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B2B Referral Generation: Shifting your marketing mindset, feat. John Jantsch

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B2B Referral Generation: Shifting your Marketing Mindset

When it comes to referrals for B2B business, a lot of people think that referrals are out of our control – that they just happen if you treat your customers right and ask them nicely. 

But what if they’re not? 

What if there’s a way you can intentionally work to get referrals from not only your best customers, but strategic partners too, as part of your business strategy? 

I talked with John Jantsch, marketing guru and author of The Referral Engine, on a recent episode of Marketing Smarts. In this episode, John Jantsch dropped some incredible knowledge on B2B referrals and the hurdles that get in the way of having a strong referral program. 

You’ll definitely want to give this episode a listen for all the great stuff John shared, but I wanted to talk about how we can shift our mindset around B2B referral generation and what you can do to get your business pointed in the right direction. 

Referral generation is like lead generation’s sibling

They’re not the same, but they’re definitely related. 


Lead generation really isn’t that far off from referral generation. Let’s take a moment to talk about how lead generation works. 

You target an audience with some kind of content. They like the content. They engage with the content. You let them get to know you, like you, and trust you. And eventually they become a lead, right? 

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Yeah, yeah. I know that’s incredibly over-simplified. But you get the jist of it. But referral generation can be looked at the same way. 

You target an audience (your sources of referrals) with some kind of content. They like the content. They engage with the content. They already know you, like you, and trust you. So eventually they’re going to tell people about it – especially if they are presented with a good opportunity to do so. 

But how do you present a contact, whether it’s a past client, a strategic partner, or a new connection you’re networking with, the opportunity to refer you? How do you delight your customers in such a way that they are activated to talk about you?

A referral is the logical destination of a great customer experience

I’m going to drop that again, straight from John’s mouth: “A referral is the logical destination of a great customer experience.”

🔎 Related: What is customer delight, and who is responsible for it?

John uses what he calls “the marketing hourglass.” Think about the shape – the funnel is there, on both sides:

“Successful B2B marketing in general needs to say what happens when somebody tries us, what happens during the buying experience, how do we retain or get repeat business, and what are we going to do to generate referrals from every single one of our customers.

If you take those stages of the hourglass—which for us are know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer—then you actually build that into your overall marketing plan. It doesn't just happen accidentally.” 

Now, I love this idea of the hourglass ...


My brain immediately goes to the top part is your funnel and then, as the organization, you are actively doing something to flip it over and now bring those customers back through what I'll call a “secondary funnel” or set of actions and those phases that John mentioned.

It's such a good visual.

You create referrals in the trust-building stage

Referrals happen when somebody fills out a form on your website. 📝

Referrals happen when the actual sale happens. 💰

Referrals happen in the communication that follows the sale. 💬

Referrals are generated from happy customers and strong connections. 🤩

Our goal is to develop that trust to the point that somebody wants to go just a little bit farther and refer someone our way. If you’re selling a million dollar widget, the chances are pretty good that your customer is at the table with someone else who also needs that million dollar widget. 

🔎 Related: What is great content, and is trust-building crap?

You need to connect your marketing team and your sales team, and your customer success team or services team, or whoever is seeing out the sale and care for your customers. Unite them. Understand the whole process. Having these three departments united can be of immense value for your business. 

When you fully understand your customer journey from start to finish, you’ll be able to pick it apart and identify opportunities to really delight these people.

Let go of your self-limiting beliefs

So many businesses hear “referral generation” and immediately jump to the conclusion that referrals appear magically. But not you, you are smarter than that. 


You know that your business wants to grow profitably. You know your real goal is to build a trust-building platform for referrals. And you know people who know people who need what you’ve got. John says:

“Quite frankly, if you know you provided a tremendous value to somebody, not giving them the opportunity to bring that same value to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues, you're really doing them a disservice. So let's get over that head trash."

You have to think, what other non-competing businesses are there that also supply, support, or serve your ideal customer? What can you do for them so that they can refer you?

How do you make those same ideal customers’ lives better? 

John said it best:

“Getting a business that has thousands of your ideal customers to bring you in and do a webinar, or speak at an event, or even just provide an e-book or facilitate a roundtable, there are many ways you could do it, is a way for you to be introduced and it's an implied referral. You're not asking for referrals, necessarily. You're providing value, and for that you're going to get exposure.” 

Ask yourself, are we being selfish by not having a referral program? 🤔 

Could we be impacting more of the world, more of the universe, making a bigger dent, and getting more people past their problems?

I want you to give it a listen – it’s only 30 minutes of your day, but it's 30 minutes that will rock your B2B referral strategy world. Shoot me a message on LinkedIn and tell me what parts of this episode (and this article) were most impactful for you. Check it out and let me know if you’d like to learn more about anything specific with referral programs. You know where to find me.

Marketing Smarts Podcast