A Best Practice Guide to Crafting Compelling Referral Incentives

A Best Practice Guide to Crafting Compelling Referral Incentives

Tori Barrington

Written by: Tori Barrington | Snoball Editorial Team

Last Updated: Apr 26, 2024

Best Practices for Crafting Referral Incentives

Referral programs are a vital component of modern business strategy, harnessing the power of word-of-mouth to enhance brand visibility and grow your customer base. When executed well, these programs can turn happy customers into enthusiastic brand ambassadors, promoting your products and services within their network. However, the effectiveness of a referral program hinges significantly on the incentives it offers. An attractive incentive can motivate existing customers to share their positive experiences. 

Crafting the right incentive requires an understanding of both the market and customer behavior. From monetary rewards to discounts, the chosen incentive must resonate with the target audience while maintaining the company’s profitability. By exploring specific strategies that have proven successful within various industries, this article provides a comprehensive guide on how to leverage referral incentives effectively. Whether your business is in high-ticket sectors or lower-cost services, the principles outlined here will help you develop a referral program that not only attracts but also retains customers.

Top 9 Referral Incentive Strategies

First, let’s explore some basic best practices you should keep in mind when brainstorming incentives for your referral program.

1. Value Alignment

Ensure that the incentives offered align with the value of your product or service and the effort required to make a referral. The referrer should find it meaningful, but it should also fit within your financial plans.

2. Clarity and Simplicity

Make the referral process as simple as possible. Clearly communicate how the referral program works, what the rewards are, and when they can expect to receive the incentive. Complexity can deter participation.

After explaining how it works, don’t forget to include messaging that communicates how easy it is to participate. As Nancy Harhut says in her book Using Behavioral Marketing in Science, people want to choose the easiest choice, so “...position the desired option as easy, simple, beneficial, and requiring little effort.”

Nancy Harhut profile picture

Nancy Harhut

Author of Using Behavioral Science in Marketing


"...position the desired option as easy, simple, beneficial, and requiring little effort."

Phrases like, “Just click this one button to earn $50 for your referral,” or, “Earn $50 in two minutes by filling out this form,” make it sound super easy to participate and earn a nice reward in the process. 

3. Relevant Rewards

Choose rewards that are relevant to your audience. Cash rewards, discounts on future purchases, or special access to products or services can all be effective, depending on your customer base.

4. Timely Distribution

Deliver rewards promptly after a referral meets the program criteria. Delay in reward distribution can diminish the perceived value of the reward and discourage future participation.

We recently spoke with Matt F., Co-Owner and Marketing Director of Atlasta Solar Center, about the importance of tracking and distributing referrals. He shared, “We want to make sure that our customers not only know what to expect but are also paid out on their incentive in a timely manner.” Unfortunately, with their old manual system, this process was time consuming, stressful, and occasionally affected the customer experience.

Matt F profile picture

Matt F.

Co-Owner and Marketing Director @ Atlasta Solar Center


"We want to make sure that our customers not only know what to expect but are also paid out on their incentive in a timely manner."

At Snoball, we understand that manually tracking and distributing referral rewards can be a frustrating hassle for your team, so our automated platform can take that over for you. Since Atlasta Solar Center started using the Snoball platform, that previous stress has been removed and the process is significantly easier.

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5. Feedback and Optimization

Continuously gather feedback from participants and use this data to refine and improve the program. This can include adjusting the incentives, making the referral process smoother, or even changing how rewards are distributed.

6. Promotion and Visibility

Actively promote your referral program and its incentives to your customers. Consider using multiple channels to inform them about the program, such as emails, social media, and during the checkout process.

7. Legal Compliance

Ensure that your referral program complies with all relevant laws and regulations. This includes respecting privacy norms and avoiding spam-like practices.

8. Exclusive or Limited-Time Offers

Sometimes, offering an exclusive reward for a limited time can spur more interest and participation in the program. In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger teaches, “Scarcity and exclusivity boost word of mouth by making people feel like insiders.” Later in the book, he discusses a few ways in which a deal can stand out. Some of his suggestions include placing time restrictions, quantity limits, and qualification restrictions on the offer. 

Jonah Berger profile picture

Jonah Berger

Author of Contagious


"Scarcity and exclusivity boost word of mouth by making people feel like insiders."

9. Measure Success

Establish metrics to measure the effectiveness of the referral program. This includes tracking participation rates, conversion rates, and overall ROI. Use these insights to continually refine your strategy.

By following these best practices, you can start designing a referral program that not only incentivizes your existing customers to bring in new ones but also enhances their loyalty to your brand.

Best Types of Incentives

Referral incentives not only need to excite and motivate your existing customers to share your brand but also ensure that their endorsements feel rewarding. A well-chosen incentive can enhance customer loyalty, increase the reach of your marketing efforts, and ultimately contribute to your bottom line. 

