Podcast: How we're building our referral program

By Doug Bolton

Podcast: How we're building our referral program

Content creator, HubSpot wizard and part-time podcast host Alexander Evjenth joined me in this week's episode of The Onlinification Pod to talk about the referral program he's been building for Zooma entirely in HubSpot. Take a listen to find out the details of the setup, and how a similar program could give your lead generation a boost.

Referral programs are nothing new - they've been around since the early days of the internet, and over the years, they've driven proven results for the companies that have implemented them properly. Leveraging the power of word-of-mouth and combining it with desirable rewards and elements of gamification is clearly a winning formula.

Take Uber, for example. Their referral program, which rewards both the successful referrer and the person they refer with free taxi rides, should get a lot of the credit for the app's sudden worldwide explosion in popularity during the early 2010s. 

Our referral program looks a little bit different. If you recommend a friend or colleague to subscribe to The Onlinification Hub through the program, the successful referral will be credited to your account. As you refer more and more people, you'll get prizes that will help you become a better marketer - starting with free guides and ebooks and going up to a free podcast recording or coaching session if you manage to refer enough people.

Alexander is the brains behind our new referral program, so I asked him to join me on the podcast to talk about:

  • How he used HubSpot's standard, out-of-the-box tools to build the entire program
  • Why referral programs are so effective for rapidly increasing conversions
  • What approaches B2B companies can take when trying to increase their numbers of subscribers, leads or customers with a referral program

You can listen to our discussion on the podcast platform of your choice using the links below or read the full transcription further down. Enjoy, and if this episode inspires you to test a referral program of your own, get in touch with Zooma if you need a hand.

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DB: Hey, Alex. How's it going?

AE: Hi, Doug. It's going good. How are you?

DB: I'm not bad. We have just the two of us today.

AE: Yeah, it feels a bit odd.

DB: We've had a lot of exciting external guests recently, and now we're just back to the same old, same old. But that's nice in a way, as well.

AE: Back to the comfort zone.

DB: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. We've been outside the comfort zone too long, and you shouldn't stray too far from the comfort zone, really.

AE: Yeah. It's nice to talk in a closed room when we can.

DB: So today, we are going to talk about referral programs, which is something that lots of people will have seen online. Like, if you, you know, you become a member of some kind of service, like, I don't know, you subscribe to a newspaper online or something, and then sometimes you'll get an email saying recommend a friend. If they subscribe, then you get something in return. It's pretty common, and has been for quite a while, but we're recording this because Zooma has one now, or if we don't right now, then we will very soon, that you've been building. So maybe you could just walk us through what our referral program actually looks like.

AE: Yeah. Personally, I didn't historically spend too much time on referrals, programs and so on. They just like, yeah, they were there sometimes on some e-commerce sites, you know, send this link to a friend and get this discount. I haven't paid that much attention to it until like six months ago when I discovered The Hustle, which is a newsletter that HubSpot bought last year. I follow that newsletter, and at the end of the newsletter, I notice this personal dashboard for referring your colleagues and friends. And I clicked on that link, and there I had my own personal link, which led to a subscription page, and it was like a lot of different milestones there. So if I succeeded to invite three colleagues, I would get like a sticker sent home to me. And if I have five referrals, I will get another reward. And so I started to share that with some colleagues, and they signed up, and it evolved. And then, in Zooma, there are a lot of competitive minds working here. So that kind of became like a challenge and which was very probably very, very beneficial for The Hustle. And that's where we noticed, wow, there's a huge opportunity here to grow your subscribers using a referral program like this. So yeah, like a couple of months now, we have designed our own referral program; we'll go through it later, I think, the different types of referral programs which we have discovered when we did research on this topic. We have chosen a milestone program which, as I described, is designed for turning your followers and users into brand ambassadors and sharing what you want them to share, in this case, a subscription landing page, and giving rewards to them in the form of a milestone. So they always have incentives to invite more people and reach new rewards.

DB: And what are Zooma's rewards just because, you know, to figure out the level of what these milestones should be? Because obviously, you signed up three people, and you got a packet of free stickers, but I can't remember exactly what it is at The Hustle. But if you invite 500 people or something, then you go and eat lunch with the founder of the Hustle or something like that.

AE: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. In that case, they had a lot of like merch, like a t-shirt, a hoodie and so on. When we discussed internally what we wanted to offer in a milestone, we thought of combining it with the core values of Zooma. What do we do? What is our offering? And we designed a milestone program where the purpose is to really help the user to become a better marketer by, for example, getting a free webinar invitation to record a podcast and so on. So like, when we chose the different rewards, we thought of how it could help the user in their professional life.

DB: I think the thing that's quite impressive about the referral program that you've set up for us is that it's just totally done in HubSpot using the building blocks that just makeup HubSpot, like custom properties and workflows and smart content and pages. I guess it would have been easy for us to just buy some kind of out-of-the-box solution that does all this for you, but ours is kind of built from scratch, I suppose you could say.

AE: Yeah.

DB: Was it easy or tricky to actually do that first setup?

