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Most in talent acquisition would agree that employee referrals are the most valuable external candidates their teams can get. Respondents in a recent SmashFly survey confirmed that notion: Referrals were ranked the highest quality candidate from more than 10 sources. On average, an organization’s employee referral program generates 32 percent of hires. But we also found that nearly half of organizations surveyed had little to no confidence in how referral source was being tracked.

One of the newest features in the SmashFly Total Recruitment Marketing Platform—SmashFly  Referrals—can, and will, solve that tracking challenge. More importantly, it will transform how organizations evolve their referral program into a modern referral network to get even more qualified applicants. We asked SmashFly Chief Product Officer Mary Grace Hennessy to give us the scoop.


Why add employee referrals to the SmashFly platform?

It was really driven by our customers. We’re so fortunate to have a strong partnership with our customers, who rely on the SmashFly platform to manage all their recruitment marketing channels. With referrals such a key source of hire, it was natural for them to want to manage referrals from within the same system as their other recruitment marketing efforts.


What makes SmashFly Referrals different from other ERP management tools out there?

It’s how we think about referrals and how we integrate them with the rest of your talent acquisition strategy.

First, let’s look at what’s been built historically to support referral initiatives. You’d be surprised how many organizations manage referrals through an email inbox and an Excel spreadsheet. If it’s been systematized at all, it’s usually inside their ATS. So when you ask recruiters what system they use to manage their ERPs, most will say their ATS. However, the ATS is not really “managing” the “program”—it is simply facilitating the referred applicants’ hiring process. We know ATS systems well because many of us came from the ATS world prior to SmashFly (I spent four years at BrassRing and 10 years at Taleo). So we understand that the ATS was designed to manage applicants, including referrals, through the hiring process, not for managing employee referral programs.

One reason why we believe a recruitment marketing platform like SmashFly is ideal for managing a referral program is the ability to coordinate marketing outreach to two key audiences: 1) those individuals (often employees, but increasingly others—we call them sponsors) who know talent to refer, and 2) the people they believe could be a fit in your organization (we call them referred contacts). With all of the effort to nurture and engage candidates coming from other sources, it’s imperative to have the same ability to communicate with your ERP audiences. To do this effectively requires a management platform built for outreach and engagement, like SmashFly.

Second, in speaking with our customers, many have said they need an easier way to refer talent into the organization. Some have had to revert out of their ATS back to simple email inboxes to keep things easy for employees and candidates alike. Others have added a custom “referral field” in their ATS. So when we designed SmashFly Referrals, a core tenant was to make the process super EASY for users, regardless of the device, social networks they want to leverage or what they may or may not know about the person they are referring.

The third difference is unified tracking. It’s been said over and over again that referrals as a source are largely over reported. Below is some data from a real customer scenario of a referral hire from a few months back:










It goes something like this: Rachel goes searching for a job and finds an open position at Bright House Networks while searching on Glassdoor. She applies for the position, or even several positions, as is the case here from both Glassdoor and Indeed. She doesn’t hear back but continues to express interest via the Career Marketing Site and Indeed. She knows her friend Jessica works there and asks Jessica to sponsor her as a referral.  Rachel gets hired.  Even though “Referral” is a valid source, the ATS is unable to show the full picture of what influenced Rachel to apply—in this case, that Rachel was influenced by content from Bright House Networks on Glassdoor, Indeed and the career marketing site. SmashFly’s software allows the clicks to get tracked, even if the candidate doesn’t apply. If the referral makes it into the system, along with the referral will come their historic source data. This provides an unprecedented ability to give true visibility behind source of influence.


How will SmashFly 15 improve the way organizations think about employee referral programs?

We designed SmashFly Referrals to help organizations reimagine how referral programs are implemented, structured and measured. Employee referral programs are just one tactic in your talent acquisition strategy to gain more qualified candidates into your pipeline. You should have visibility to them in the same place as all the leads from your other talent acquisition efforts, like the career site, social media, job distribution, etc. Unless you have an integrated view into all our tactics, the unified tracking picture I painted above simply isn’t possible.

Our customers will have the flexibility to control the rules of their specific program, but we have set a new structure and vision from our expertise in this industry and working with our customers over the past five years. The key pillars are:

  1. Sponsors and sponsorship
  2. Compliance and transparency
  3. Expanding beyond employees
  4. Quality and ease of use
  5. Nurturing and engagement


Where did the idea of “Sponsor” come from?

We thought long and hard about the term “Sponsor”—it’s a new perspective on what has traditionally been called the “Referrer.” What we had been hearing from customers is a need to make employees more invested in providing quality candidates they can stand by. One of our early adopters and longest customers, Bright House Networks, said it best: “The term Sponsor elevates what it means to refer someone. It’s getting to the point of quality.”

When you refer, it’s a name or a resume. When you sponsor, it’s a recommendation. You are invested and involved in their success because it also means success for you. If an employee can refer someone to your current organization, they should feel strongly enough to describe the basis for their recommendation and sponsor them throughout the hiring process.

Plus, part of the responsibility lies with the referred contact. With SmashFly, clients can choose to require the referred contact to confirm their Sponsor and by doing so give the Sponsor access to information about their progression throughout the hiring process. Bonus awards may be confirmed this way as well, putting control into the hired referral’s hands. Think about how that bifold investment can improve the quality of referrals even more as well as improve the experience for candidates and Sponsors, making the process more transparent and getting advice and feedback from their Sponsor along the way, while also eliminating debate over referral ownership and awards!