Below, we explore a variety of incentives that have proven successful in various industries. We’ll start with cash rewards and discounts, but we will also discuss more out-of-the-box options. It might also be useful to consider what your competitors are offering.These ideas can help you tailor a referral program that aligns with your business goals and resonates with your customer base. Whether you're looking to increase immediate sales or foster long-term engagement, the right incentive can make all the difference.

Monetary Rewards

Cash incentives are compelling in industries with high-value products like solar panels. Offering a significant cash bonus for each successful sale that comes through a referral can motivate customers to promote your products.


If your company offers additional products or services, providing discounts on these can be a great incentive. It encourages further investment in your company and increases overall satisfaction.

Gift Cards or Vouchers

While not as personalized, offering gift cards or vouchers for popular retailers can still be an attractive reward, especially if they can be used to purchase products or services related to your industry.

Image of a gift card

Exclusive or Early Access

Offering exclusive or early access to new products and services that your company has not released yet can be a strong incentive for enthusiasts and early adopters within the industry.

Reward Tiers

Implementing a tiered system where rewards increase with each subsequent referral can encourage ongoing engagement. For instance, the first referral might earn a $50 bonus, the second $100, and the third $150.

Referral Points System

Implement a points system where points can be accumulated and exchanged for various rewards. This could include products, branded merchandise, or even additional services.

Donations to Causes

Depending on the industry, some customers might be motivated by contributions made in their name to various organizations. This can enhance the positive feeling associated with the referral. Make sure the organization or cause receiving the donation is somehow correlated with your industry.

Community Benefits

If your business operates in specific communities, offering a community reward when certain thresholds of participation are reached can create communal effort. For example, "If 50 installations are achieved in your neighborhood, we will donate a solar system to a local school."

Cash Rewards

One of the most popular referral program incentives is cash. It directly benefits the referrer, often offsetting their own costs or providing a tangible reward that can be spent at their discretion. The straightforward nature of cash rewards removes ambiguity from the value of the incentive, unlike points, discounts, or product-based rewards, which might not hold equal appeal for everyone.

Cash is also universally appealing and easy to understand, making it a strong incentive across industries, especially where the purchase decisions are significant and trust is a crucial factor. 

Cash rewards can be a strong incentive in many industries, especially ones that involve a large personal commitment.

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Some industries that work well with cash incentives:

Home improvement, financial services, real estate, automotive sales and services, technology and high-end electronics, subscription services, travel and hospitality, and B2B.

Choosing Cash Reward Amount - Expensive Industries

Deciding on the cash reward for a referral program in relation to the price of your product, especially in expensive industries, involves considering several factors. Let’s use solar panels as an example to walk through these steps.

Step 1: Consider the price of the product or service. In this example, solar installations are typically high-value, with prices ranging from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. The reward needs to be substantial enough to be appealing, but not so high that it eats significantly into your profit margins.

Step 2: Understand the profit margin of your product. A common approach is to offer a percentage of the sale as a reward. For solar panels, considering the high cost, even a small percentage (1-2%) can be a significant amount.

Step 3: Calculate the CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost). Compare the cost of acquiring a customer through other marketing channels versus through referrals. The referral incentive should ideally be less than or equal to your cost per acquisition through other channels.

Step 4: Look at what competitors are offering in their referral programs. If they are offering $500 for a solar panel installation referral, you might need to match or exceed that to attract referrals in a competitive market.

Step 5: Consider the LTV (Lifetime Value) of a new customer. If a customer’s value is high over time, it may justify a higher initial payout to acquire them.

Step 6: Identify what you aim to achieve with the referral program. If the goal is aggressive expansion, you might offer a higher reward to accelerate growth. If it’s about slowly building a customer base, a moderate reward may suffice.

Step 7: Start with a reward that fits your current understanding of these factors, then collect feedback and adjust the reward amount as necessary based on the program's performance and customer feedback.

Example Calculation

Suppose the average solar installation costs $20,000, and your profit margin is 20% ($4,000). If your CAC is $1,000 through traditional marketing, you might consider setting the referral reward at about $500 to $1,000. This keeps your acquisition costs in line but leverages the trust and lower friction typically associated with referral sales.

Image of someone using a calculator

Ultimately, the right amount depends on balancing attractiveness to the referrer with sustainable economics for your business. Testing different amounts and carefully monitoring the results can help you optimize the referral program effectively.

Choosing Cash Reward Amount - Less Expensive Industries

For a less expensive industry where individual transactions are lower, the structure of your referral rewards program needs to reflect both the average job cost and the typical profit margins. While you can still use the same steps listed above to determine an appropriate cash incentive in a less expensive industry, you should also consider these key points. Let’s use carpet cleaning as an example.

Average Service Cost: Carpet cleaning services can range significantly depending on the area being cleaned and the specific services (like stain removal, type of cleaning, etc.). Average prices might range from $50 to $200 per job.

Profit Margins: The profit margins in less expensive industries make it more difficult to offer high cash rewards. Margins can vary, but let's say the margin on a typical $100 carpet cleaning job is about 30% ($30). You need the reward to be attractive enough to motivate referrals but still leave room for profit.

