Jeremy Tuber

Small business referrals—why some companies get them and others don’t

A car salesperson’s approach to getting business referrals—don’t follow his example

Last month I bought a shiny new car. The car’s nice, but I wanted to share my experience with the sales rep I worked with, and the dealership that ultimately took care of me by not really taking care of me. It wasn’t so much that I was at the dealership for four hours, they had no snacks to eat, or that I was shuttled between two competing sales reps, it was the way I was treated after the purchase that I want to share.

Once the paperwork was signed, the sales rep was far more interested in getting referrals from me that ensuring I was treated remarkably.

In order to make sure that he was foremost on my mind when I left the dealership, the sales rep forked over a stack of his business cards that could have weighed down an elephant. I guess his thought was, “The more cards I give this customer, the more he’ll pass out, and the more new customers I’ll have.”

As an “incentive,” he explained that for each person I got to buy a car from him, he would present me with $100. Wow, that’s roughly .027% of the purchase price!

As you can guess from my tone, I recycled his cards and didn’t give him a second thought.

The sales rep put a full tank of gas in the car and gave me ten coupons I had to mail in to maybe win a prize. That’s it, nothing memorable and nothing remarkable. I received the “run of the mill” service, and yet the sales rep wants me to talk to all of my friends and colleagues about him. Ironically, had he been genuinely concerned about providing remarkable service I would have kept his business cards, and yes, I would have sent people his way.

Remarkable service will get you all the business you want. Average or “good” service won’t get you much, so if you don’t give much—don’t expect much.

I know you might be thinking, “the rep didn’t do bad.” I’d have to agree with you, but I am reminded of something Seth Godin, a leading marketing guru wrote in his book Free Prize Inside, “Being good is bad.”

My sales rep was okay. He was “good,” but he wasn’t memorable or remarkable, and that’s just good enough to get my business—once. Seth also goes on to say, “There are two types of businesses: remarkable and invisible.” This sales rep and car dealership were not remarkable.

Here’s the crux of the issue: the sales rep wants me to think of my experience as memorable, if not remarkable, but he didn’t do anything or say to make me feel that. If you want to be remembered and referred, do something remarkable.

Since the transaction the dealership sent me two form emails and a letter in the mail thanking me for visiting the dealership and informing me that they want to sell me a car – this is AFTER I had already purchased one. One of the form emails was from a sales manager I never met, and the other one was from the customer relations director.

Funny, in this woman’s actual title are the words, “CUSTOMER RELATIONS,” and yet she sent out a form email saying, “I trust you had good service and I trust you had all of your questions answered.” Yikes, that’s not good customer service or effective language. Instead of “trusting,” I wondered if a better approach would have been to pick up the phone and ask me.

So what might I have done if I was the customer service director at this dealership?

How about:
* Sending out a personal hand-written card
* Free car washes for a month
* A photograph of the customer at the dealership with their new car
* Special announcement cards I could send to friends and family to tell them about my new car

Is this just an opportunity to gripe? Well, yes…and no. I feel better after ranting, but my motivation was really to make sure you remember (as I was reminded of) what it’s like to be a customer versus a client who is valued. What it feels like to be sold to rather than to buy from, and how easy it can be to be remarkable in an average business world.

If you can remember this you’re ahead of the competition, if you can apply this to everyone you meet—you will have no competition.

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