• Referral Program Ideas

Referrals are some of the most valuable sales leads a company can get. They can provide your business with high-quality potential customers and clients who already have some level of trust in your company. Because of this inherited trust, these folks are likely to become loyal, recurring customers who are extremely valuable to your business and its growth.  Customer referrals are also more telling than you may realize and speak volumes to your company’s success and quality. After all, a customer won’t refer a company, especially to friends or family, that isn’t worthy of referral.

The importance of getting referrals from clients cannot be understated. If you have not taken active efforts to encourage customer referrals, or have not incorporated customer referral program ideas into your marketing strategy, you’re missing out on a precious source of potential revenue.

Referral Program Ideas


Referral Program Ideas

Having a customer referral program can be a huge benefit to your business, and will not only expand your customer base, but increase its customer loyalty levels as well. Other companies have used customer referral and loyalty programs with great success and you can, too. Still unsure?

Here are some statistics about customer referrals:

  • 65% of a company’s new business comes from referrals
  • Customers are 4x more likely to buy when referred by a friend
  • A referred customer is 18% more loyal than customers recruited through other means
  • A referred customer spends 13.2% more on average than a non-referred customer
  • Offering a reward increases the likelihood of a referral, but the size of that award doesn’t matter

Customer and Client Referral Program Ideas

As revealed by the above telling statistics, customer referrals are undeniably valuable. There are many ways to incorporate a referral or loyalty rewards program into your marketing strategy. Some referral program examples include:

Referral Contests

You can implement stand-alone referral contest ideas or use them to augment your current referral program. Either way, referral contests are a great way to both gain referrals and get your business buzzing. Spread the word about your referral contest on your website, through email blasts, and on social media. There are many referral contest ideas that can be found online, but standard contests most commonly offer exclusive prizes or cash bonuses after a certain amount of referrals are met. Markers can be placed at 10, 20, 50, or 100 referrals, for example. You can also offer a bonus for the person who refers the most people during the contest. Huckberry, a lifestyle brand, for example, gave $1000 in store credit plus a bottle of Blanton’s bourbon to their top referrer. Second and third place referrers received $500 credit and $250 credit each.

Event Campaigns

A great way to kick up excitement for your referral program is to offer a seasonal or event-related contest or campaign. Papa John’s, for example, is famous for offering discounts on its pizzas on game days. Occasionally, they’ll offer special bonuses if you refer a friend who buys a pizza in football season. Naturebox, a healthy snacks subscription box, had a similar idea. Riding the wave of popularity surrounding the Super Bowl, the biggest media event in the United States each year, they offered participants the ability to send out a “50% Off” offer to friends.

Patient Referral Program Ideas

Businesses who work with patients like dentists and chiropractors are limited to what they can do in terms of referral programs. While giving a financial incentive might not be reasonable in terms of professional ethics or insurance, one thing these types of businesses can do is to promise faster service to patients who have referred other patients.

Offering patients who refer other patients admission into a fast-track for appointments is one way to encourage people to refer their friends and family to your office. Many offices reserve flexible time slots for emergency appointments—this same thing can work for referring patients!

Seasonal Contests

The holiday season is the most popular for shopping. From Black Friday up through Christmas, consumers are emptying their wallets for gifts, winter items, and more. It’s a great time to recruit new customers! Huckberry, an e-commerce site, ran a short referral contest prior to holiday season offering referrers the opportunity to win a first class ticket home, with a pack of Huckberry swag to boot!

While this is a big-ticket item, you can easily do the same by offering referrers a special holiday-themed product or mini service for referring another customer to your business during the holiday season.

Social Gifting

One of the lesser known client referral program ideas is social gifting. What is social gifting? Some referral programs offer no monetary or financial reward. Instead, the incentive for the referrer is pure altruism.

Subscription boxes, for example, often offer referrers an exclusive code that they can use to ‘gift’ a free trial to a certain number of friends. This lets the referrer spread the love to anyone of their choice, who can cash in at no cost. You may think that giving away free products or content for free results in reduced revenue. In fact, there’s a ‘trick’ with the treat: Many people continue purchasing the product after trial. If you’re confident in your product and that customers will like it and continue buying it, a free trial referral plan is a great way to bring in new loyal customers!

Referral Rewards Program

Of course, you may wish to have a referral rewards program year-round. In fact, most marketers recommend this. Your referral rewards program should offer prizes or incentives for customers to refer. Otherwise, no one will bother. Some customer referral program ideas include offering cash rewards for referrals, or better yet, store credit. This will encourage both customers and their referrals to spend money on your business. For example, a customer can receive $10 in store credit for every person they refer. Meanwhile, the referred person will receive $20 in store credit as a starting bonus. It’s a win-win.

You should also offer bonuses at different tiers—that is, give customers a big prize to look forward to once they have referred 20, 30, 50, or 100 friends. For patient referral program ideas, offer discounts on services, free services (ex: dentists can offer a free teeth cleaning), or universally-attractive prizes such as an iPad or gift card. For even more ideas on getting client referrals, see this post.

Referral Programs Increase Customer Retention

Once you got ‘em, you gotta keep ‘em. Loyal customers are a company’s #1 asset. Not only do they consistently contribute to revenue, but they contribute to positive brand image and bring you even more customers through word-of-mouth and referral programs. Brand loyalty and evangelism is a vital asset and can greatly benefit your company. In fact, 80% of revenue for most companies comes from just 20% of their customers—the loyal ones!

That’s why both building customer loyalty is of utmost importance. A great way to encourage customer loyalty is to thank customers for their patronage through customer loyalty programs. Building customer loyalty is made that much easier when you offer customers rewards for their business. Punch-cards are just a small incentive to do so. After purchasing ten ice creams, for example, a customer gets a free ice cream. That’s an easy incentive and you’d be surprised how much people will do for free ice cream!

 Have you used customer referral programs for your small business? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Jordan says:

    Great points here! A good referral program can really make a huge difference for your business. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing such a useful information regarding online referral programs ideas. For those who are running any business or having a professional profession, it is very important to join any online referral program to increase referrals and client as well.

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