Small and midsized business marketing has evolved. It's no longer enough to simply sell a great product, you also need a way to nurture social connections and help ensure that customers speak highly of your company. An IDC study found that 75 percent of all B2B buyers leveraged social media to gather personal and expert opinions before making a purchase. The result? You can't leave consumer opinions of your brand to chance. Here are three best practices for referral programs to help boost your bottom line.

Chart Your Course

Before sending out an email, making a call or stuffing envelopes, create a plan for your referral campaign. Goals are first: What's the end result? Improved sales are the easy answer, but it's best to dig deeper. What about more accounts at your e-commerce store, longer visit times for your website or an increase in "contact us" inquiries? Whatever your top priority, design your program around it rather than waiting for a generic referral structure to pay dividends.

Next up? Define your audience; reaching everyone isn't realistic. Instead, take a hard look at your best customers and ask yourself what it would take to get their referral business. This leads to the last step in pre-launch planning: your offer. Is the plan to offer discounts or deals to those that refer others to your business, or to the individual that is referred, or some combination of the two? Don't leave incentives to chance — have them ready to go when you launch.

Never Fall Short

Once your referral plan is off the ground, make sure you don't fly too high. In other words, never promise what you can't deliver. Under-promising and over-delivering is a better bet; not only do clients get exactly what you promised but a little extra, prompting them to sing your praises in person and on social media.

Take a look at your client base and see what they might consider valuable. If you process a high volume of online orders, free shipping goes a long way to securing customer loyalty. Consider percentage-based price reductions for second or third items added, or a discount code for future purchases if your brand deals in high-value transactions. Stuck for ideas? Don't be shy: Ask consumers on social media what they'd like to see to make sure you're hitting the mark.

Don't Forget the Tangible

While discounts and other intangible incentives are great, it can be a good idea to do something more substantial every few months or so. For example, consider sending out a gift card to clients and asking them to share it with a friend. When they do, they'll talk you up for the free gift and their friend also becomes a client. It's a win-win: Customers feel respected for their contribution to your brand and your sales grow organically.

Want better referrals? Start with these best practices for referral programs to establish a solid foundation and help grow your brand impact.

Tags: best practices for referral programs referral programs small business referrals incentive programs social media