Friends and family influence customer buying decisions

Publish Date: 
May 23, 2012
By Tory Hornsby

THIS MAY SOUND CRAZY, but I’m finding more and more similarities between the golf industry and the powersports industry. It all started when a friend of mine was in the process of selling his restaurant, trying to decide what he would do with himself afterward. He wanted my feedback on his plans to open a pro shop, so he brought by a pro forma. As I dug into his research, the first similarity I noticed is that despite what many golfers may think, most people in the United States don’t play golf; only about 8 percent. Most riders are surprised to discover that only 6 percent of U.S. residents own motorcycles. Both industries have a narrow buying base, so it exploits the need to maximize every selling opportunity.

The second similarity is that golf, like powersports, is completely enthusiast-based. I was the last person I thought who would ever play golf. However, after doing a little research on the industry, it sparked a small interest. Then, a group of my friends invited me to play. I resisted at first, but decided to go for it, if for no other reason than to hang out with the guys and get a little better understanding of how people could have fun chasing around a little white ball.

That’s all it took, and now, due to the influence of friends, I play golf regularly.

This is the third similarity: People rarely just start playing golf out of the blue. It’s not usually a radio ad, a billboard or a TV commercial that triggers people to spend hundreds of dollars on clubs. They start playing because of friends and family. It’s the same for our industry as well. In fact, a recent MIC study discovered that the influence of friends and family is the third most important factor in a rider’s decision to purchase a specific model, behind test rides and visit to the dealership.

One of the quickest ways to double your business would be to have each of your customers refer to you one new customer. Doubling your customers would double your business.

Are you trying to get referrals, and if so, how are you doing it? One thing’s for certain, getting referrals requires you to have a great relationship with your customer. Every business assumes they do great in the customer relationship area, but most don’t.

I’m reminded of a recent visit to a golf pro shop when I was looking for a new driver. I was greeted by a nice sales rep that was well-versed in the product, who immediately began presenting the features of a driver. He didn’t ask any investigative questions to better understand where I play, what my strengths and weaknesses are, what type of clubs I currently have, if I hit with a draw or a slice, what I really want, etc.

Instead, he immediately started pitching a new driver the store was showcasing. The sales rep knew all about the features and benefits of the product, but he didn’t understand what enthusiasts are really in search of. If he had taken a moment to ask about my game and what I was looking for, he would have understood that what he was pitching wasn’t my greatest concern.

Our showroom floors are filled with salespeople who give the exact same unit presentation to every customer, regardless of who they are. There’s no developing rapport or understanding the customer’s wants and needs. Instead, salespeople just start pitching the product. They may know all about the features and benefits of the bikes, but they don’t understand (or have forgotten) what passion-based customers are really looking for: the experience and the relationship.

Salespeople who master the art of asking questions so they can build rapport and perform a good interview accomplish no small feat. They will dramatically increase their closing ratio and customer satisfaction because the probability of making the sale moves up/down in direct proportion to the strength of the relationship they’ve built. This strategy leverages the passion and enthusiasm of our great industry and generates more sales and happier customers.

I didn’t buy my new driver from that pro shop, because the experience was just as sterile as ordering online. I ended up buying at a PGA Superstore from a sales rep who talked with me about my game, watched me swing and recommended clubs based on my needs. I bought not only a driver, but also a set of clubs, due to the experience and relationship he built with me.

Professional salespeople understand that people buy from people they know, like and trust, and this develops from discovering, showing an interest in, and serving the needs of your customer to create a true enthusiast experience. This is what maximizes lifetime customer value and leads to referrals.

It’s exciting to see that many dealers are back to experiencing growth this year. However, growth has a way of hiding “Sales Department Sins.” Don’t fall into this trap. Ensure your growth in 2012 and beyond by building relationships and providing enthusiasts with an experience.

This story recently appeared in the Dealernews June 2012 issue.