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Don’t be a ‘stupid salesman’

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We need to grow the pie. We need to attract more women, more young people, more minority-group members — more people who don’t look exactly like me and, no offense, probably don’t look like you, either.

The Recreational Boating Stakeholders Growth Summit sketched a clear picture of the narrowing path we are traveling and how future success relies on adjusting to shifting demographics and diversification — on casting a much wider net for prospective new boaters.

No surprise there.

As an industry we certainly are doing a better job than we once did at recognizing not only the important role that women play in the buying process but also in understanding that they represent viable prospects in their own right.

Keep in mind, veteran marketer and longtime Trade Only columnist Wanda Kenton Smith has been beating the proverbial drum for women in boating since the late 1980s, when she founded International Women in Boating, the first of two groups she formed highlighting the expanding role and influence that women have in boating.

As Wanda has pointed out in previous columns, women make the majority of consumer purchasing decisions. They control as much as 80 percent of spending in the United States, including purchasing upward of 60 percent of new cars and more than 50 percent of used cars. And they “influence” more than 80 percent of car purchases.

What about boats?

“If Mama doesn’t want the boat, he ain’t getting the boat.” That’s a mantra Wanda has cited to explain the influence of women on an activity too often seen as dominated by men. Given that more than 80 percent of boaters are married, don’t just look at the name on the boat registration if you want to get an accurate picture of the dynamics of the purchasing process. It’s a joint decision, with both spouses sharing to varying degrees the “veto” and “yes” powers.

All that is prelude to a cautionary tale that appeared recently in Fortune magazine, a reminder that for as far as we’ve come, we still have a ways to go when it comes to shedding social and cultural stereotypes and adjusting our behaviors to a rapidly changing world.

The story involves financial journalist Becky Quick, a co-host of the morning TV business show “Squawk Box” on CNBC, and her experience buying a minivan.

When she was seven months’ pregnant, Quick visited several car dealerships with her husband and two children to test-drive a minivan — and to make a purchase. “But getting someone to take $40,000 from you can be tougher than you might think, as I learned at one Chrysler, one Honda and three Toyota dealerships,” Quick wrote in a column in Fortune, where she is a contributor.

All of the scenarios were similar to the one she encountered at a Toyota dealership near her home, where the salesman looked past her to find her husband, Quick writes. The sales rep responded to Quick’s questions about the car by speaking directly to her husband, essentially ignoring the real buyer, until Quick’s husband suggested that the salesman speak to his wife.

“When the guy took me to his desk to take down my information, he asked me for my home phone number and followed up with: “Obviously you don’t have a work phone.” Oops. Last time I looked, Quick was interviewing billionaire investor Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Quick also relates an experience that former Xerox chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy had shopping for a Porsche several years ago. After a test drive, Mulcahy said she’d take the car. The salesman paused and asked whether there wasn’t someone she wanted to talk to first, according to Quick’s account. “If you don’t start working on the paperwork in the next 10 seconds,” Mulcahy replied, “I’ll drive 30 minutes to the next Porsche dealer and buy the car there.”

“It doesn’t take an M.B.A. to recognize the bad business practices on display,” Quick wrote. “The issue may be that the problem is so pervasive in the auto industry. Every salesman I dealt with on my minivan adventure automatically deferred to my husband. And in the end, even a stupid salesman can make a sale when he’s selling an essential good.”

She says she bought the minivan from the dealer described in her column because she was tired of shopping and the baby was coming.

We’ve come a good ways in the marine industry since Wanda first began raising our collective consciousness almost 25 years ago. Whether it’s cars, boats or homes, prospective customers have to be treated with respect, regardless of gender, age, color and ethnic background or the type of shoes they’re wearing or the car they drive up in. It’s just the right thing to do.

Deep-six the stereotypes. Success today and tomorrow requires smart, insightful sales teams who can better see the world as it truly is.



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