The Right Way to Get Referrals

Of course you want current customers to give your dealership additional referrals, but there's a right and wrong way to get them.

We’ve all heard about calling clients for referrals. “Call this guy and see if he can recommend someone you can sell a unit to!” they tell you. “Talk to him while he’s on a high because of his new bike,” says the sales manager.

Falderal! You should never call an existing client to get names of their friends who may (or may not) need a new unit. I don’t believe in this and never will. To call a customer and ask him or her for names of friends to see if they want to buy a bike has always struck me as the epitome of bad manners. He is not there to help you do your job. He’s there to have a great adventure with the product you sold him. Perhaps you can drop the possibility into a conversation, but it should be an aside, not a direct question.

Yes, we do want our clients to recommend us to their friends, but I firmly believe it unwise to call anyone and ask, “Hi, Shirley! How are you? Hey, do you have any friends who need a new motorcycle?” And then worse is, “Hi, Bob! Your friend Shirley said that you may be interested in buying a bike from me.” If someone called me to see if I could give them my friends’ names so they could call them and harass them, I would more than likely tell them where to go. It’s obvious in the first call that you care nothing for the existing client other than as an ATM machine and that you have no real investment in the sales relationship. Don’t bring him down by alluding to the fact that he’s only there to help you earn a living. And in the second call, are you really helping Bob or helping yourself?

I believe that the key is to create an atmosphere where the sales experience is so wonderful that your current clients don’t have to be asked to give a referral. If you perform well, they will be only too happy to send their friends to see you. Also, if you give everyone phenomenal service, the word will get out pretty fast. You will also find that the desire for a “discount” will disappear as well. The newly referred customer will feel that he is “in,” and if you approach him correctly, he will be overjoyed to get a unit from you. If you can make his sales experience the best, most wonderful one ever, he also will be more than happy to refer his friends to you.

Of course, you also have to make the customer who refers anyone feel special. Now you make a call and tell him or her thank you for sending one of that person’s friends to see you. I always tell the referrer to come and see me when he’s able, and I give him a $50 gift card or something in the same vein. Quite often, he wants nothing and will refuse the gift card. He doesn’t want to be seen as making a profit off of a friend. That’s when I make sure the gift card gets allocated to his account and deducted from his next service or accessories purchase. Once it’s done, the service department lets the client know as he is paying for the next service, and he almost always accepts and appreciates it.

Often, these clients become what I call “boosters.” A booster becomes almost like a secondary level on a multilevel marketing scheme. As part of your marketing, you can get a few of these “boosters” together and go out for a ride. Put together a group that you know will get along and go out for the day. Clients love to do things with you and others. Buy the whole group lunch! As a shop owner, I would be into doing this once a month if my salespeople came to me with this proposal. Maybe even more often. It would have to be an incredible bonding event with real boosters, but imagine the talk afterwards. We have all certainly spent more money on way more foolish marketing!    

I reiterate: Calling one of your current clients is just something that no great salesperson should ever do. If a client says, “Call Shirley — she wants to talk to you,” that’s a whole different ball game. But calling clients out of the blue to ask for a referral is a mug’s game. It cheapens you in their eyes and may have the opposite effect from what you desire. No matter what the sales manager says, don’t do it. If he insists, let us know, and we’ll set him straight.

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