AE: I first researched some ready-to-start software for referral programs. And there are a lot of different opportunities or different alternatives like Referral Factory, Ambassador, and Referral Candy, are some of the popular services for this. But looking through them, we thought that they were not that customized. And also, the reason why we wanted to build everything ourselves is because we really want to get the data into the contact card in HubSpot and also be able to do other things like workflows and so on connected to the referral program and use that as a, as an additional functionality in HubSpot. And the question, was it easy? Was it hard? It was quite easy to set up the basics, like creating new properties and so on. So the first step was quite easy. But then we needed to work around some stuff which took a while to develop and also design. So now, we are at the end of that journey, and we have learned a lot during that development. So now we are very confident in creating referral programs in HubSpot.

DB: I'm just trying to think of the building blocks behind it, in case there's any HubSpot people, HubSpot-interested people listening. But what is it? There's a kind of a custom property for your referrer ID, so when you join up, you get a kind of random number that's your identification number as a referrer, right? And then that is used in a subscription page that you send to a friend or a colleague or something. And then when they subscribe through that page, they fill in the form, which triggers a workflow, which adds one referral, I guess, to another property, which is how many people you referred, and it carries on like that, right?

AE: Yeah, exactly. I'm about to write a blog post in more detail on how it's set up. But basically, there are like four properties needed, and it's referral ID, which is the unique code which is generated to everyone that signs up and also the referrer; it captures the referral ID when someone refers you to the website and then that is used to attribute that referral to a contact in HubSpot. And then we also have like a referral date. So we know that it took place, and also, the fourth property is total referrals because we are creating a dashboard, a referral dashboard. So we have a full overview of how many total referrals our contacts have, everyone who signed up so that we can send a reward and so on.

DB: Yeah, exactly. And then they can see that as well, the referrers, on the landing page, they see how many people they've referred and what prizes they can get and stuff.

AE: Yeah, exactly.

DB: So we mentioned it before, but we were talking about the different types of programs because ours is just all centred around subscribing to the blog. It's getting people to subscribe, and then if they do, then you get a perk or a reward or something. While you've been setting it up, have you got any other ideas for what else you could do with this kind of setup?

AE: Yeah. I mean, the whole tactic about referral programs is really to get your users and followers to become your brand ambassadors and share your stuff. And I think whatever conversion you have, you can use whatever conversion as an objective. So, for example, I mean, sales, it's an obvious one. Like if I buy something from you and then if I make a friend buy something from you, then that person and I will get the discount and so on. But also, it can be downloading an asset or a content offer or something. When we did the research, we found three types of incentive structures, and one is called the dual-sided referral program. The other one is called milestone referral program, which we use, and the third one is the leaderboard referral program. I quickly go through those with examples; the dual-side referral program, it's basically that you reward both sides; you both reward the person that that signs up and also the person who is the referrer. And an example there, a very successful example which is often cited, is Dropbox; they had a case where they actually grew 3 900% by using the incentive of, I think it talks about something like, invite your friend, and for everyone who installs the Dropbox app, you will get 500 megabytes bonus storage, and a person that signs up will also get 500 megabytes bonus storage.

DB: I remember when Uber started getting big as well. That was how I remember that really exploding. You know, if you signed up to Uber and you got your friends to sign up, then you would get just money in your account for your next taxi ride. And then also your friend would get the same amount of money, and then it just multiplied like crazy based on that, basically.

AE: Yeah. I mean, that is a very strong incentive for both the person to get people to refer you and also to get the people who get the referral to actually sign up. And then we have the milestone, and the examples are The Hustle, and now Zooma, which I already mentioned, where you create like a really gamified experience for the people who are referrers and, and then the leaderboard structure is more if you have 5000 who are joining your referral program and you keep giving rewards monthly for the top ten of the total referrers, and you show that that's also a successful model and would work for the Zoomers everyone is very competitive, as I mentioned before. And then you're like self-motivated to become top ten.

DB: So yeah, I guess, like you said, whatever kind of conversion you have, you could just switch that out for the subscription goal that we have. I guess that it would be the same set-up and everything, and it's just the trigger for us is that someone subscribes to the blog, but it could be someone signs up for a free trial, or they get a product, or they attend a webinar or something like that.

AE: Yeah. So we are testing now on gaining subscribers through the referral program, and we're going to show the results continuously to everyone who is interested in following that. And yeah, then we will start to test more. Maybe we will test it on this podcast to get more listeners and subscribers on Spotify.

DB: Yeah, and then I guess also helping some customers implement it themselves, hopefully.

AE: Yeah, we already got some interest from customers now who see this as a potential growth opportunity. And, at the end of the day, it should, I mean, generate more leads and create more subscribers. So I think it's very, very good in terms of the inbound way of working as well.

DB: Great. Well, thanks a lot, Alex. Thanks for your time. And yeah, I guess everyone listening just needs to keep their eyes peeled for the launch of your wonderful referral program.

Doug Bolton
Doug has been a Content Producer at Zooma since 2021. Originally English, he now lives in Sweden.
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