for their rewards can be used almost universally, though there are a few markets that don’t accept the USD cards (check first!) It’s best to start small and send the successful referral emails out manually initially, so you get a feel for what rewards work best across most of your customer base.

Pre-paid credit cards are also a good option, with many providers now offering an online option too:

More advanced incentives:

The advantage of online gift cards is that you can email out a unique URL to the card. This means that you can further automate the process, creating a list of gift card URLs or numbers and then using that to automatically send out rewards.

However I’d recommend not entirely automating the process of sending out a paid reward. It’s best to just streamline it – put a link in the internal alert email that, when clicked by one of your team, will trigger the reward email to the contact who made the referral. That way you know someone has checked the lead to confirm it’s a legitimate referral before you go handing over cold hard soft cash.

Again, there’s a few ways of skinning that cat, so if you want some tips – drop me a line.

7. Next steps to think about

So we’ve now got a basic referral program in place – great! Time to test it out and start improving it. Here’s where I’d start:

  • Test a few different incentives: with HubSpot, it’s easy to A/B test a landing page. Create different forms for different versions to make sure the follow-up matches the reward offered on the landing page (you might also need a new custom field with the type of reward offered)
  • Work on how you invite people to refer a friend. Craft a few different emails at different stages of the customer’s life cycle to see what works best and when. And consider using AskNicely data within HubSpot to segment your audience, so you know you’re asking for referrals from people who actually like you.
    There’s also options beyond just email to target happy customers – use HubSpot’s content personalization to insert custom calls to action within your webpages, or trigger in-app messages if you use a chat client.
  • Definitely also look at how you can tag people who make referrals so you can see what customer segments are giving you the most referrals, which segments make more successful referrals etc…

Hopefully you can see how easy it is to start testing the waters with referrals. Once you’ve started getting results you might decide to invest in a SaaS referral or advocacy program to help you grow your program further. But this is a good first step!

One last note about incentives

When you start offering rewards, you will be governed by local marketing and trade laws around incentives, so it’s a good idea to check out if there are any potential gotchas. General requirements:

  • Make it very clear what you’re offering (eg amazon USD gift card – be specific so people aren’t caught off guard if they use a different currency)
  • Outline the requirements for a successful referral (signed up for a free trial vs opened an account)
  • Note if there are any limits (it’s always best to set an upper limit: we’ll only reward you for up to X referrals).
  • Including a general out clause like “rewards will be given upon our discretion and we will review each submission to verify its eligibility before sending your reward” is also a good idea in case you come across an unexpected situation, but it shouldn’t be used to give you a way out of paying for any valid referrals.

Happy referring! If you like what AskNicely does and want to recommend us to a friend or colleague, feel free to let us know here


About the author

Kai Crow

Kai is based in our Auckland, New Zealand office and while his name means ‘food’ in the New Zealand native language of Maori he is not actually edible. When he’s not keeping our sales and marketing stuff running, Kai’s out riding a mountain bike or running down the beach with his two dogs, Rufus and Sparky.

Other posts by Kai Crow

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