How does SmashFly ensure compliance?

Another core tenet of our solution is a focus on compliance. There can be confirmations configured both for the Sponsor to agree to the conditions of the referral program as well as for the referred contact when they confirm their Sponsor. Compliance has been a big driver for some large organizations we work with. This has driven a need not only for the option for acknowledgements in the process, but also the ability to flag potential risk to the organization and to communicate these risks in an automated fashion to the right decision makers.


Who can be a Sponsor in a modern referral network?

Why stop at employees? We’ve been hearing customers talk about the value of their broader networks: their partners, their alumni, even their social communities. So Sponsor encompasses everyone that could potentially refer a quality candidate. Customers can choose the types of sponsors their program will include, which allows for easy segmentation in the system.

In developing SmashFly Referrals, we started off every customer conversation with this question: Do you enable others beyond employees to refer candidates into your organization? Some already did, but most did not. They wanted to leverage the full potential of their network, but were being limited by traditional ways to manage ERPs. Other tools did not have a way to track broader networks because they were solely employee based, so these outside referrals weren’t even possible, or if they were, they were getting lost somewhere in a spreadsheet or email. We discussed with our customers how our new feature should be able to engage alumni, partners, customers, etc., in different ways, so you can customize workflows, templates and content based on the type of Sponsor. Not only does this help broaden the reach of the program, but it also helps with employee segmentation too, so it’s easy to distinguish and manage program rules by having different types of Employee Sponsors like employee, HR employee, executive employee.


What else does SmashFly do to screen or qualify candidates?

This is part of breaking the old rules of ERP: We want our customers to encourage anyone that can possibly sponsor a referral to do so—if six people have had a great experience with someone, we want them to all get visibility, not just whoever recommends the person first. We built our referral capabilities to reflect more of how the world works in terms of networking and recommendations: the more referrals, the more information, the better. The bonus structure can be set up and customized based on how the organization wants to reward Sponsors in this instance.

A lot of current programs have rules around ownership, where one person owns a referral for a duration of time, and no one else can refer that person until the ownership period is over. But what happens if that referral gets hired after the ownership period is over? That Sponsor wouldn’t get their reward. Our customers were saying loud and clear that they needed more invested Sponsors to generate more qualified referrals. Sponsors aren’t going to be invested if their referral is hired, but a time limit has passed for their bonus. The reason most of these limitations have existed is because the systems couldn’t keep track of more than one referral and determine how to handle this knowledge correctly in terms of bonus and payout.  Add a little flexibility into the tool—now the talent acquisition team is back in control of defining their programs, their way.

Additionally, we’ve added in a customized screening process when Sponsors refer, so our customers can get more valuable information about the referral and how to segment him or her in the future. Screening processes may be highly variable across brand or discipline: The way someone would refer an intern is much different than VP level jobs, etc. We’ve incorporated screening questions that can segment referrals per job interest, region, etc., and then landing page content for each contact customized per those areas. If you have different career sites for different brands or regions, you can have a different program to support those initiatives.


So you get more quality referrals. What’s next?

Allowing the organization to own and nurture the relationship with both referred contacts and Sponsors after that initial referral. This is where other recruitment marketing efforts come into play and why having a recruitment marketing platform is so vital. You now have this highly recommended candidate in your pipeline. Your recruitment marketing platform can help ensure they stay warm and engaged by sending them nurture emails with targeted content and jobs.

If referrals go straight into the ATS, often times it’s hard to distinguish a referral lead from an applicant or to find a general referral if they aren’t linked to a specific job. In the ATS, your referrals get lost among applicants. There isn’t a way to distinguish between someone who completed the entire process versus someone who expressed interest as a referral but did not apply. What happens to referrals who never apply or are generic in nature? They need to be nurtured and educated further and this can all be smartly automated inside a recruitment marketing platform like SmashFly.

Our customers want easy. SmashFly offers them a clean understanding of those referrals who are officially interested or aren’t, who have applied and who haven’t, etc. If they have applied, they will become referred applicants who make it into the ATS, and the ATS’s tracking processes will proceed from there. And we have the supporting recruitment marketing features and analytics to further their communication and build the relationship.


How will it really work and be measured?

Here’s a quick snapshot, with SmashFly as an example. First, we don’t have only one type of sponsor. We leverage our entire network, and segment and message to them in different ways:

  • SmashFly Employees
  • SmashFly Senior Management
  • SmashFly Community
  • SmashFly Partners
  • SmashFly Alumni

This really helps us understand where and from whom our best referrals come. It also allows for different incentives and nurture communication ongoing.

Second, there is a scoring concept as referred contacts progress through the application and hiring process (as mentioned above, we can track the post-application process by integrating with any ATS). As the referred contact’s status changes, the sponsor earns points based on their progression. Again, this also makes employees think twice about who they refer, as quality matters for better scoring.

Overall, it’s much more specific and much more segmented in terms of sources, communication and quality.


Now, how to get started?

We recently published the results of our survey on employee referral programs, and the report outlines some powerful takeaways on how organizations can start reimagining and expanding their referral programs. You can download the full report and recommendations here.

If you’re interested particularly in how SmashFly can help you transform your referral program and integrate referrals within a broader recruitment marketing strategy, you can register for our “Meet SmashFly 15” webinar next month.

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