The dream of a sustained book of business is attractive to any salesperson.

A self-filling, income-generating, free-time-enabling pipeline of customers. 

Referral customers are the best type of customers. They come in trusting you, wanting to work with you.

Getting them in the first place is the only hard part! If you follow this article (and keep in mind the nine keys to success), you will be on well on your way to grow your network.


Overview of Car Sales Referrals

Every salesperson wants referral business. When starting, it can feel like they are a secret group only reachable after a decade (or more) in the business. When I started, I was told the stories of the “old guy” who “picks up the phone” to sell 30+ cars a month:

“Have you heard of Jimmy up at the Benz store in Fremont? That guy just reads the paper all day, sitting next to his phone. He picks up when his referrals call, that’s it! No fresh ups, no other leads. Guy is pulling in twenty grand a month sitting on his ass!”

At which point someone else will chime in:

“Yeah, true, but Jimmy has been there for sixteen years! Of course he has all the referral traffic. Here we are stuck with these grindy ups…”

So, is referral business out of your reach until you’ve put in a decade of work? No. My first referral deal was only a few months after my first day on the job.

Can you optimize your sales process for maximizing referral business? Yes. My method is defined and distinct, personalized to my style of selling. I will teach you my process in this article. I hope that you take this process, extract the appropriate advice for your situation, and discard the rest. Use this article to brainstorm how you are going to build your pipeline.

Car Sales Referrals Step 1: Building the Relationship

You will never build a book on car sales referrals if you don’t master building relationships. This a multi-step process, one that some of the most popular self-help books of all time are centered around. We will overview building relationships in three parts, beginning with the initial connection.

The Initial (Personal) Connection

Customers that send referrals are networkers. They typically have large friend groups and like to share with them their experiences. Often they are relatively extroverted.

These types of people generally want to form a distinct and memorable personal connection. This begins with the “seed” of the relationship; a topic or theme that you two have in common that lowers the guard of everyone involved. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the things that have become the “seeds” of my long-term car sales relationships:

And that’s just a start.

My best advice on this is to be well-read and to have diverse hobbies.

The second option, if you can’t find a theme or topic, is to find a person in common.

The significant part about this? The longer you sell in one area, the easier it is to find a person in common. After 6+ years in the same area, I’ve sold a car to someone at just about every medium and large company in my area. That means that with a quick Linkedin search, I can find a 2nd-degree connection with just about anyone.

If you are struggling to find something or someone in common, I’ve discovered a simple backup strategy. I will always try to find someone they are close to that is at a similar age as I am. This strategy is most natural with men and women in their 50s because their children are usually around my age. If my customer can look at me in the same lense they look at their children with; they are more likely going to see me in a positive light. Gaffes are more likely to be forgiven, plus my work experiences may be of interest to them.

Professional Service

In a sense, I’ve spoken about professionalism at length in my mega-post so that I won’t drill down to much here. If you are seeking referrals from your customers, they first need to think of you as a professional. Regardless of if they like you or not, very few people are going to send a friend or coworker to someone that isn’t going to act professionally. By giving you, their salesperson, access to their social circles, they are rubber-stamping you as someone worth doing business with.

Think about it this way. If you sent your boss to a car salesman, you would hope that the salesman is presentable and professional. Otherwise, it’s not worth the risk to the referrer’s reputation!

Make sure you have these three mastered before seeking referral business:

  • Product knowledge
  • Business knowledge
  • Professional dress

You won’t necessarily have that day one. Frankly, if you are starting right out of high school, you may not have these three things mastered for half a year! Until you have these learned, building a book of business should be on hold.

Types of Customers that want a Relationship

Don’t chase after every relationship, as many customers want a transactional experience. That being said, also be sure not to judge your customers preemptively. It’s your job to follow the steps above to try to establish a long-term relationship. If your effort is not reciprocated? Don’t worry. Many customers would just as happily buy from a vending machine, and you aren’t going to change that.

You can graph your customers in your mind. If you use this chart, you can easily remember how different customers have different desires in their buying experience:

the potential for car sales referrals will depend on where your customers lie on this chart!

You need to tailor your presentation to your customer!

Depending on the group, your handling should differ. The Y-axis represents the customer’s expectation of a “luxury experience,” and the X-axis represents the speed at which they want the transaction to take place. I’ve broken down your customers into a few groups and explained them below. I’ve found that creatively thinking about my customer’s unique needs can help me tailor myself to them. When you make an effort, you will generate more car sales referrals!

