How to Build the Most Important Piece of Your Referral Program

How to Build the Most Important Piece of Your Referral Program

If you have developed a referral marketing strategy, congratulations! But now comes the hard part: Building out your referral program and keeping it going.

Every good referral program requires three things:

  1. Visible expertise—To get a referral, you need to be known for something.
  2. Strategic content—To be known for something, you need to write about it.
  3. A receptive audience—Writing about your area of expertise doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t reach the right audience.

Let’s start with your expertise, probably the most difficult piece of the referral program puzzle.

Making Your Expertise Accessible

The age-old art of the referral has changed—and this transformation stands to benefit firms that are prepared to share their specialized expertise. The first step is to consider the services you want to develop as areas of visible expertise.

Ask yourself:

  • Which of our services produce the best results?
  • In what areas does our marketplace research identify the greatest need or promise?
  • Which of our services enjoy the strongest financial profile?

The more your decisions and your services are shaped by the demonstrable needs and challenges of your audience, the better placed your firm will be to resonate with them and spur new business. Factor in your specialties, differentiators, and positioning. Which issues are important to your audience and addressed by your firm?

Find the overlap and focus your efforts here—the problems where your specialized expertise is most relevant. Share blog posts, eBooks, webinars, and more on different platforms (like LinkedIn and Twitter) to educate your audiences and generate discussion. Make it clear how your content is relevant to their challenges and invite them to engage through comments or social media.

Social media should form a central part of your referral program and content strategy—but taken alone, it’s not enough. That is because not everyone will be accessible through social media or responsive to any one channel at any one time. For this reason, you need to take a diversified approach.

Related: Branded House or House of Brands?

Here are several of the more crucial factors to consider:

Speaking engagements: Speaking at conferences and other industry events raises your visibility as an expert. Speaking engagements are in fact the top source for referrals. You may even find that some attendees self-refer, approaching you directly after they hear you speak.

More importantly, others in the audience will learn of your expertise, and when asked by a client or colleague, will be able to make the referral based on what they learned from you.

Search engine optimization (SEO): Optimize content for visibility in online searches and earning links to your content from others on the web. With a good SEO strategy, you make it easier for audiences to find you when they have a problem, or to check you out when they get a referral.

Professional partnerships: Consider participating in joint research, joint publications, jointly conducted events, or other pairings of expertise with another firm or professional association. Partnerships, like webinars with other experts from other organizations, bring a diversity of perspectives and foster an environment of collaborative learning.

Strategic Content

Now it is time to develop educational content to address the problems of your target audience, drawing a clear connection between their challenges and your expertise.

How aggressively you develop content will depend on the resources you are willing to commit to the endeavor. Some firms publish new blog posts a few times a month. Others post weekly, even daily. For blogs, we recommend posting at least once a week to keep your audience engaged and to give yourself plenty of opportunity to demonstrate your expertise thoroughly.

An effective referral marketing strategy will generally use both stock and flow content to build your reputation and share your expertise.

  • Flow content, like blogs, is the sort of quick, everyday pieces meant to foster a conversation. A tweet or LinkedIn post might be another form of flow content.
  • Stock content—research studies, books and guides—offers greater depth of discussion on an issue, and is designed to stand the test of time.

When the two styles of content work together, they create what we call the content funnel.

Some of the readers who download this content will continue to engage even more closely and eventually become clients. But even those that don’t can make informed referrals to your firm based on their grasp of your expertise, as well as share your content with others. This is the power of content for referral marketing—there are multiple ways it can generate new business.

The content funnel—flow and stock content work together in a referral program

As you decide how your referral program will use content, there is one more factor you will need to consider: your audience.

A Receptive Audience

In order to encourage referrals—and ultimately generate new business—it’s essential that you understand your target audience of buyers and influencers.

  • What is important to them?
  • What are their challenges and interests?

Without the answers to these questions, you’re moving ahead with some serious blind spots.

The key to getting past your strategic blind spots is research. In fact, it’s our own professional services marketplace research that has brought that lesson home. In a comparative study on professional services providers’ research habits, we found that research can make a powerful impact on a firm’s bottom line. In fact, firms that conduct systematic research grow 3 to 10 times faster and are up to 2 times more profitable.

The effect of research on growth and profitability

Why is research such a powerful predictor of growth and revenue? Well, if you’re not conducting regular research, you probably don’t know your clients and prospects as well as you think you do.

If there is an underserved niche, a need that’s not being met, or some other form of blind spot, you’ll find it with research. You will be able to effectively speak to the concerns of your target audience — and consequently encourage referrals based on your expertise and reputation.

If you don’t have the time and resources to conduct primary research, you might consider secondary research. In this approach, you can analyze other parties’ findings and make conclusions that will help guide your business. Independent industry organizations are often a good source for such data, though the disadvantages of secondary research are that you can’t control the parameters, currency, or quality of the data you use.

Related: 6 Offline Marketing Strategies that Support Your Online Brand

Of course, whether primary or secondary research, you need to start with the right questions. What kinds of challenges and priorities should you be asking about in the first place? Here, it’s helpful to do some good old-fashioned digging. Top areas to look for clues include:

  1. Your own online content. If you’re already publishing educational content, this can be a strong indicator. Identify high-performing content (in terms of views and shares). Are there are common threads in the subject matter? This can indicate an area of particular interest for your audience.
  2. Your network. Consult your sales, business development, and account teams to learn what questions and objections they encounter regularly. Are there any commonalties or surprises here? These may be areas to follow up on. The answers may be revealing.
  3. Online and in social media. The different social media platforms can be a great place to gather data without asking questions outright. What topics are trending in your industry? What issues are in the news, and what problems are people talking about?

