Seminar suggests generational approach to sales

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The same sales pitch won’t work on everyone.

Boat dealers should not only gauge a potential customer’s needs in the boat-buying process, they should also tailor their method based on the buyer’s age.

That was the message from Shane Pierce, director of leadership development for Dominion Enterprises, as he addressed dealers Wednesday at a Marine Retail University in Brockton, Mass.

“This is the first time in our history that we’ve ever had four generations in our work space in the same time,” Pierce told about 150 dealers. “We’ve had four generations in society before, but never in the workplace.”

Pierce laid out very specific tactics for each of the generations: The Matures; the Boomers; the Gen Xers; and the Millennials.

The mature generation makes up 15 percent of today’s work force and, although they account for only 6 percent of boat buyers, they are repeat customers.

The baby boomers account for 33 percent of the work force and Generation X just 18 percent.

The millennials, the second-largest generation after the boomers, will account for 60 to 65 percent of the work force within 10 years, Pierce said.

With matures, a traditional sales process is best.

“These folks want you to identify what you are looking for, they are expecting you to close them, and expect one or two objections because they want you to earn their business,” Pierce said.

Testimonials are critical with the mature generation, particularly if garnered from someone they deem an authority figure, Pierce said. Name and age might help, but more important is a title or role. Dealer certifications also will build credibility with this generation.

“These folks grew up with the mentality: ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ They don’t have to show off their individuality.”

Listen to their stories and under-promise and over-deliver every time, Pierce said. Most important, stay in touch with the matures. Send them handwritten cards.

Selling to boomers requires a teamwork approach.

“It should never be, ‘I will sell you a boat,’ ” Pierce said. “It’s, ‘I’m going to team up with you to find the best possible solution for you.’ Take them by the hand, introduce them to the F&I manager, the service manager, the marina manager. Teamwork is terribly important.”

Demonstrating work ethic is equally important for the generation of workaholics, Pierce said.

“Getting an email from you at 10 at night, or first thing in the wee hours of the morning, demonstrates that you’re hard at work for them, and that resonates,” Pierce said.

“If you go off on a laundry list of features and functionality, that person will say, ‘This person’s not a team player. He is wasting my time,’ ” Pierce said. “One thing boomers don’t have is a lot of time. They’re working. When they’re spending time away from work it’s got to be used well.”

Chosen communication methods with this generation are in person and on the phone.

Generation X cannot be rushed on a sales decision and has already visited a dealer’s website long before he enters a showroom, Pierce said.

“Don’t force a relationship, don’t be salesy, don’t be folksy,” Pierce said. “You’ve got to sell the steak and not the sizzle because if they sense any exaggeration or fabrication, they will back away.”

Gen Xers want to be educated in a straightforward way and prefer email as a form of contact.

“Face to face, they will not make hard and fast decisions,” Pierce said. “They will make decisions away from you and come back with a decision.”

Millennials are the least loyal of the generations, Pierce said.

“These folks are the coddled generation,” Pierce said. “There were seven people on the swim team, and they all got a blue ribbon. They were brought up being told it’s absolutely appropriate to have an opinion, it’s your right to listen to them.”

As a generation that has gone through an economic downturn in their youth, they will be affected as the mature generation has been, Pierce said. And they have grown up with group speak and group think.

“Suggest to them they invite their friends,” Pierce said. “They’re going to seek their friends’ opinions, so you may as well have friends there. And don’t forget mom and dad. That’s very important.”

This generation isn’t used to making big financial decisions and must be walked through the financing process, Pierce said. And email is passe — the millennials text.

“They have the shortest attention span of all,” Pierce said. “Don’t be surprised if they’re texting someone while you’re talking to them about a feature.”

— Reagan Haynes

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