Top 10 errors to avoid in boat-show planning sales


With the fall boat shows fast approaching (shows this month lead off in North Carolina and Ohio), it’s time to begin preparing because when it comes to sales success at shows you win when you focus on the five Ps — Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

So, after producing more than 130 boat shows in my career, I’ve got a pretty good idea about common mistakes dealers make when it comes to a boat show. Here’s my top 10 list of errors to avoid:

1. Failing to read the exhibitor manual: It’s designed by show management to be your reference guide to the most important aspects of participation and can save you money. A good show producer will include all the necessary information on: schedules, contractor(s), registration, service order forms, floor plans, electrical service, exhibit rules, advertising, promotional opportunities and more. Finally, in many venues, ordering services at the last minute can cost 10-20 percent more, so plan early.

2. Failing to prepare the staff: A lot of time, energy and money will be put into show participation, from transporting boats and exhibit components to stocking literature and handouts. But so often the people manning the show are just told to arrive and expect to be productive. Some staffers are simply not suited to work a show at all. Utilize only those that are and clearly identify for them why you’re exhibiting, what you’re displaying and what your expectations are for their performance. Failure to train for every show means lost sales.

3. Failing to set exhibit goals: Knowing what you expect to accomplish, in detail, will help you develop your final exhibit plan and, equally important, be a cornerstone for staff training. Specific exhibit goals will lead you to decisions about the products, display design, graphics, signage, traffic flow, exhibit access and promotions.

4. Entering the exhibit isn’t easy: The last thing you want to do is make navigating the entrance difficult. Yet I have seen many exhibitors do that in the name of traffic control or just by mistakenly jamming too much product into too little space. Remember, visitors are being enticed by a multitude of displays and products, so if it isn’t obvious and easy to access your display they’ll be singing the song “Walk on By.”

5. Messaging that’s not clear: The dealership’s name and the brands represented are equally important. Yet many times I have seen only one of the two clearly displayed and visible to visitors coming up or down the main aisle(s). Truth is you might have only a few seconds to impact them with your name so keep it simple, eye-catching and properly placed for highest visibility.

6. Failure to get featured by the show producer: I can’t tell you how many times I had to push exhibitors to give me information about what they’d be displaying or featuring so I could use it in show promotional materials. It would be good for the show’s draw and good for them. Take the initiative and contact the show promotion people early on. It will be mutually beneficial.

7. Lack of creative exhibiting when you lack new product: For a dealer, a fall show could be as much about getting rid of non-current inventory as introducing the newest models. In this case, it’s important to display the non-currents, which presumably have been shown in prior show(s), differently than before. Change position, signage, colors, lighting, decorating and/or accessory equipment to give a boat(s) a “new” look.

8. Failure to convey a sense of urgency: We know the overwhelming majority of show attendees are boaters. Their interest is already prequalified by their commitment of time to the show, paying admission, parking, etc. While only a small fraction of them have arrived intent on buying, every prospect coming into the display should be viewed as one with the potential to become a buyer if something were to trigger that action. So, aside from the product itself, the trigger could well be a special promotion being offered only at the show. It’s very important, then, to have special deals and promotions that your team can use during the show to convey a sense of urgency to the prospects.

9. Failure to promote to your customers: I recall a dealer who would always say to me: “I don’t want my customers coming to the show, so I don’t promote it.” I would respond by saying: “But many of them will come to the show anyway, so wouldn’t you want them to visit you and maintain your relationship with them?” I’ve seen successful dealers invite their customers to specific VIP days in their exhibit and have something special just for them. It actually accomplishes two things: It maintains important customer contact and it actually channels existing customers to visit during slower days or evenings, thus allowing the sales team more time on the busy days to focus on lining up new leads and sales.

10. Prospects are allowed to get away: Big error! Every member of the sales team must be trained and efficient at not letting the good ones get away. Getting contact information and ranking the prospect with appropriate notes/comments should be done immediately after any interaction. Sadly, show leads will often take second place to other duties at the store following the show. But the longer leads are left unattended, the colder they become. Prior to the show, establish how all leads will be handled, set timelines for follow up and hold every team member accountable for leads given to them.


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