At its core, “Gladiator” is a film about change and straying from the status quo. At the movie’s outset, Commodus murders his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, to keep the empire from becoming a people’s republic. Commodus didn’t stop there — he (unsuccessfully) tried to murder Maximus, Aurelius’ top general and the last living link to the fallen emperor’s vision; Maximus survived and was sold into slavery but became a beloved gladiator who eventually got his revenge on Commodus.

Where, might you ask, am I going with this? Commodus is a lot like the enterprise organizations we see in business — established, entrenched empires so stuck in their ways that anything outside of “what we’ve always done” is deemed unfeasible. Maximus, meanwhile, is referral marketing — a hit with the populace that can lead to incredible prosperity if only the empire will relent.

And though referral marketing is picking up steam in the enterprise sector — two clients of ours each generated an ROI of more than 40 times from referral marketing in just over the course of a year — enterprises could do so much more with it if they weren’t so slow to adopt. Referral marketing has the ear of the people, and “Gladiator” made one thing incredibly clear: “Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom.”

The Pieces Are Already There 

If you worry your enterprise is too stuck in its ways to pick up referral marketing, have no fear. Your organization’s internal metronome is probably already tuned to keep up. 

Enterprises are more uniquely positioned for referral marketing success because their businesses tend to do a lot of things well. They typically have the resources to properly leverage referrals across multiple touchpoints such as email, after-positive-support interactions, post-purchase, point of sale, and more. 

They also tend to have much larger audiences and more established products and services, meaning customers are happier and more willing to act as brand ambassadors. Enterprises often have tighter customer support, which creates better experiences for users — again, driving higher satisfaction and a likelihood of spreading the word. 

Get in the Arena

To leverage referral marketing to achieve similar success, marketers should take the following steps:

1. Be open to feedback. 

Ask for referrals at multiple touchpoints, including at the highest point of satisfaction. These touchpoints can occur after purchases, great customer experiences, or positive reviews or within customer email signatures. 

This increases engagement while rolling in more shares. In turn, it’ll lead to more visibility and, ultimately, more revenue. 

2. Poll the crowd. 

Leverage Net Promoter Score (NPS) through a survey that asks, “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to refer a friend?” The clients who award 9s and 10s (called promoters) are very likely to be your brand ambassadors. 

When I think about a strategy that a business can use, I also think about the costs and benefits of that strategy. NPS is simple, and the feedback is nearly immediate. To me, that’s one hell of an effective strategy to determine your brand’s most likely ambassadors. 

3. Engage employees. 

Generating referrals should be a companywide initiative — nearly every company would enjoy more customers. From sales to success, all teams should pitch in to drive more positive word of mouth among their networks.

The best way for marketers to encourage participation at the outset is to simply ask. Then, provide an incentive, like a gift card, that rewards anyone in the organization who drives new leads or customers.

4. Team with the best. 

Some enterprises like to start referrals with less established departments or product lines, which is the wrong way to approach referrals. Start with something that’s proven and has driven successful marketing campaigns.

Leveraging word of mouth against what marketers have already seen to be successful will amplify your success and build momentum across all audiences.

Ultimately, enterprises are already built for referral marketing, even if they believe the empire will crumble if they stray from the status quo. By reaching out to referrals, leveraging net promoters, and initiating companywide strategies, enterprise CMOs and marketing professionals can ensure their customers are indeed entertained and coming back for more.


Jeff Epstein is the CEO and founder of Ambassador, a trusted referral software company that empowers brands to increase customers, referrals, and revenue by leveraging and scaling the power of word of mouth. Epstein is a lifelong entrepreneur with a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, and a degree in business from Michigan State University.

[Photo: Universal Pictures]