I was talking on Twitter with Alfred Lua of Buffer about software companies that have great referral programs to drive growth.
What are some of your favorite software referral program examples? What's good out there for inspiration?
I love Airtable's referral program
$10 of credit to anyone that signs up using your link. Unlike many platforms that only reward the referrer once the referree makes a purchase or that offer a discount off of your future purchase, the person you refer in Airtable only needs to sign up for a free acount and you get creditted with that $10.
A bonus $2 for downloading the mobile app is also a great marketing tool to get you adding their app to your phone.
As a writer who used to make, oh, enough for a nice dinner+movie a month from affiliates, the best programs were ones that accepted anyone and paid a percent per signup. One of the most clever things of both Amazon and the App Store have been their affiliate programs; since nearly anyone could join and get a percent off linking to anything on their stores, most of the web by default links products and books to Amazon and apps to the App Store. The App Store may charge 30% to devs, but a decent percentage of sales were driven by content that was getting 7% of the sale. Amazon was even better; link to boxed Microsoft Office, say, and if someone clicked your link and bought a laptop or other random things also, you got a percentage on the whole order. Affiliates with a cash percentage attract bloggers and YouTubers who need revenue and will talk about and link to your product to get that—even if they’re not a huge fan per se.
If you were building a marketplace, I'd still recommend that model, just on the hopes that you make your site the default place people covering your category link to, and so build backlinks and traffic to your marketplace which is worth paying for. Weirdly there may be an opportunity here as Amazon only gives 1-3% commissions now. Setapp, Paddle, and Gumroad are doing interesting stuff here on the software side, again by trying to be the one default place a blogger would want to link to consolidate affiliate revenue.
But if you’re building a SaaS product, the most common options nowadays are offering credit for signups. Share Todoist, Airtable, and many other products and if someone signs up, you get credit for the product (say a month or two free). Dropbox was a big user of that system originally as a way for free users to get more storage. That incentivizes power users who like your product but aren’t quite willing to pay yet (or who want to save) to share your product via word of mouth, social, and possibly on personal blogs. And it’s almost free marketing for your product; you’ve only foregone a small bit of revenue for a more loyal user plus the new person they recommended. And they’re likely easier to build; no cash to send out, only basically extending trials or adding credit to users.
This works with prosumer software who’d pay out of pocket for the software. It breaks down with more business level tools where individuals wouldn’t purchase it anyhow so they don’t get benefit from credit. The product is already essentially “free” to them, via expense accounts. A twist the Basecamp team did for a bit (and how has shut down) is to pay cash if you share and someone signs up—closer to the standard affiliate program but built around encouraging word of mouth sharing among team members using business software.
Another interesting variant is what Roam Research has done recently, where they’ve help promote courses about their product and said if you buy the course, you get that value in credit for the product once they start paying. The big winner here is the course maker but also the vendor gets the value of users who sunk cost into the course and ideally now are power users. Not as scalable but could be an interesting partnership model with quality content makers for the backlink and traffic benefits of percent affiliates.
I was inspired by this post: https://nathanbarry.com/30k/ I've been building a knowledge-base tool and referral feature was one of the earliest things I built. Every user has a page which has their referral url and some stats around that, with very liberal profit sharing.
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