Better yet, where does your target audience go for advice and insight? Where do they network? You can gain crucial information by looking up leaders among your target audience, finding which LinkedIn Groups they belong to, and following relevant conversations.

With the information you gather from these disparate sources, you should develop the raw material for some powerful questions and avenues of investigation. And by using research to understand your audience, you’ll have the basis for a focused and efficient referral marketing strategy, connecting more reliably with your audience and leading ultimately to new business.

Elizabeth Harr
Brand Strategy
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Elizabeth Harr is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive specializing in brand management for successful business growth. As a partner at Hinge, she leads Hing ... Click for full bio

China's Push Toward Excellence Delivers a Global Robotics Investment Opportunity

China's Push Toward Excellence Delivers a Global Robotics Investment Opportunity

Written by: Jeremie Capron

China is on a mission to change its reputation from a manufacturer of cheap, mass-produced goods to a world leader in high quality manufacturing. If that surprises you, you’re not the only one.

For decades, China has been synonymous with the word cheap. But times are changing, and much of that change is reliant on the adoption of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, or RAAI (pronounced “ray”). For investors, this shift is driving a major opportunity to capture growth and returns rooted in China’s rapidly increasing demand for RAAI technologies.

You may have heard of ‘Made in China 2025,’ the strategy announced in 2015 by the central government aimed at remaking its industrial sector into a global leader in high-technology products and advanced manufacturing techniques. Unlike some public relations announcements, this one is much more than just a marketing tagline. Heavily subsidized by the Chinese government, the program is focused on generating major investments in automated manufacturing processes, also referred to as Industry 4.0 technologies, in an effort to drive a massive transformation across every sector of manufacturing. The program aims to overhaul the infrastructure of China’s manufacturing industry by not only driving down costs, but also—and perhaps most importantly—by improving the quality of everything it manufactures, from textiles to automobiles to electronic components.

Already, China has become what is arguably the most exciting robotics market in the world. The numbers speak for themselves. In 2016 alone, more than 87,000 robots were sold in the country, representing a year-over-year increase of 27%, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Last month’s World Robot Conference 2017 in Beijing brought together nearly 300 artificial intelligence (AI) specialists and representatives of over 150 robotics enterprises, making it one of the world’s largest robotics-focused conference in the world to date. That’s quite a transition for a country that wasn’t even on the map in the area of robotics only a decade ago.

As impressive as that may be, what’s even more exciting for anyone with an eye on the robotics industry is the fact that this growth represents only a tiny fraction of the potential for robotics penetration across China’s manufacturing facilities—and for investors in the companies that are delivering or are poised to deliver on the promise of RAAI-driven manufacturing advancements.

Despite its commitment to leverage the power of robotics, automation and AI to meet its aggressive ‘Made in China 2025’ goals, at the moment China has only 1 robot in place for every 250 manufacturing workers. Compare that to countries like Germany and Japan, where manufacturers utilize an average of one robot for every 30 human workers. Even if China were simply trying to catch up to other countries’ use of robotics, those numbers would signal immense near-term growth. But China is on a mission to do much more than achieve the status quo. The result? According to a recent report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), in 2019 as much as 40% of the worldwide market volume of industrial robots could be sold in China alone.

To understand how the country can support such grand growth, just take a look at where and why robotics is being applied today. While the automotive sector has historically been the largest buyer of robots, China’s strategy reaches far and wide to include a wide variety of future-oriented manufacturing processes and industries.

Related: Smooth Tomorrow's Market Volatility With a Smart Approach to Robotics & AI

Electronics is a key example. In fact, the electrical and electronics industry surpassed the automotive industry as the top buyer of robotics in 2016, with sales up 75% to almost 30,000 units. Assemblers such as Foxconn rely on thousands of workers to assemble today’s new iPhones. Until recently, the assembly of these highly delicate components required a level of human dexterity that robots simply could not match, as well as human vision to help ensure accuracy and quality. But recent advancements in robotics are changing all that. Industrial robots already have the ability to handle many of the miniature components in today’s smart phones. Very soon, these robots are expected to have the skills to bolster the human workforce, significantly increasing manufacturing capacity. Newer, more dexterous industrial robots are expected to significantly reduce human error during the assembly process of even the most fragile components, including the recently announced OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens that Samsung and Apple introduced on their latest mobile devices including the iPhone X. Advancements in computer vision are transforming how critical quality checks are performed on these and many other electronic devices. All of these innovations are coming together at just the right time for a country that is striving to create the world’s most advanced manufacturing climate.

Clearly, China’s trajectory in the area of RAAI is in hyper drive. For investors who are seeking a tool to leverage this opportunity in an intelligent and perhaps unexpected way, the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index may help. The ROBO Index already offers a vast exposure to China’s potential growth due to the depth and breadth of the robotics and automation supply chain. As China continues to improve its manufacturing processes to meet its 2025 initiative, every supplier across China’s far-reaching supply chains will benefit. Wherever they are located, suppliers of RAAI-related components—reduction gears, sensors, linear motion systems, controllers, and so much more—are bracing for spikes in demand as China pushes to turn its dream into a reality.

Today, around 13% of the revenues generated by the ROBO Global Index members are driven by China’s investments in robotics and automation. Tomorrow? It’s hard to say. But one thing is for certain: China’s commitment to improving the quality and cost-efficiency of its manufacturing facilities is showing no signs of slowing down—and its reliance on robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence is vital to its success.

Want all the details? Download the ROBO Global Investment Report - Summer Brings Best ROBO Earnings in Six Years or visit us here.

ROBO Global
Robotics and AI
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ROBO Global LLC is the creator of the ROBO Global® Robotics and Automation Index series, which provides comprehensive, transparent and diversified benchmarks representing the ... Click for full bio