Although referrals can (and should) come from all parts of your business, for ease of discussion in this article we will concentrate on referrals emanating from the motorcycle sales process.
Set The Stage
Getting referrals shouldn’t be an ambush, and they won’t be if you set the stage early in your sales process. You should learn the customer’s name, talk bikes a bit and find out where else they’ve researched motorcycles. Then you can casually say something like, "We’re on a campaign to grow the sport of motorcycling in our area. We’ll work to make you so deliriously happy that you’ll want to invite your family and friends down to the store." In this stage, you don’t have to be asking for a referral commitment, you’re just planting the seed.
But if you do want more of a public commitment for referrals up front, you can tweak your wording and turn it into a question: "We want to do such a great job for you that you’ll want to tell others. Sound good to you?" There are other commitment questions you can use. You can also use an "up" voice inflection to make just about anything a question, or try "Fair enough?" or even just one word, "Cool?" More than likely the customer will agree, and you now have your public commitment, which dramatically increases the likelihood you’ll be successful.
This "up front" statement used either with the commitment question or without does several things:
- It piques the customer’s interest. Rarely do salespeople make such a bold commitment up front. It’s like Babe Ruth calling his shot. It’s so compelling, few can tear themselves away.
- It creates a social contract between you and the customer. Meaning now that you’ve promised to "do so well they will want to tell others," you are going to strive to keep that commitment. So this keeps you pushing to do better.
- If they’ve publicly said they will give you a referral or tow, the customer will feel more compelled to give you referrals because they want to keep their promise.
Pick The Right Time
As they say in the entertainment business, timing is everything, and some moments are better than others when it comes to asking for referrals. The opening moments of meeting someone is not exactly the best time to ask for referrals. That would be like showing up for a blind date and opening with, "Hi! My name is Bill, would like to get married?" Your date would think you’re psycho! Guess what? So will your customers if you ask for referrals too soon. There are better times to make a referral request.
During the sales process: After you’ve demonstrated real value to the customer, listen for trigger terms positive comments that tell you the customer might be receptive to a referral request. Say he says, "Wow. I really like this dealership." This is a great time to say, "Well we like you too. And you know we’re trying to spread the good news. If you’d like we could invite you and your friends down for a behind the scenes tour of the dealership and maybe even go for a ride?" Notice this is a slight twist on a typical referral request. This example actually offers to invite the friends down to the store.
During The Closing Paperwork: Again you can listen for trigger terms during the final paperwork and use them as a signal or (and I prefer this method) you can have a predetermined time when you make your referral request. A fine time to ask for referrals is after all the paperwork and the final contract is signed. What’s good about this is that you know you’ve secured the sale of the motorcycle first. This is a really good idea. The referral drawback is you might have had some aspects of the sale not go perfectly. The other consideration if you have multiple people involved in the close is who is going to ask for the referral? I suggest the person with the strongest relationship ask for the referrals. If this isn’t the person doing the paperwork, you may want to engineer another opportunity. After executing the contract with the business manager, the customer could spend time with the salesperson to review the owner’s manual. That salesperson could then ask about referrals.
After The Sale Follow Up: An after-the-sale follow up contact via phone or e-mail is always an appropriate thing to do. Most salespeople don’t do this for fear the customer will have something negative to say. Research says approximately 87% of the time, customers are positive during follow-ups, and a positive call is a great time to ask for referrals. And for the remaining 13%, don’t you want to fix their problem? Of course you do, and when you do, then you can ask for referrals.
Get The Right Information
You want this process to be fast and easy. A name and a phone number or a name and an e-mail address are what you need. Don’t try and get name, address, phone number, e-mail address, zip code, mother’s maiden name … be reasonable!
Use The Right Words
Okay, we’ve set the stage, picked the right time and are clear about what information we need. Now how do we ask for the referral?
First of all you should choose your language carefully. Here, in my opinion, are some good examples:
- Do you have someone you’d recommend we call?
- Do you have someone you’d suggest we call?
- Do you have someone you’d advise we call?
- Do you have someone you’d propose we call?
- Do you have someone you’d urge us to call?
What I like about these terms is that they give the psychological nod to the customer. We are deferring to their knowledge and expertise. They are respectful and show we value their input.
Riding high on the success of a recently acquired referral? Want to go for two? When the customer gives you the name of someone, if you are really feeling confident, you can say something like, "Great! Who else?" Then stop and don’t say another thing. You’ll more than likely get another name. If not just say "okay" and move on.
Use The Right Tools
You can create a post card or sheet to be used in your process to help you formalize, organize and track your referral requests. Use the tool when you ask for the referral: "Every year over 90% of our customers come to us because someone they trusted suggested they should. Our existing customers are apparently so excited about their experience here they send their family and friends. We hope you’ll do the same. Simply jot down the name and phone number (or e-mail address) of a person you think might be interested in motorcycling and we’ll give them the same first class experience we provided for you. Heck we’ll even mention your name!"
At this point, hand them the card and say something like, "If you’d like you can fill that out now or hand it in later if that’s easier for you." (Giving this option puts the customer a bit more at ease and gives them the choice. Force me and I’ll resist. Give me options and I’ll pick one.)
Then turn and organize your paperwork. Give them a moment to complete the form. Chances are good they’ll use their cell phone and write down some names and numbers. And when they do, you politely thank them and ask if you should know anything about the names they’ve given you. If so, write it down. More information is always better when providing customer service. If not, put the card away and continue wrapping up the paperwork. If you hand your referral card to the customers and they say, "We’ll just fill this out later." You simply respond, "That’s great. We’ll check in with you in a few days to see if you were able to think of anyone. And if not, that’s okay too!"
A hesitation here might indicate resistance, and you certainly don’t want to make your customers feel in any way uncomfortable about giving referrals. You want to take away any possibility of them interpreting your actions as being heavy-handed or high-pressure. You won’t get referrals from everyone. But I can guarantee you if you use the process above, you’ll get more than you think. By the way, if you use the ideas suggested here, you will be dramatically more successful than most stores at capturing quality referrals. Track your referral cards on a simple spread sheet and gauge your effectiveness.
Of course you have to be confident in your referrals and in your existing business processes, but hey, if you aren’t, then fix those processes! And when you do, you can then start to build your business by sending a confident message to your customers.
Are there other ways to ask for referrals? Sure. Want a softer approach? Hand two brochures with your business card stapled inside with the instruction for them to give to friends. This also works if a customer says ‘no’ to your referral request. (This is highly unlikely if you’ve implemented the aforementioned ideas. But I always like to have a plan.)
How many ways are there to ask for referrals? Your creativity and good sense are really the only major limitations. Use these ideas or come up with your own.
Update The Referring Party
If a customer gives you a referral, you should give them an update of your actions and the referred person’s response. Did you call? Send an e-mail? Send a note? What was their response? It’s just the professional (and polite) thing to do. This proves to the customer that their input was valuable. And you know what? You may just get another referral!