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The Power of Referral Cards

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When it comes to spreading the word about your business, few things pack as much power as a personal referral. Coming from someone who’s “in the know” and has been there, done that, a referral from one friend to another is more believable than even the best advertising campaign, because a friend has no ulterior motive besides acting in another friend’s best interest.

Better yet, most of the time a referral is completely free.

One of the top methods for small-business marketing, according to one survey, the recommendations of others account for the selection of as much as 45 percent of service-oriented businesses. Best of all, perhaps, is that customers who give you referrals become more loyal to you and your business, says marketing guru David Frey, author of the “Instant Referral Systems” program.

Frey’s Web site tells the legend of Detroit’s Joe Girard, a prolific salesperson in the Guinness Book of World Records for selling more automobiles in 12 consecutive years than anyone else in the world. All of his business came from referrals, which he capitalized on using a method that can translate into almost any industry and certainly into increased sales at your shop.

Girard developed a system of staying in touch with customers and potential clients by sending everyone he came into contact with a unique greeting card every month. They weren’t high-pressure sales letters, but rather friendly notes to remind people that he was thinking about them. Eventually, Girard was sending out more than 13,000 cards per month, with the help of a handful of assistants, celebrating anything from Halloween to Groundhog Day.

Sounds labor-intensive, and normally it would be—but since the days of Joe Girard, technology has made it a simple and painless task that can be done every month without ever giving it a second thought.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY

Many small-business owners believe that simply giving fantastic customer service will bring them lots of referrals, but this isn’t always the case. “If you are not deliberate and proactive in creating referrals, the chances of you receiving as many referrals as you want are slim,” states Frey.

It can be a difficult or even awkward task to ask your customers and your friends to give you a referral, and sometimes the general, “If you happen to know anybody …” is too vague and easily forgotten. But consistent contact, over time, keeps your name out there, and when a “Thanks for Your Business” card one month is followed by a “Happy Fourth of July” the next, a unique or humorous referral card is likely to be well-received and acted upon.

“Greeting cards are the perfect tool for your body shop marketing efforts because they are unusually effective at delivering your message,” says Frey. “First, greeting cards always get opened. Second, they always get read, and third, if done right, they can leave a powerful impression.”

And with the right message, they can leave a powerful urge to spread the word about your collision repair shop.

Frey advocates a system that reaches customers under a 12-month follow-up referral card program, which contains six unique referral card designs. From every customer or potential customer he meets, Frey tries to get an address and perhaps a birth date or an anniversary. For body shops, you can use the date you delivered someone’s perfectly repaired card as their “anniversary” with your shop. Over the next 12 months, then, Frey’s customers receive a mix of thank-you, referral and holiday cards. For less than $1 per card, the personalized messages appear to be handwritten (thanks to computer software) and are generated automatically, without any effort by the sender aside from entering a name and address into the system.

The site, sendreferralcards.com, includes testimony from several small-business owners who claim their referral rates increased by as much as 39 percent once they began using an automated card-generating system.

“I’d been trying to find a low cost way to stay in front of my past clients and get new clients,” says satisfied customer Steven Scheeler, CEO of Desert Breeze Glass in Mesa, Ariz., “It’s pretty neat when customers like Sam, one of our past clients, stopped by to thank us for a greeting card. In return he referred two of his friends who had damaged windshields. … I highly recommend it to any small business owner or independent professional.”

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