There are nearly countless “ambassador” programs across business today, especially in the direct-to-consumer world. “Refer someone to this” and “we’ll reward you with this.” They’re easy for a business to set up, they likely cost very little to run, and the discount offered is usually so low, that even if there was high utilization of the program, it likely wouldn’t present a significant financial consequence to the company. Unsurprisingly, these referral programs fall short and don't achieve the powerful results expected from brand guides. They’re cold, impersonal, and feel like work.
Dated referral programs exist for B2B as well
B2B organizations have their fair share of similar programs as well, usually referral-based programs that reward referrals converted into contracts with some compensation percentage. These programs are dreamt up as well-intentioned attempts to thank external partners that create new business. In reality, they often lack much activity and are devoid of an authentic connection between the ambassador and the organization. Often, the connections made through these programs result in wasted time chasing down partnerships that don’t make great business sense in the first place. The ambassador doesn’t work with the same care that an internal employee would because they don’t feel like they’re a part of that organization. In both cases, a word that should carry a lot of weight, “Ambassador”, is wildly mismanaged. Merriam-Webster defines an ambassador as, “A diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his or her own government.” They are a guide between cultures; working to make connections that are fruitful for both parties, anticipating obstacles that may derail a beneficial partnership. They not only feel that they are a part of the nation they serve, they are a crucial part of that nation, acting beyond its borders.
Guides and ambassadors bring true passion and expertise
Think about how valuable and powerful this concept can be for a business: To have true guides working outside of your company’s walls, outside of its pay structure, looking to build partnerships with external parties in an authentic manner, driven by the belief that the partnership will elevate the work of both organizations. A guide that is a subject matter expert on your company’s products, its strategic focus, and its values. Creating a network of true guides is an invaluable, and increasingly required initiative for B2B organizations. As our world becomes more connected, as technology lowers the barrier to content distribution, the need for talented, knowledgeable, authentic guides that will act as advocates for a business becomes increasingly important. These individuals extend your sales and marketing team’s efforts with the same care as an internal employee would. As a partner that is staking their own name on a referral, they bring an established level of credibility to their introductions that reduce risk and increase interest for potential new partners.
It cannot be a purely transactional relationship
The crucial thing B2B organizations must realize when seeking to build out this network of guides is that this powerful relationship cannot be maintained on a one-way road. The guide, like a true ambassador, must be and must truly feel that they are part of an organization. Their pride in carrying a company’s messaging, the beneficial nature of doing this work, must be an authentically held belief. While financial compensation shouldn’t be scoffed at, it can’t stand alone as the only benefit guides receive.
Does the work elevate their own business initiatives? Does it establish them as a source of expertise and authority within their industry? Does it yield new partnerships that benefit the guide?
It’s not easy by any means to build this mutually beneficial relationship, especially at scale, but it's critical in the world of B2B today. You must find synergies between your company's offering or platform and what your ambassadors are hoping to achieve. Building structures around these synergies and providing value outside of financial compensation is what builds a connection between companies and guides. Once a business has this deeper relationship with a group of professionals, it finds the expertise and connections these guides provide become an incredibly powerful tool for its top-line growth and overall success.