  1. “The Professional”
    • These customers are the easiest to earn referrals from, as they are “business” minded. They want an efficient experience and are not too picky about the little things. They already want the product, and if you can deliver the right thing at the right speed, you will earn their trust.
  2. “The VIP”
    • The “VIP” is your manager’s friend or the referral from corporate. The person with the mansion on the hill. He or she will typically want the red carpet rolled out for them. They expect you to be on top of your game. The effort is made worth it by their networks, as these customers generally know the type of high-end customers that you can only dream of.
  3. “The Retiree”
    • These customers are not always actually retired, but they act like it. They are happy to come in over several visits, and they do not want to feel rushed. Compromises are not their favorite thing. That said, these customers can be extremely loyal because they will find few people that are patient enough to handle them. Take your time and make sure to schedule them to come in on weekdays.
  4. “The Undecided”
    • These customers come from all walks of life, but their unifying factor is the velocity at which they make decisions. They don’t expect you to treat them like royalty, but they can take months to buy a car. In most cases, they won’t become very attached to anyone as they float from dealer to dealer. They are often seeking a “perfect vehicle” that fits every need with no fluff. A problematic group to master, and in my experience, some of the least likely to give referrals.

Car Sales Referrals Step 2: Maintaining the Relationship

The real work begins after you’ve built the relationship (and sold the product). Maintaining relationships is not tricky, but it does require work. Consistent, high-quality work. The saving grace is that the work that is necessary to maintain relationships is infinitely scalable.

Tip 1: Save the Number!

This tip is both incredibly simple and most often ignored. When you sell a customer a great product (car, software subscription, house). Save their number in your phone! Let me give you an excellent example of what a proper entry looks like in your iPhone’s contact book:

Correctly utilizing your contact book is key to generating car sales referrals!

John Doe is one handsome engineer

When John Doe above calls me, I’ll remember who it is. How long does it take to make this entry? 1-2 minutes. 

Tip 2: Send a Picture

This one is car sales specific. When a customer buys a car from you, ask to take their photo. Assign it to their contact, and send them the picture. They hopefully will post it on their social media. Even if they don’t, they are much more likely to remember you when they look back at the photo of their new car on its first day.

Tip 3: Linkedin

If you take care of Step #1 this one will be a breeze with the free automation tools available on Linkedin:

A picture of how linkedin is a great tool for maximizing your car sales referrals

Linkedin is an excellent tool for maximizing your car sales referrals

Download the app on your phone and allow it to pull your contacts. Then click the ones that like you. I don’t recommend clicking the “Connect to all X” button, as there are undoubtedly some customers that will not want to connect!

Also, make sure to avoid inviting people to Linkedin that don’t already have an account! Linkedin will prompt you to do that, and they have been in trouble in the past.

Tip 3-b: Linkedin Articles

In my area, most of the professionals who purchase cars from me have a Linkedin account that they check semi-regularly. Of those people, very few ever post any type of content (other than the occasional status update). Although few post content, many of them read their Linkedin newsfeed!

If you are inclined, you can reach many of your customers with a positive message indirectly with an article that you’ve put together. I’ve had customers come to see me during their service visit, to tell me how much they liked my article about my mum’s incredible career. Linkedin articles are an incredible, free, scalable tool for maintaining relationships. Consider adding authoring Linkedin articles to your toolbox for generating new car sales referrals!

Tip 4: Facebook (Demographic Dependent!)

Depending on what you sell, a Facebook group can be a great tool to maintain a relationship with your customers. Not my expertise (although I do have a group). If you want to see, this done well check out the Louisville Chevy Dude. The guy is a fantastic and diligent self-marketer.

Car Sales Referrals Step 3: Asking for the Referral

Asking for the referral is the most straightforward step. As a star salesperson, you want always to be confident when you ask for things from your customers.

As long as you have built strong relationships and maintained them well, you will grow your customer base over time. I do have one great template to share that you can use to ask for a referral directly:

Hi *Customer Name*!

Wow! It’s been X months since you picked up your awesome blue Q7! I almost couldn’t believe how fast the time has flown by.

Did you have any questions about functionality or features that you haven’t figured out? I’d love to help out! Just shoot me a text @ 408-555-1111.

By the way, we have started a small referral program at our dealer that I wanted to let you know about. If you send in a family, friend, or coworker (please no arch-enemies!) that buys a car, we will reward with you a thank you gift to show our thanks. Our current gift is a full professional detail for your Q7 and a full tank of gas!

Thanks again for your time reading this email,
*Your Name*

Simple. Feel free to steal and edit it to fit your tone! Let me know if you have a suggestion for a car sales referrals request template.

Review: The Ultimate Guide to Car Sales Referrals

Master the initial connection to start your relationships, then master scaleable tools to maintain them. Take every customer as an opportunity to sell three cars. One today and at least two down the road. Referral business has changed my whole way of doing business for the better, don’t let the possibility pass you by!

If you have any ideas for maximizing car sales referrals drop a comment below!