MDCE 2010: Think differently, connect with customers


ORLANDO, Fla. - The sales and marketing track at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo featured two sessions Tuesday that were designed to help dealers think differently about issues such as price and marketing.

Don Cooper presented a session titled "The Myth of Price," and Wanda Kenton Smith discussed "Eight Proven High-Impact, Low-Cost Sales and Marketing Strategies."

"We all believe that price is the ultimate issue. ... That is a myth," Cooper said. "It's rarely even the biggest issue."

Only 14 percent of consumers buy solely on price, he said; most aren't looking for the best price, just the best value.

Cooper encouraged dealers to compete on items other than price and challenged them to consider what makes their dealership unique. Avoid cliches, he said, but let your customers know what makes you special.

"You don't have to be better. You just have to be different," he added.

If the only thing a customer cares about is price, he added, that may not be someone you want as a long-term customer. Cooper recommended that dealers let prospects know "there's always someone out there who's willing to undercut prices because they don't believe in providing the level of service we do."

Dealers need to be willing to walk away from a deal. You can't close every sale, he told the audience. "Holding your price does not guarantee you'll lose the deal, just as cutting your price does not guarantee you'll make it," Cooper said.

If you give a discount, be sure you get something in return, he told the audience. For example: The customer must pay immediately, finance through the dealership, contract for a one-year lease on storage or buy an extended warranty.

Rather than give a discount, dealers can offer an expedited delivery date, a discount on accessories or a gas card.

"If something is worth it to [the customer], they'll buy it," Cooper said. "We don't charge more because we're greedy, selfish bastards. ... Charging more allows us to stay in business and grow our business. Never apologize for your price.

"Charging more in exchange for giving more is in everybody's best interest," he added.

* * *

Kenton Smith outlined eight strategies that a dealership could employ to market and boost its business.

  • Good, old-fashioned phone contact: There are many good reasons to call prospects: You can let them know about specials and events, tell them about service specials or schedule an appointment to come to the dealership to see the latest model. The phone is the top way to reach out to potential customers.
  • Maintain ongoing communication through e-blasts, newsletters and/or social media: Social media, she noted, is a "soft and subtle" tool for selling. Twitter has nearly 106 million users and there are more than 500 million people on Facebook. Dealers need to be out there. "Do something or be left behind," Kenton Smith cautioned.
  • Cross-promote your dealership with like-minded businesses whose demographics match your own: The possibilities include auto dealers, gyms, sports bars and grocery stores.
  • Stage special events so your customers feel like friends and family: Give them a reason to come to your dealership.
  • Create high-visibility public relations in your market: Pick someone in your company to become a spokesman - that person should be articulate, knowledgeable and personable, Kenton Smith said. Then think like a journalist. Reporters are looking for what's new, what's different and what's first.
  • Maximize your Web presence: Your site needs to be fresh and updated regularly, she said. Kenton Smith suggested adding a dedicated "specials" page to the site and a button to "request a quote." Also, she said, be sure you use keywords that enable you to come up higher on search engines.
  • Rock the boat show: Give consumers a reason to visit you at shows. Hold contests or organize games.
  • Network and brainstorm with peers: Kenton Smith said this strategy is often overlooked, but can be the best way to come up with new ideas. "They've been there and they can share with you what works and what doesn't," she said.

The Marine Dealer Conference & Expo runs through today and concludes tonight with Boating Industry magazine's Top 100 Dealers gala.

See the January issue of Soundings Trade Only for a wrap-up of the dealer conference.

— Beth Rosenberg


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