The boat isn’t the only thing you’re delivering

Posted on Written by Bill Sisson
Bill Sisson

There was a lot of experience on the small stage in the IBEX seminar room, which meant that a lot of real-world advice was dispensed.

Speakers Bing Fishman and Don MacKenzie are not, after all, pie-in-the-sky guys. They’ve been on the front lines of sales and customer service for their entire careers and have a reputation for straight talk and integrity.

Fishman retired several years ago after spending more than 40 years helping Grady-White dealers sell boats and take care of their customers. And Don MacKenzie is vice president and general manager of Boats Inc. in Niantic, Conn., one of the largest Grady-White dealers in the world.

The talk focused on the issues new-boat buyers face and how to deliver great service from both a manufacturer’s and a dealer’s standpoint. One message both men delivered is that not everyone in sales is cut out for sales. “This is a people business,” says Fishman, who was the longtime Northeast regional sales manager for Grady-White. “You have to understand and read people. If you don’t like people, you are miscast as a salesperson or a sales manager.”

MacKenzie went a step further. “Many dealers actually believe customers are a pain in the ass,” says MacKenzie, whose business has been recognized for seven consecutive years as one of Boating Industry magazine’s Top 100 dealerships. The successful Grady-White dealer put up a slide that showed a stereotypical fast-talking, cigar-chewing used-car salesman. MacKenzie titled the slide: “This would be a fun business if we didn’t have to deal with the customers!”

“What is his CSI?” the presenter asks. “Does he care? Has he been doing this too long?” And then he asks a rhetorical question that brought the point home: Do we see new buyers coming into our showrooms in droves?

“No,” says MacKenzie, who is active in his state marine trades association and started what has become one of the largest fun fishing tournaments in New England. “So we have to make sure we keep the ones we have. Why do I show this picture? You have to assume that when a new customer walks into your showroom he has had to deal with this guy before, so there will be no trust or confidence.

“As a matter of fact,” he continues, “if they do come back in, the industry is lucky to have them.”

Everyone has had a bad sales experience. “Simply make sure you avoid delivering the same experience to your customer,” he says. “Understand they don’t know or care what kind of week you have had. They care about what they were promised.”

And, he continues, “When you care about them, they will, in turn, care about you.” And that, in a nutshell, is part of the virtuous cycle of sales.

How do you forge that relationship? “Brag about the longevity of your co-workers and how long the dealership has been in business,” Fishman notes. “Take them on a tour of your dealership and introduce them to the people they will be dealing with. Give them a history of the manufacturers and why you chose to do business with them.

“You’re not just selling a boat,” Fishman says. “You’re telling a story you’re proud of and building a relationship.”

MacKenzie says he learned in the military the importance of establishing and rigorously adhering to simple systems, such as detailed sales check-off lists for each new-boat delivery; he showed those in attendance the list his salespeople use.

“Whether it is a 14-foot aluminum boat with a 9.9 outboard or a 40-foot cruiser, if there is not a system in place to ‘inspect what you expect,’ the delivery will be a day full of anxiety,” MacKenzie says. But, he notes, “if you create a checklist, similar to this, and it is adhered to, your deliveries will be seamless.”

And he provides this tip: “Make someone accountable, and watch the results go up.”

MacKenzie’s father was in the restaurant business, and Don remembers an effective policy his father had in place between the waitresses and the chef — in other words, between sales and service. “If the waitress didn’t feel the plate was worthy of being served and the chef did,” he recalls, “then the chef could deliver the meal. It fixed a lot of issues. Why? Because now the chef had to go eye to eye with the person paying the bill. Not easy, is it?”

In the boat business, MacKenzie says, “the person who sold and is delivering the new boat is the one responsible.” Period. No excuses.

During his years in the business, Fishman says, he saw too much finger pointing among people on the same team. “The salesman blames the service department for not inspecting the boat before delivery,” Fishman says. “The service department thinks the salesperson does nothing but drink coffee all day and rake in money. Does this sound familiar?”

The salesperson has to build relationships not only with customers but also with his own team, Fishman continues. “You need to be liked by the riggers, the bottom painters and, most important, by the office staff. Thank you is not said enough. A jug of coffee and muffins go a long way. … This is not difficult. Once the culture starts to take hold in your organization, you will start having fun. It will also become self-policing.

“Remember, you are a team!”

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue.

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