Your Daily Operations Magazine
Search Close Menu

Dealer Ops

Cost-Effective Marketing Ideas: Get Your Customers to Promote You

If I were a dealer, what would I be doing right now to promote my dealership? While I’m a C.P.A. (not a dealer), for the purpose of this article, let’s pretend I have a dealership and that my staff and I are already doing a lot to promote the store. We sponsor golf tournaments, host NASCAR and other professional sports team promotions, donate a car to charity, support the local schools and churches, display our vehicles at the county fair and so on. We offer a free oil change with each vehicle sold and even give every fifth oil change free.

That’s all great, but what else should we be doing? Granted, the economy is down right now; it’s not a great time to start spending more money. But if we don’t spend any more to promote the store, will we be losing potential sales?

What to do? What is the best form of advertising? Of course! We’ll get our own customers to promote us! Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Now, what is the best way to turn customers into walking advertisements? 

First, they have to be very satisfied customers. They have to enjoy doing business with us and trust us with their vehicles. Whether they’re sales or service customers, they have to be happy customers. Satisfied customers will tell their friends and family, and people tend to trust other people’s referrals. Every customer’s experience with us must be pleasant and easy.

Now, how can we make the customer think of us in the same thought as their car? Give them referral cards to hand out to their friends and families. We could also give them coupons to use for discounts and free service work.

The next step is figuring out the cheapest method to get these referral cards and coupons to customers on a regular basis. E-mail would be the perfect way to do it, but that presents another problem. Like a lot of dealerships, we haven’t exactly been diligent about getting customers’ e-mail addresses. That means we’ll have to start calling the sales and service customers who don’t have e-mail addresses on file. Maybe we could send postcards asking them to e-mail us, so they can start receiving these wonderful coupons and referral cards. Dealership personnel will need to be re-trained to ask each visitor for an e-mail address, whether that person visits service or simply comes in to look around.

When we e-mail them, it might also be a good idea to include some tips on how to keep their cars in good running condition and maybe suggest some products that will help make their vehicles look nice. That way, the customer is being educated, and the message is effective without looking like a hard sell. Other tips could even be posted on the dealership’s Web site, so customers who visit the site looking for more tips will also see more sales and service specials.

There are a lot of prior customers we don’t think about until they walk through the door again to see us. We can’t just wait for people to visit the store or the Web site. We have to contact them first. We have to make an effort to be in front of them on a regular basis. Additionally, we have to do it cheaply and easily, and we can’t afford to hire someone else to do it.

Resources must be committed to this project. A few staff members could be appointed to be in charge of the project, so progress can be monitored regularly. It should be easy to track the progress because the customer would be bringing in a coupon or a referral card. A spreadsheet could be set up to track how many e-mail addresses we have accumulated each month and how many people are using the promotions we are sending them. Since not everyone checks their e-mail on a regular basis, follow-up by mail or phone may be necessary to update customer information.

Some of the advertising and promotion dollars normally spent outside the dealership could be used for this project instead. We could entice customers to provide their information by offering them $5 off their next service visit to the dealership. This one-time expenditure will allow us to send them advertising via e-mail without incurring additional cost.

What if we walked up to every service customer today and gave them $5 off their repair order? Would that get them talking to their friends? Probably so. Maybe we could give them each a $5 coupon for their next visit and another coupon to give to a friend. What if we told them we would give them $100 of free service and parts work if enough people used their name for a referral? Of course it wouldn’t cost the dealership $100, but the customer would perceive it as a $100 value. Hey, that would be a good deal for them and us!

Gosh, I’d better get moving this morning. I have a lot to do. Wait a second, I almost forgot—I don’t actually have a dealership to run. In that case, I guess you have a lot to do! Go create some walking advertisements!

Vol 5, Issue 10



KAR Names Kelly President

KAR Names Kelly President

Peter Kelly has been promoted to the newly created role of president at KAR Auction Services, the company he joined through the 2011 acquisition of OPENLANE.

Dealer Job Finder

See more


VAS Partners With Alpha Warranty

Vehicle Administrative Services will offer roadside and ancillary solutions to Alpha Warranty Services under the terms of a new strategic partnership.