Customer Retention Value: In more expensive industries, it’s more likely a customer purchases the product and then never needs to buy anything from you again. In less expensive industries, it’s more likely a customer will come back and spend money consistently. If customers who come in through referrals are likely to use the service repeatedly, you might consider a slightly higher reward, betting on future earnings from the new customer.

Reward Structure: You might consider adjusting your reward structure, depending on the cost of the job. Here are some examples of reward structures to consider: 

  • Fixed Cash Reward: Offering a flat fee like $10 or $20 per successful referral that results in a booked job. This is simple and easily understood by customers.
  • Percentage of the Sale: Offering something like 10% of the first job's total. For a $100 cleaning job, this would mean a $10 reward.
  • Credit Toward Future Services: Instead of cash, offering a credit for future cleaning services can also work well. This could encourage both the referrer and the referred customer to continue using your services.

Ultimately, the key to setting an attractive reward in any lower-cost service industry is balancing the incentive with the business’s ability to sustainably offer it. Even though it’s more difficult with smaller profit margins, It's also vital to keep the reward appealing enough to motivate customers to act on it.


Discounts can be a particularly effective form of incentive in referral programs for industries where repeat business is common and the cost of services or products is relatively moderate. Discounts on future purchases or services can encourage loyalty and motivate customers to continue engaging with the business, increasing the lifetime value of each customer. 

Customers may also perceive discounts as adding value to their initial purchase or commitment, which can increase satisfaction and the likelihood of future referrals. In many cases, discounts can be more cost-effective for businesses, especially if the marginal cost of offering the service or product is lower than the discount provided. This type of incentive can also be more easily scaled or adjusted than other incentives, allowing for flexible promotional strategies.

Using discounts as rewards in referral programs can be highly effective in industries where building a long-term customer relationship is crucial and where the business model supports frequent interactions or purchases.

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Some industries that work well with discounts:

Retail, hospitality and restaurants, subscription-based services, beauty and wellness, event and entertainment, automotive services.

Advice from Referral Incentive Experts

At Snoball, we specialize in automating the referral process for word-of-mouth marketing. Part of that includes tracking the successfulness of the referral programs and handling payouts to referrers. For those who are not sure what incentives to set for their program, we help recommend strategies based on our experience with past companies in various industries. 

Strategy around setting incentives is closely linked to maximizing effectiveness while aligning with the CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost). Claire Roper, who is responsible for monitoring and tracking the effectiveness of referral programs at Snoball, emphasizes the importance of setting incentives that are commensurate with a company's CAC. For example, Snoball advises that setting a qualified referral payout should be substantial—starting at $50 to effectively move the dial. In industries like solar, where transaction values are typically higher, we often see companies opting for even larger payouts, ranging from $500 to $1000 per qualified sale.

Claire working at her desk
Claire Roper, Success Operations Manager at Snoball, recommends setting a substantial referral payout, especially if transaction values are high within your industry.

The approach to incentives also varies by industry. Christian Jones, the VP of Operations at Snoball, notes that cash rewards are generally more effective than discounts, especially in sectors where the financial benefit needs to be significant to stand out. For the solar industry, a cash reward exceeding $500 is considered impactful. When it comes to the structure of these incentives, Christian suggests that offering multiple incentives—one for the referral and then one for the sale—is ideal, though most partners currently provide a single incentive at the point of sale. This method not only simplifies the calculation of CAC but also ensures that incentives are only paid out when they result in actual revenue, aligning the cost directly with the company's marketing spend.


Crafting compelling referral incentives is both an art and a science. It requires a nuanced understanding of your market, your customers' expectations, and your business's financial goals. By adhering to best practices, such as aligning values, ensuring clarity and simplicity, and offering timely and relevant rewards, businesses can significantly enhance the effectiveness of their referral programs. Moreover, tailoring incentives to fit the specific needs and behaviors of different industries—from high-ticket items like solar panels to more frequent, lower-cost services like carpet cleaning—can further optimize the impact of these programs.

Whether you choose cash rewards, discounts, or more creative incentives, the key is to make the referral experience rewarding for both the referrer and the new customer. By continuously gathering feedback and adjusting strategies based on measurable outcomes, companies can turn their referral programs into powerful tools for sustainable growth and customer engagement.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Let Snoball automate your referral program! Schedule a demo to see what Snoball can do for your business.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are referral rewards? Referral rewards are benefits or incentives given to existing customers to encourage them to recommend a product or service to others.
How do you reward customers for a referral? The reward is typically granted to the referrer once the referred friend completes a purchase or meets specific criteria set by the company's referral program. The incentive should be delivered in a timely manner, keeping the existing customer happy and encouraging future participation.
What are the best referral incentives? The best referral incentives depend on the industry and customer base but commonly include cash bonuses, discount codes, gift cards, or points in a loyalty program. Effective incentives are those that provide value to the referrer while aligning with the company's goals.

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