07 Jan Your Deal-Hungry Salespeople May Forget To Ask Customers For Referral Business
By Paul Moran, CEO of Vboost
Our industry is typically one of immediacy. Questions like “What would it take to earn your business RIGHT NOW?” are very typical and posted daily. Not many sales managers would feel comfortable with – or approve of – a salesperson letting a customer leave the dealership without a TO simply because that customer is not ready or just beginning to shop.
Managers typically stress the importance of buying now, and their salespeople naturally become laser-focused on accomplishing this. However, getting referrals typically doesn’t cross either of their minds until a customer has bought a vehicle – if at all. Why is that?
Auto salespeople cannot fail to notice the lack of job security in their industry. Particularly for a new salesperson, the revolving door in their department coupled with any insecurity or indecision they may have about remaining in the car business can leave little motivation to think about future sales to a customer’s friends and family. Considering they aren’t sure if they will still be in the industry, much less working at that dealership, three years down the road, they make a commission and pursue the next one.
However, this rushed mindset can turn a potentially great customer buying experience into a poor one. A friend of mine recently bought a new vehicle and enjoyed an excellent experience with the salesperson – until delivery. It was very important to her to get an in-depth review of the in-vehicle systems like adaptive cruise control and back-up camera, and she repeatedly stressed this to the salesperson. However, due to some necessary pre-delivery accessory installs, the walk-through was delayed until a few days after the purchase, and the salesperson spent minimal time with her because he needed to meet with his financial advisor.
This salesperson ruined what had shaped up as an excellent experience and likely was not thinking about potential referrals. How can your dealership increase the number of customer referrals, knowing that many of your salespeople operating on a short-term mindset? You can start by implementing processes that aren’t dependent on that mindset.
Referrals Can’t Be Directly Managed
In our industry, there are two types of referrals: Direct and indirect. Direct referrals come from customers who actively recommend your dealership to an acquaintance, who comes to the store because of that recommendation. We know that consumers tend to trust opinions of their family and friends more than any other source, including online reviews. Indirect referrals involve everything from a paper license tag or brand logo affixed to the vehicle, to someone who notices and likes a neighbor’s new car, to photos and videos shared on social media platforms.
A dealership doesn’t have much ability to control either category of referral. Sure, you can implement a policy of asking for referrals during the sales process, but many people are hesitant to provide contact information for friends and family without getting their permission first. For the most part, getting that permission simply isn’t practical before the sale closes.
Customer Experience Has Direct Link
However, there are two approaches I have seen increase both direct and indirect referrals without relying on a request from a salesperson or an automated follow-up e-mail. First and foremost, you can emphasize an excellent customer experience both before and after the sale and instill its importance with your entire staff.
The key is to give your customers the experience they want and make it easy for them to shop at your store. Increasingly, consumers want to handle as much of the car shopping process as possible online, and hopefully come into the store just to test-drive the vehicle and sign papers. So, dealerships need to make sure their online showrooms offer a good experience. For example, make sure your online credit application is high-quality and fast and easy to complete. Display your inventory well on your website. Consider offering apps that let buyers conduct most of the buying process via your website, interact with your staff, obtain price quotes and submit counter-offers.
However, you also need to make things easy for those customers who prefer to do more of their research in the showroom. Make sure your salespeople work with them. Make sure your coffee doesn’t suck. Offer free Wi-Fi so customers can research the competition, if they wish. Showrooming is going to happen anyway, so why not make it easy for customers and win the day by improving their experience?
You need to utilize both old and new approaches to maximize your customer’s experience. Don’t spurn the old school. Consider having your salespeople send a gift as simple as a tin of cookies to their customers after the sale. Ideally, send it to their workplace, where they can share the cookies and hopefully tell co-workers from who sent them. This can stimulate actual word-of-mouth referrals. Also, send handwritten thank you cards or notes, just because nobody does this anymore.
Making Sharing Online Easier
A second approach that can ultimately generate more referrals is to facilitate your customer’s desire to announce their new vehicle purchase to family and friends via social media — which almost all of them will do. Sadly, most dealerships don’t have a consistent process in place to take pictures or video of their customers, who then wait until they get home to do that task themselves. At this point, the dealership has lost out on an incredibly powerful opportunity to get exposure on their customer’s social network.
It’s completely natural for customers to share their new vehicle with their social networks, but it’s not natural for them to mention the dealership. Many people take to Facebook to invite their network to “Check out my new car!” but few ask, “Check out the new car I bought from ABC Motors!”
If a dealership has a branded delivery area where you take pictures or video, then your brand automatically gets included in the social media share. The more creative your images compared with what the customer would take, the more likely he or she will want to share them. Have a buyer jump in the air, hug the car or whatever. Have fun with it! This branded content can ultimately generate direct referrals through interactions with the shared content (e.g., “We were thinking of buying a car. How was your experience at ABC Motors?”) and indirect referrals from the online exposure (e.g., “Johnny bought his car from ABC Motors and mentioned they treated him well, so maybe we should give them a shot.”).
Also, consider friending the customer on Facebook or Instagram. This requires a little extra effort from customers, and not all of them will be open to this. But, even if you can only get one in 10 to accept, your store still has a great opportunity to become the “car guy” for his or her circle of friends.
Don’t End Referral Requests, Augment Them
I want to emphasize that none of these activities will generate referrals unless your dealership is providing a great customer experience and actually generating and giving that customer high quality, branded content.
In no way am I suggesting that your salespeople should stop following up with customers after the sale to ask for referrals. By also incorporating the techniques I have addressed, they increase the possibility of referral business without having to worry about a customer’s reluctance to provide direct contact information for family and friends.