A bird dog program and referral incentives can transform your dealership’s advertising budget
“Birds? Dogs? I work in an auto dealership, not a pet store. What’s with all this animal talk?”
Those who are new to working in the auto industry or sales may be confused if the subject of a bird dog program comes up in a sales meeting. These programs are very common, though—you may have just heard them called by different names in the past.
A bird dog program is a type of referral incentive. It’s named for hunting dogs that are used to track down and retrieve birds. Yes, it’s awkward to think about certain customers as hunting dogs and others as birds — don’t reflect on that connection too hard. The main idea is that you want to have your dealership’s happy customers and brand ambassadors out in the real world trying to bring you qualified leads that will convert.
Some past customers don’t need any incentive to sing the praises of a business they’re happy with, but you can’t depend on these top clients to carry your dealership’s referrals. By investing a bit of time and money into creating a real bird dog program in your dealership, you’re putting your entire business in a better position for increased sales, retention, and overall customer satisfaction.
Why does your dealership need a Bird Dog program? Here are 5 reasons.
1. Past customers stay engaged while bringing in new customers.
Even when you’re using your CRM, it’s challenging to keep past customers engaged with your dealership, until they eventually need a new car or some service work done. By offering a bird dog program, these individuals think about you more than they normally would, and more likely to encourage new people to visit your business.
2. It can encourage competing dealerships to send you hot leads.
This practice is more common with BHPH dealerships, but your competitors aren’t always going to have what a prospect is looking for. They can let them walk away and buy from a competing dealership—or they can call you, send the prospect to your dealership, and make some quick money off the referral.
3. Paying a small bird dog fee could buy you a lifelong customer.
Referral programs have lower customer acquisition costs and higher closing rates than other types of advertising.
4. A bird dog program can give you an edge in a competitive marketplace.
In today’s competitive world of auto sales, every little added benefit counts. If a customer finds the car they want at two different dealerships for the same price, someone involved in your bird dog program could be the tie-breaker that encourages them to give your dealership the sale.
5. Word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective form of advertising.
According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising. You can put all of your advertising dollars into flashy television commercials and billboards, or you can invest a fraction of that amount into leveraging your satisfied customers to get the word out.
Revamp an existing bird dog program or create another referral program
With most bird dog programs, the “dog” will get a flat fee—usually ranging from $50-$250—when the “bird” they’ve brought in buys a car. If you already have this type of program and it’s not bringing you a number of returns you’d like to see, consider these ideas:
1. Give your bird dog program a mini facelift.
Not sure why your current program isn’t successful? Do some small tests to see where the disconnect may be. If you’re only paying $50 per sale, increase the amount to $100 and see what happens. If you’re already paying a decent fee, look at how you’re marketing the program and make messaging adjustments.
2. Remember that walking away with money in-hand doesn’t motivate everyone.
You may want to create a referral program that appeals to different people in different ways. For example, let them choose from a VISA gift card, free oil changes for 3 months—or even pay their next car payment.
3. Always be tracking.
You can’t know for sure that a bird dog or referral program is successful if you aren’t tracking the results. Set up a system within your automotive CRM that allows you and your salespeople to track referrals, find top referring customers, and overall sales from referrals.
As you create a new bird dog program in your dealership, or just revamp an existing one, keep this thought in mind: bird dog programs are rarely the primary motivation for a referral. Your priority should be ensuring your customers have an exceptional experience in your dealership—once they’ve had that experience, they are far more likely to become ambassadors for your brand and top referral-drivers.