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Can you answer the first three questions a customer asks?

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How do you convince the consumer that your boat or product is more like Häagen-Dazs than the store brand? How do you professionally and effectively differentiate your boat or service or piece of equipment from the rest of the field?

The ability and importance of being able to communicate technical information to your customers and clients in a language they can understand was the subject of a panel discussion I moderated Monday at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference in Louisville, Ky.

The three panelists who participated in the “Dealer and Product Expertise” session at IBEX are industry veterans whose backgrounds are diverse enough that they brought unique yet complementary perspectives to the discussion.

As a dealer, the ability to communicate the technical details of a boat or product is a key element in establishing a positive relationship with the customer, and that relationship is critical to successful selling, says marine consultant Eric Sorensen, the original director of the marine practice at J.D. Power and Associates and the author of “Sorensen’s Guide to Powerboats.”

You’ll be more comfortable and effective with customers if you have a thorough understanding of how the boat went together and how the design and construction elements influence ride, performance, fuel efficiency, seaworthiness and so on, Sorensen says.

Be honest, don’t “go negative” on the competition and don’t promote the boat as being able to do something it can’t, or you’ll lose that customer long-term, says Sorensen, who provides technical training to dealers. “Don’t sell them a pig in a poke,” he says. “Manage their expectations. Under-promise and over-deliver.”

Don MacKenzie, vice president of Boats Inc. of Niantic, Conn., one of the largest Grady-White dealerships in the world, says you’d better be able to answer the first three questions a customer who walks into your dealership asks, no matter what they might be.

One way MacKenzie helps keep his sales force sharp is by playing a trivia game in which they try to stump one another on product details. And, he notes, “You have to know how to use the facts and when to use them.”

Will Keene, president of Edson International in New Bedford, Mass., says there’s no excuse for failing to know the details of the boat or product you’re selling. And he suggests keeping on an eye on the competition by following their blogs and reading what consumers are saying.

“Know what the customer wants, and sell them an appropriate boat,” advises Keene, whose company makes a full line of steering systems and accessories. “That will make a happy customer.”

If you don’t carry what they’re really looking for, don’t be afraid to send them to someone who does. “It will come back to you in spades,” Keene says.

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