MDCE 2010: Speaker stresses rapid response on Web

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Those who arrived early at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo took advantage of three bonus sessions that offered insights into boat buying.

Frank Peterson, president and CEO of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, discussed the results of a recent survey that shows who is buying boats. Thetford/Norcold presented a session on the new macerating toilet technology in marine sanitation. And Courtney Chalmers, of Dominion Marine Media, discussed getting online leads faster and the importance of the Internet in selling boats.

Chalmers noted that 90 percent of prospects now begin their search for a new boat on the Internet. That's why it's important for dealers to be sure their sites come up high on the list on search engines such as Google. Strong keywords and descriptive meta tags are vital, she said.

Sixty-three percent of boat buyers compare prices online and visit an average of seven sites before reaching a final decision, Chalmers said. "The Internet draws more targeted and valuable leads."

Chalmers also advised attendees to use internal page links on their websites and provide easy-to-use navigation and informative boat listings with lots of clear pictures and video, if possible.

"Don't make it difficult for people to find what they're looking for after they've done the hard part of finding you," Chalmers advised. Also, she said, don't hide contact information and make it difficult for people to talk to you.

Another no-no: Dealers should not link back to manufacturers' websites. That can make it easy for users to find other dealers for the boats they want.

The need for fast lead response times is crucial, Chalmers said, noting that 20 percent of consumers purchase from a different dealership than the first one they contacted because of poor response.

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are becoming increasingly vital to businesses. These sites, she said, are a good way for businesses to control their online messages and grow their customer base.

*    *    *

Peterson presented the results of a survey done in June in which 2,862 boaters and non-boaters were asked about boat-buying plans and reasons to buy - or not buy - a boat.

The survey showed that the recession has changed how people think. Four of 10 respondents do repairs themselves and spend less on accessories, and three of 10 are shifting money away from boating, Peterson said.

However, 50 percent said they were still in the market for a boat; it just might take them longer than in the past to make the purchase.

Current customers, he said, are the best way to get new ones. "You need somebody to mentor somebody into the sport," he said, adding that gateway activities such as fishing are the best ways to get people into boating.

Full survey results can be found on the RBFF website.

— Beth Rosenberg

b.rosenberg@tradeonlytoday.com

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