referral sources, referral strategy, referral partner

Once you have identified your referral sources and developed a motivating recruitment strategy, you’ll need to start thinking about how to align your referral strategy with sales. The sales team has the potential to have a monumental impact on your referral strategy if they have the right tools. In fact, in two recent referral benchmark studies, the conversion rate of partner referral lead to purchase increased from 31% to 41%, while the conversion rate for customer referral lead increased from 13% to 30%.

But how do you go about achieving this?

The first action you need to take is deciding whether your direct or indirect sales team needs to be enabled so you can then create a step-by-step plan for them to drive referrals. Remember, sales can play a massive role in recruiting referral sources and collecting referrals so this is a necessary step to increasing your revenue from referrals.

Should you involve direct or indirect sales in your referral strategy?

When trying to decide on whether to enable your direct or indirect sales team to drive referrals, think back to when you identified your referral sources and divided them into different individual programs.

Your different referral programs fit into three different program structures. Determining what structure fits your program will help you decide what type of sales team you should enable as part of your referral strategy.

Direct to Individuals

Here an individual such as a customer, influencer, small agent, small business or employee would refer business directly to you.

Use case: A business services company targeting SMBs knew that small businesses referred locally. They created a program to enable customers to make referrals of other businesses and another program to allow small business accountants to refer their clientele. Direct sales manages these relationships on a local/territory level.

When you are trying to enable this type of program ask yourself this question:

referral strategy, referral sources, partner program, sales enablement

To and Through a Strategic Alliance

Here you create a program for a consultancy, system integrator, software vendor, bank, service provider agency, association or other types of strategic partners, that is co-branded and co-managed by you and your strategic alliance to enables their employees to refer business to you.

Use case: A merchant payment systems provider had strategic alliances with large commercial banks so they created a dedicated referral program for each bank. Bank employees were in a position to recommend the merchant system to their SMB merchant customers. To ensure success, the programs needed to be branded and integrated into the bank’s systems. Marketing manages these relationships.

When you are trying to enable this type of program ask yourself this question:

referral sources, referral strategy, strategic partner program, referral partners, referral partner program

To and Through a Partner Network

Here a company has a platform that supports different programs for each managed partner such as consultancies, agents, system integrators, software vendors, software providers or agencies where each managed partner can enable their employees to make referrals.

Use case: A B2B software provider had managed relationships with other software vendors and digital agencies who sold into their same customer base. They created a referral program that offers incentives to the corporate entity as well as the referring employees. These incentives varied from company to company based on their arrangement. Channel sales and marketing together manage these relationships.

When you are trying to enable this type of program ask yourself this question:

referral strategy, referral sources, referral partners, referral partner programs

To help guide you, try downloading and filling out the full worksheet.

Now that you have figured out what sales team you need to enable, you’ll need to develop your referral strategy in more depth to engage them.

A 10-step checklist for building your sales engagement plan

Using a 10-step checklist you can get your sales team the tools and structure they need to be successful in making referrals part of the go-to-market strategy.

  1. Meet with your head of sales to determine the level of involvement.
  • Your deliverable – Commitment from sales leaders for driving recruitment and referrals.
  1. Work with sales leadership to set activity goals.
  • Your deliverable – Create objectives by salesperson for number of referral sources and number of referrals per month/quarter/year.
  1. Work with sales leadership to determine any changes to the sales incentive structure.
  • Your deliverable – Make any changes to sales compensation based on if they meet recruitment and referral goals.
  1. Work with sales operations to enable sales with tools to drive recruitment.
  • Your deliverable – Add the ability to invite CRM contacts with pre-filled registration.
  1. Work with sales operations to enable sales with tools to collect referrals.
  • Your deliverable – Add the ability to input verbal referrals in the CRM and to “own” referral sources for reporting.
  1. Work with sales operations to provide referral status transparency.
  • Your deliverable – Add the ability to see who made the referral on each lead record and to click into the referral history of that partner.
  1. If you’re using a direct sales team: Work with sales operations on lead routing rules.
  • Your deliverable – Change lead routing so that any referral lead that comes from a source that a salesperson “owns” gets routed to that salesperson.
  1. Work with sales operations to get sales leadership reporting.
  • Your deliverable – Create dashboards in your CRM that track recruitment, referral leads, referral opportunities and successful referrals by salesperson/territory/etc.
  1. Run a pilot rollout with one sales group.
  • Your deliverable – Get feedback to improve the process as well as data and testimonials to show success.
  1. Rollout the referral program to your full sales team with training and an internal campaign.
  • Your deliverable – Train the sales team who is actively recruiting and collecting referrals.

Or fill it out right on this page for your own knowledge.


After looking through your checklist, if you need help enabling sales with any of these functions, see how a sales enabled referral program can help.

Lastly, to see how referral sales enablement fits into your overall referral strategy, download The Referral Guidebook to get all 20 exercises to build your referral strategy into a revenue generating channel.