Spark word-of-mouth: How to boost customer referrals

By Heather Blessington

Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, but many outdoor power equipment dealers don’t have a process in place to generate a constant stream of what many consider the most valuable leads your business receives: referrals.

At its core, getting more referrals is quite simple. You simply have to ask for them. There’s no need to be shy about asking for referrals; there’s nothing pushy about it. Let your customers know you value referrals, which you’ll earn by providing excellent products and services.

It is also key for you to provide those satisfied customers with clear instructions on the best way to provide you with a referral. In this article, I’ll help you develop those instructions with a referral process that starts in store and is supported by your digital marketing initiatives.

In store

The process of asking for referrals begins on your customer’s first visit to your dealership. Ask all customers who visit your dealership how they heard about you. If they were referred by a friend, this gives you an opportunity to reach out to that referring party with a personal thank you.

As you close your initial conversation with your new customer, set the expectation that you’ll be asking for a referral later in your relationship. “If we do a great job for you — and we’re committed to doing just that — will you agree to refer a friend to our dealership?” This approach does two things: It sets your customers’ expectations for doing business with your dealership, and it gets them thinking about who they might refer.

Upon final delivery of their product or service, your customers are already anticipating that you’ll ask them for a referral. If they say no, don’t just move on. Use the opportunity to understand if they weren’t completely satisfied with their experience, or if they are just reluctant to share their friends’ contact information.

If the former is true, this gives you an opportunity to mend the relationship, which could ultimately lead to referrals. If the latter is true, you can easily overcome this objection. Print referral cards that offer a discount for new customers. Write your customer’s name on the card, and explain that he or she will receive a gift card or the stated reward via email for each referral card that comes in to the dealership. You’ll of course need your customer’s email address on file to send on these valuable discounts, so be sure to ask for it.


While you’ll begin to see a steady trickle of new customers from your in-store initiatives, many customers will put the referral cards in their wallet and leave them there to languish with old receipts and movie ticket stubs. Backing up your in-store efforts with email marketing initiatives can substantially bolster your pipeline of referral leads.

A feedback request email is a great way to gently reinforce your in-store referral request while gaining valuable feedback on the customer service experience you offer. This email should link through to a short survey, where you ask customers to rate your staff, share ideas for what would make things better, and give open feedback. One key question that you must include: “Would you refer us to a friend?” Follow that question with optional fields that allow your customer to insert the name, phone number and email of up to three friends. Online vendors like Wufoo1 and SurveyMonkey2 offer free basic online survey tools that make creating a survey quick and easy.

When you receive a referral from an email campaign or from your in-store initiatives, it is important to reach out with a message of sincere thanks, as well as details on how the recipient can take advantage of spiffs they’ve earned through the referral process.

Automating these emails is key. A long list of one-to-one email correspondence could easily be the first to-do to fall off your list, but by automating the process, you can quickly and easily generate these emails on a regular schedule.

The first step is to create a template for your thank-you message in your email marketing software. Secondly, you’ll need to add fields in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that allow you to quickly and easily generate the list of customers who need to receive a thank-you email on a regular interval — weekly is good; daily is even better.

Dealership website

If a customer is interested in providing feedback on your customer service — good or bad — your dealership website will likely be their destination. Make it easy for site visitors to find and provide reviews of your dealership by adding “Reviews” to either your top navigation or as a secondary navigation item under your dealership’s “About Us” page.

This section of your website should include customer testimonials, as well as a feedback form with optional fields to allow your happy customers to include the names, phone numbers and email addresses of friends who might be interested in doing business with you.

Don’t limit the testimonials on this page to those you’ve received through the feedback form. Cull additional testimonials from online review sites like Yelp, Google+ and Angie’s List. Credit the source review site and link page to the original review.

Online review sites

Properly managed, online review sites can perform as finely tuned referral engines for your dealership. Without oversight, Yelp, Google+, Angie’s List and other online review sites could cause your online reputation great harm. While I can and will spend more time in subsequent articles talking about online reputation management in more depth, I’ll give you a few quick takeaways to help you fold online reputation management into your referrals strategy.

1. Establish accounts with Yelp, Google+ and Angie’s List to ensure your dealership information is accurate and up-to-date.

2. Set up Google Alerts3 for your company name and any close variations. Google will send alerts directly to you in an email digest, so there’s no ongoing legwork involved. Google Alerts, like most things Google, is free.

3. Be responsive! Respond to as many positive reviews as time allows, but it is critical that you respond to every single negative review with a note stating the dealership has followed up with the customer to ensure their satisfaction.

Social media

The average Facebook user has 338 friends. That’s an incredible pool of friends, colleagues, old classmates and other acquaintances that your customers have the power to influence.

In the March 2014 issue of Outdoor Power Equipment, my colleague Brad Smith’s article on social e-commerce introduced you to two platforms that reward your customers for sharing information on your products and services with their social networks. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you’re missing out on an opportunity to drive referrals through your customers’ extended online networks.

Ownedit allows you to run campaigns across all of your digital channels designed to incentivize your customers to make online referrals. The platform is really simple to use; if you can point and click, you can create a campaign. Plus, you can test-drive the platform for free at

InviteBox is another referral program that rewards customers for sharing information on your products, services and special promotions. This site also allows you to sign up for a free trial, so you’ve got no excuse not to try it:

Both sites are very comparable to one another, so give them a whirl to see what works best for your business model.

Say thank you

It warrants repeating that you should be incredibly thankful for every single referral you receive. This seems obvious, but so many businesses forget about it. As you have free time, having someone on your team place a call or send a handwritten note for a referral is worth it. (Yes, a handwritten note. When was the last time you got one of those?)

Measure your success

Start measuring the quantity of referrals you receive on a weekly basis and set a weekly goal for each member of your team. Just like your customers, your team members may require a small incentive, but developing a pipeline of referral leads is well worth it.


 Heather Blessington joined ARI as Chief Marketing Officer in November 2013, in conjunction with the acquisition of Duo Web Solutions, a digital marketing start-up she owned which grew to be the leading provider of social media marketing services. Blessington has a 20-year track record of success in website design/development, search engine marketing and social media strategy. Blessington’s portfolio features work for Fortune 500 clients, including Microsoft, Samsung, Bank of America, Lowe’s and Whirlpool Corporation. An award-winning blogger and nationally renowned speaker, she earned a BS, Mass Communications, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a PMP, Project Management Certification, from the Project Management Institute. ARI creates award-winning software solutions that help equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers “Sell More Stuff!” online and in-store. ARI removes the complexity of selling and servicing new and used inventory, parts, garments and accessories for customers in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, automotive tire and wheel, and white goods industries. More than 22,000 equipment dealers, 195 distributors and 140 manufacturers worldwide leverage ARI’s website ( and eCatalog platforms to “Sell More Stuff!”


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