How DocuSign turned referral marketing into a competitive strength

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed August 25, 2016
Referral marketing has come a long way from generic refer-a-friend links. DocuSign gave me the low down on how they use Extole's referral marketing solution to improve lead gen and measure results. Referrals aren't just about sales either - customers will push back on intrusive referral programs. Here's how DocuSign has been able to energize advocates and build customer feedback channels.

A passionate customer base is not a true asset until it's supported by the right structure. That dovetails with the impact of referral marketing. Done poorly, referral marketing is irritating to the customer, and frustrating for the CMO to measure.

Done properly, referral marketing can, of course, boost referrals. That's a ridiculously obvious thing to say, until you consider that referrals have a three times higher conversion rate than non-referred new customers. And: referred customers have a 25 percent higher lifetime value (as per Extole's internal analysis).

Recently, I had the chance to learn about how DocuSign transformed its referral marketing program. What I didn't expect is that the benefits go beyond stats to include product feedback and customer advocacy. I got the low down from Amy Wong, Director of Web Acquisition with Docusign,
and Gregor Perotto, Senior Director of Marketing. Wong managed the implementation of Extole, DocuSign's referral marketing solution of choice.

Diginomica readers are familiar with our prior coverage of DocuSign's pursuits, including my colleague Phil Wainewright's June 2016 interview and analysis, DocuSign’s bumpy path to a world of digital signatures. I won't dwell on those points here, except to say I am rooting for DocuSign (or any e-signature company) that is laboring to dismantle the legacy/paper processes that continue to bog down our productivity. (Hello, passport renewal!)

Perotto had some updates, including strides DocuSign is making in regulated industries. All in all, DocuSign now counts 225,000 customers and 85 million+ users in 188 countries. After an early start in the real estate industry, boosted by their partnership with the National Association of Realtors, DocuSign has forged into tougher industries like health care, where Perotto cited customer examples such as AstraZeneca, which is using DocuSign to speed the process of bringing drugs and treatment to market.

Of Perotto's customer anecdotes, I liked the T-Mobile example - probably because I've waited as long as 90 minutes in cell phone stores with only two people in front of me in line. He told me that T-Mobile's use of DocuSign helped cut down cell phone enrollment/processing from about fifty minutes to fifteen minutes. But the time saved is not the only benefit. T-Mobile has managed to incorporate e-signatures and digital transactions into a better store experience. Perotto:

With that influx of customers coming into T-Mobile stores, there were greater demands on their systems - and their people - to sign up new accounts. Using our APIs, T-Mobile integrated DocuSign into their backend systems. Instead of representatives having to go back and forth, grab pieces of paper off the printer, sign them and file them, they now do all of that electronically on an iPad in front of the customer. It has allowed them to accelerate the number of customers they can sign up for their JUMP! program, while creating a really positive experience for those customers on the floor.

Perotto then told me about a Mom, a new DocuSign user, who managed to download the mobile app on the fly and get her daughter's field trip permission form signed, likely averting a teenage crisis. That got me thinking about the power of referrals, and how you get an obviously happy customer like that Mom set up and incented to refer others. And that's where Wong comes in. As she enters her fourth year with Docusign, Wong raves about the A/B testing culture of her team:

I love the people. I love how fast paced we are. We're constantly A/B testing. I work with this awesome team - 18 of us. We are very on. When I say "on", I mean we measure things. We iterate quickly. We are always trying new technologies, and ways to push the envelope to get people to try DocuSign.

Wong's focus on web sales means referrals are a (healthy) obsession:

Referrals are a key part of our marketing programs here. You hit it right on the head. The virality is when someone's in love with our product, spreading the word. When our people work the trade shows, people come up to them all the time and say, "We love DocuSign."

Prior to Extole, Wong's team was already utilizing referrals, but they wanted to upgrade their referral game:

We wanted to grow our referral program. We wanted to expand. We needed something in place to help with our measurements and tracking. Fundamentally, referrals has a heavy degree of tracking required. When people are referring, they also want to be rewarded.

When Wong's team evaluated referral software in 2014, they were drawn to Extole's tracking and testing capabilities and SaaSy ease of use. Extole also had a track record in regulated industries with rigorous privacy and security requirements. DocuSign went live on Extole in August 2014, giving Wong a two-year window to assess results:

It's everything that I expected: the A/B Testing platform, the know-how, best practices, and opportunities to grow our referral program.

Wong said that those who refer friends now do it with approximately a 1:1.5 ratio, meaning each person who refers now refers an average of a "friend and a half," bumped up from a pre-Extole 1:1 ratio. Wong also confirmed those referred are more likely to buy. Referrals remain a superior conversion opportunity when compared with other DocuSign lead channels:

I've been able to track the performance of these particular referrals versus other programs. Yes, the referrals are definitely high quality.

The A/B testing platform is not just fussy tweaking - Wong told me that even smaller adjustments to web pages can have a potent referral impact. She cited the example of a referral page where they had a visual symbol to indicate you can enter as many colleagues as you like. Working with Extole, Wong realized that the language encouraging multiple referrals wasn't clear. They added clear text instructions: "It made a difference." Testing image usage and position is another small adjustment that's had an impact.

Wong says one thing surprised her: the referrals also brought in useful product feedback via the open text field.

I share that feedback with my support team here. When we're considering, for example, changing a feature in our product or changing our prices, this is anecdotal information that we can share with the sales team, as well as the product team.

The wrap - referrals are about lead quality, not volume

DocuSign doesn't lack for passionate customers. But they serve as another example of why formalizing word-of-mouth advocacy works. Now these advocates have a formal rewards program to keep them engaged. In turn, DocuSign can identify and track customer advocates through Extole's share statistics. Wong did have advice for companies beefing up their referrals programs: think lead quantity, not volume.

We promote our referral program to existing customers or people who are using DocuSign. It's important to realize it's not about generating volume, but generating quality.There's a tradeoff where you're not going to have thousands of leads, but maybe hundreds of quality leads you know will convert.

Works for me; I'm betting anyone who has the (mis)fortune of wading through questionable leads would agree.

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