The Advertising Agency B2B Referral Program – Is That Enough For Growth?
I just got off the phone with an advertising agency leader in London. I asked, “Where have you been getting business?” he answered, as do most advertising agencies, “from our B2B referral program.”
Ah, the Holy Grail of the B2B client and customer to a friend to agency advertising agency referral. The idea is that if the agency does a good job, a client will tell their friends about the agency. Well, at least for this London agency the good news is that they have an actual, active referral program. Most advertising agencies just hope that their clients will make the nice, sweet B2B referral via fate. I am not a fan of “fate.” You shouldn’t be either.
The B2B Referral – Good News
Don’t get me wrong. I love referrals. The right referral will result in getting the right client with little initial business development effort on the part of the agency. Win-Win. It’s like a great blind-date. Does anyone remember the blind-date? As in, you didn’t meet (as in see and scope out) the referred person until he sat across from you at the Starbucks table? Very 1980’s. OK, back to now.
The B2B Referral – Really Bad News
For the vast majority of advertising, digital and on agencies is that counting on referrals is bad news.
Two simple and compelling problems:
- Referrals are not predictable. Never. This isn’t good for any sort of business planning.
- Referrals are not scalable. Never. This isn’t good for any sort of business planning.
Counting on referrals is a fool’s game.
I’ve counseled agencies on how to actually plan and manage a referral program — !!! As a part of their overall business development plan. Here are links to a couple of earlier blog posts about the advertising agency referral program.
Three – I will admit it – smart, effective and easy to activate B2B referral strategies from prior business development posts just for you.
A key to having a robust referral strategy is to make sure that your current clients are aware that you actually want referrals. Referrals from happy customers are one of best ways that B2B companies generate new business. OK, this isn’t a huge surprise. However, what is surprising how few companies have a dedicated strategy for fostering these valuable personal hand-offs.
One of the more challenging questions I ask my advertising agency business development clients is, “How do your prospective advertising, design, digital or PR clients find your advertising agency?”
In most cases, the number one answer is referrals or WOM. Of course, of course, this is a wonderful way to gain future client interest. However, the referral route is rather passive unless an agency has a highly active referral program. Even with a proactive in-house referral program, counting on referrals is not a high numbers game and is a bit too passive.
I am not a fan of passivity and think that an advertising agency needs to be everywhere a prospective client might look for them.
Every January I asked my agency’s senior advertising clients “How we doin?” Actually, I asked the question cloaked in a slightly more sophisticated query. Sounding like Governor Christie or the Sopranos [“How we doin?” ] might not work as well.
Our more sophisticated approach to determining if our ad agency was loved used the concept of Net Promoter Score to help us dig into the heads of our clients. We wanted to know if they were truly satisfied with the agency and our services.
We managed our request with the understanding that clients are very busy and that having a long questionnaire would add more work to their already busy day. We found that the concept of Net Promoter Score helped us meet our annual survey needs and showed our clients that we were smart. There was one more fabulous business-building benefit as you will see.