Customer-centric Growth by Lincoln Murphy

5 Growth Hacks to Supercharge your Invite or Referral System

invite-a-friend-or-7When was the last time you referred your friends or invited co-workers into an app after you just signed-up for the free trial?

When was the last time you imported your address book right after you opened an app for the first time?


So why do you expect your users and customers to behave differently?

Unless you have specific intel indicating they will share your app with everyone immediately after first interacting with you (like, for instance, my Mom is your target audience), then you should probably assume they won’t.

And if you sell to a B2B Audience, you should double-down on that assumption.

Here’s why and how to overcome that…

Far too many SaaS products and apps ask the user, prospect, or customer to share the app with their friends or colleagues WAY too early in their relationship.

In the early days of your still-fragile relationship, people don’t know, like, and trust you to a point where sharing your product with their colleagues on step 3 of your Free Trial is a realistic ask.

It’s not, and it’s due to Social Capital.

The Power of Social Capital

Let’s talk about Social Capital for a minute and you’ll understand why making such a heavy “ask” too early in the relationship doesn’t work.

People on Facebook will share things with friends and family that make them look silly or even stupid. Social Capital with family and friends… and even strangers… is plentiful. In fact, doing something stupid in front of your friends might even make your Social Capital rise.

But at work, in a business setting, things are different. Very different.

People are actually LESS likely (my own observations) in a B2B setting to do things they know could make them look stupid. And if they aren’t sure how something is going to make them look – good or bad – guess what? They’re going to err on the side of caution.

If you understand this, you can take advantage of that to drive invitations. If you don’t get this, you’ll wonder why no one invites their co-workers before they’ve even had a chance to see the product in action.

Below are five things that have worked for me and my clients over the years to make the “invite a colleague” system not just work but become a critical growth (both intra- and inter-company virality) driver.

But first…

The Reality of Network-Centric Products

The reality is that some products are really only useful when you use them with others, for instance collaboration and communication products.

I mean, you can try to make them useful on their own, but that’s just not always possible (given time, resources, etc.) and may defeat the actual purpose of what you set out to build initially.

Sure, I’ve done things things like use bots to provide “interaction” or even to get them to add me (or a person within my client’s organization) as a stand-in… but it’s just not the same. Ultimately, we want them to bring other people that they trust into the fold.

And in a land-and-expand model – or any model where upsell or expansion revenue comes from additional people accessing the system – an invitation system can be the difference between mediocrity and wild success…

… and these hacks should help you do get closer to the latter.

5 Growth Hacks to Supercharge your Invite or Referral System

It’s actually 6… there’s a bonus.

1. Move the “Ask” to Later

One of the simplest things you can do is remove the “invite a colleague” thing from the initial engagement process in your Free Trial.

Then, once they’ve reached a Success Milestone that indicates they’re sufficiently engaged and that they know enough about your app, you can ask them to invite colleagues.

2. Tell them who to Invite

Get specific on who they should invite (beyond “Invite your Friends/Colleagues/etc.”). Be Prescriptive; don’t make them think.

The more specific we’ve been able to get, the better it seems to work.

I say it like that because there’s no empirical evidence that I know of and I’ve only done this in about 10-15 situations over the last couple years.

But when we could get specific (“most people invite a Project Manager, Developer, and Designer”), it’s worked well. Well as in I’ve seen a 20x increase in these types of invitations.

I’ve also seen it not really have any lift at all, so there’s that.

But I’ve never seen the variant do WORSE than the control, so to me it is worth trying.

But… it requires you to know your customers, though, and understand who they’d likely refer.

At a tactical level, if you’ve had them log-in (or sign-up) with LinkedIn or Google Apps, you could take their professional title and use that suggest the three people for them to invite. Not just the titles to invite (though if you didn’t want to go too far with this, you could stop there), but the actual people, with their profile pictures, that they should invite. That’s powerful.

The same thing for app developers on mobile devices; you have access to some very interesting context even without the user or customer logging in with a 3rd party service; how could you use that to make this “invite hack” work? Use your imagination.

