Selling UTVs

SEMA News—July 2018


By Mike Imlay

Selling UTVs

The Five Best Practices That Turn Shoppers Into Buyers

Within the off-roading market, UTVs are hotter than ever. Whether you’re a retailer selling the vehicles themselves or solely upgrade accessories, expert research has verified the five best practices that can give you a competitive edge.

Within the off-roading segment, side-by-sides (aka UTVs) have emerged as popular second vehicles for Jeep and truck enthusiasts. Beyond this crossover market, a growing number of newbie buyers are also opting for UTVs as their first forays into outdoor and powersports recreation, thanks to the economical price of admission. Nowadays, a reasonably capable stock UTV can be had for as little as $11,000, and manufacturers have become fiercely competitive in the race to offer consumers a bevy of tough, agile, trail-ready side-by-sides.

In October 2016, RZR manufacturer Polaris acquired retail giant Transamerican Auto Parts, owner of off-road retail chain 4Wheel Parts. Soon after, multi-industry Textron entered the UTV/off-road fray by acquiring Arctic Cat. For 2018, American Honda heavily upgraded its flagship Pioneer 1000 UTV, calling it “the most technologically advanced side-by-side on the market.” Not to be outdone, BRP countered with its highly anticipated Can-Am ’18 Maverick Trail model and a slick “Meet You Out There” marketing campaign. Consequently, there is an equally aggressive and growing aftermarket for the parts and accessories that UTV owners crave, including shocks and suspension upgrades, wheels and tires, lighting and safety equipment, and mobile electronics and infotainment options.

Whether you are an actual UTV dealer or prefer to deal only in parts and accessories, the proper sales tactics can give you the essential edge in this highly competitive climate. And now there’s research to prove it, courtesy of the recent “U.S. UTV Industry Benchmarking Study” released by Pied Piper, a company based in Monterey, California, with 15 years of experience developing and measuring successful dealer sales programs.

“The UTV study is interesting for us because that market overlaps powersports and also the outdoor power-equipment folks,” said Fran O’Hagan, Pied Piper president and CEO. “This is the first time that we have done anything to understand their part of the business. It’s very useful if a manufacturer and its dealers have a way to measure how effectively a dealership sells—something factual, not somebody’s opinion. What specifically is a dealership doing that is going to turn shoppers into buyers? And what are they not doing?”

PSI Versus CSI

Before tackling the takeaways, it’s important to note the study’s novel approach. Typical sales surveys measure customer satisfaction indices (CSI) to gauge how happy customers are after their purchasing experience. By contrast, Pied Piper has developed a metric O’Hagan calls the prospect satisfaction index (PSI), which focuses solely on the sales behaviors that actually convert lookers into purchasers. It’s an important distinction that first dawned on O’Hagan years ago when he evaluated the customer research of major auto manufacturers.

“I remember noticing that all the customers were happy,” he said. “On a scale of zero to 100, they would average 95–98. Yet I knew that some of those dealerships were really lousy at the sales process. Of course, it was because the customers had voted with their wallets. They were at least happy enough to have bought a car. But we found that some dealers would leave a swath of completely angry customers in their wake who didn’t buy.”

Over time, Pied Piper tapped into manufacturer key performance indicator data, such as market share and sales improvements by dealership, to match specific dealer behaviors with sales conversions.

“We found that our PSI numbers matched up perfectly with customers who described dealers with that magic word, helpful,” O’Hagan said. “That was fascinating to us.”

For its UTV report, Pied Piper applied its PSI methodology over a seven-month period to rank the most successful UTV dealerships, along with the sales practices that made them so. The survey measured treatment of UTV shoppers who visited a dealership through a mix of “mystery shoppers” and scoring across 60-plus industry indicators for sales success. Regardless of dealership rankings, O’Hagan said that there were five basic sales behaviors universally shared by retailers who topped the list:

  1. Selling Yourself, the Sales Person: “If we take this first one, selling yourself, that’s a little misleading,” O’Hagan said. “I’m not really saying, hey, I’m a wonderful person. What it means is that I’m building rapport and I’m making a positive first impression. There’s a cliché in selling anything, which is that we humans buy from people we like. You need to set a positive first impression.”
  2. Selling the Dealership: This second step is all about presenting your business’ selling points. Is it family owned? Experienced? Perhaps it’s your post-purchase services that make you stand out. Or perhaps it’s selection, awesome techs, special UTV outings or events. “Any dealership should be able to list a bunch of reasons that the customer has come to the right place,” O’Hagan asserted.
  3. Understanding the Customer: “You need to understand the customer to match their needs with product features,” O’Hagan said. Listen to their questions and answer them helpfully. Introduce them to products appropriate to their needs and budget. Involve them through a walk-around or a see-and-touch experience. If it’s a vehicle, get them to sit inside and, if possible, offer a test drive. If they’re shopping accessories, demonstrate how the products work. Exchange knowledge and give your customer reasons to buy.
  4. Asking for the Sale: According to O’Hagan, an incredible number of sales people skip this step. “One reason is that we humans don’t like rejection,” he said. “So maybe we size up the customer and tell ourselves that they’re just looking or maybe they’re not serious or whatever it is. I have to ask for the sale. I have to get contact information to be able to follow up.” Of course, how a sales person does so will depend on region and customs, along with the product selections and the flavor of the store or dealership. “It can be the softest of soft closes—just inviting the customer to sit down at your desk,” O’Hagan suggested. “Or it can be asking, ‘Are you interested in buying this product from me today?’ The point is we have to ask customers to buy in order to get their ‘yes’ or state their concerns so we can address them.”
  5. Following Through: “Statistically, out of five customers who initially walk into a dealership to shop UTVs, only one of them buys during that visit,” O’Hagan said. “The other four walk out without buying.” That doesn’t mean they will never buy, but it does mean you need to get their contact information and stay in touch. Make yourself a friendly resource until they’re ready to buy. That way, they return to you.

The list isn’t surprising yet Pied Piper found that UTV customers today face a widely inconsistent experience when visiting otherwise similar dealerships. While some businesses are professionally run, with skilled sales people who do all they can to be helpful, there are too many others where UTVs are sold “on the side” by employees primarily focused on other products—and perhaps their own goals.

“If I’m the owner and a customer walks into my shop, I want them to buy today,” O’Hagan said. “But if they don’t, I know that they live five miles away and I’m going to see them again. I want to make sure they leave as a fan of my dealership, because I know they’ll come back and I know they’ll tell other people.

Further Details

Pied PiperComplete Pied Piper PSI industry study results are available to national dealer groups.

For more information about the firm’s Prospect Satisfaction Index and proprietary PSI process, go to

“On the other hand, if I’m a sales person and I’m paid on commission, I pretty much want them to buy right now, period. If they aren’t willing to buy right now, the sales person wants them out of their hair so they can focus on the next customer.”

In other words, don’t expect your sales team to automatically share your business vision. You, the retail owner, have to take the lead in cultivating an environment that boosts PSI. Train your people in these best practices; make them your outlet’s “brand ambassadors”; encourage and reward their follow-through.

No matter what you’re selling, the guiding principle for your entire staff should be helpfulness—in turning shoppers into buyers and, ultimately, buyers into lifelong fans of your business and what it can offer.

Are you one of the many retailers looking to capitalize on the growing UTV craze? If so, you may want to carefully review how your dealership or shop staff approaches and follows through with the customers who walk through your doors.

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