3. Limit the Number of People They Can Invite

This is a super-ninja hack I discovered while helping an employee evaluation company whose prospects were having a bad experience during the free trial.

Why was it a bad experience? Well, the people they invited – their direct reports – were not all interacting with the system, or were interacting but in less-than-ideal ways, and overall just making more work for the manager… who was the prospect.

That led to frustration and ultimately led to a lot of prospects bailing on the trial and not converting.

But to actually see the power of the system in action, the prospect really did need to invite others. So what to do?

Well, since we couldn’t give specific suggestions on titles (we probably could if we had more info from them like industry, department, company size, etc. OR used a 3rd party login like Linkedin or Yammer), I thought the best thing we could do in this case was limit the number of people they can invite.

Make them handpick 2 or 3 people to help them test the system (see #4 below). And without any prompting to “pick your favorite employees” they would just intuitively pick their favorite employees. That was the hypothesis and it turned out to be true.

They aren’t going to be like “yeah, let me invite my least favorite people – who I’m actively trying to figure out how to get rid – of to help me test this thing.”

And it worked. And I’ve used this exact method in several other instances and it’s worked really well.

I’ve actually done this in some instances where we might normally have an unlimited invite system to just make the “ask” smaller (vs. add your entire address book). Choices increase the cognitive overhead…. let’s reduce that for them as much as possible.

From a psychological standpoint, scarcity may come into play here, too. At some level it forces them to think about who to invite, meaning they’ll likely invite only people that will help them have a positive experience with your product. Win-Win.

4. Get ’em to Invite Others to Help Test

During Free Trials, instead of just asking your prospect to invite their colleagues/coworkers/friends – this is a big ask since they don’t know, like, and trust you yet – tell them to invite 2-3 people to help them TEST or EVALUATE the product.

You may (should) be trying to get them to actually use your product, but remember… they’re still evaluating, so play into that mindset.

So simple, yet so easy to overlook.

5. Get ’em to Follow-up with Invitees

Remind your user/prospect/customer to tell the people they invited that they were invited.

This is another Super Ninja hack that I’ve just continued to refine over the years.

After they invite people (on the “thank you” or “invitations sent” screen), remind them to tell the invitee to be on the lookout for an email from your system, with the subject of, etc. You could even email the person who did the inviting to remind them to ping the invitees.

It’s critical that you get their invitees into the system; they invited them and need them in there and for you… it can only help close the deal and/or ensure their longevity as a customer.

If you know something about how they operate – distributed teams, for instance – tell them to hit those people up on IM or Slack or whatever. Or to walk down the hall and tell ‘em if most of your customers are departments in company HQ.

6. Bonus! Make Multiple Asks

It’s one thing to make the ask too early in the relationship and to make it too broad (hopefully the previous hacks will help you get past that).

But it’s another thing to let that be the ONLY time you make the ask!

Sure, I may be able to access the invite screen from within the app somewhere (or not… I’ve seen plenty of instances where if you don’t do it in the first part of the Free Trial onboarding you’re out of luck), but are you actively surfacing a call to action to invite co-workers later in the process?

During the Free Trial, I want to invite others to help me test.

But whether I pass on that or take advantage of the opportunity to invite other “testers,” after I’ve converted to a paying customer, it might be time to invite a few more people to get the platform setup.

And then after they all reach a Success Milestone surface another opportunity to invite others. Think of invitations as a graduated ask; not all at once, but as milestones are achieved.

Or you could trigger an invite ask after a customer’s NPS survey response indicated they are a “Promoter” – since they raised their hand and said they’d tell others about your product, don’t let them not do that… give them the invite CTA.

BTW, this is an AWESOME way to get people to spread the word beyond their own user group or department and introduce you to a whole different part of the company. Think of that as Intra-Company Virality!

Don’t Forget to Optimize Invitee Onboarding

And finally… don’t forget to make the onboarding process for the invitee awesome, too!

This is often an afterthought and a reason “invitations” don’t work (aside from making the ask too early in your relationship).

This includes ensuring invitees get the same (or equivalently great) first in-app experience, get follow-up and triggered emails, etc.

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