Follow-up is key to boat show sales

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If we took a survey, I’ll bet the overwhelming majority of dealers would say event participation, aka boat show exhibiting, is an essential part of their marketing strategy. Indeed, many would cite event marketing as the most crucial channel to stoke annual sales goals.

With Labor Day behind us and the industry’s busy fall show schedule kicking into high gear this Thursday, starting with the Metro (Detroit) Boat Show, the Newport Boat Show and the North Coast Harbor Boat Show in Cleveland, the face-to-face power of these events for dealers should generate a healthy stack of leads to energize the sales team for the months ahead . . . IF good follow-up is a cornerstone of the marketing plan.

Why reinforce that today? Well, I’m reminded of a story once shared by a good friend and successful show producer, John Dobbertin, founder of Professional Exposition Management Company. He was cleaning up after one of his computer shows (Uniforum), when he found a shoebox-sized container on the floor next to the trash--filled with all an exhibitor’s leads. That was years ago, and today there are many better ways to “capture” names, email addresses, cell phones, etc. But to what end?

Unless there’s a clear plan for follow-up, one might as well join that Uniforum exhibitor.

Today’s boat shows and the critical face-to-face interactions with prospects are the first step to establishing a more personal relationship. If you want someone’s business, you must go after it. In most cases, however, selling a boat is not a sprint but a marathon. It needs to be fueled by a plan for effective follow-up. Here, then, are some interesting suggestions:

A follow-up phone call notwithstanding, email is still the most commonly accepted link between prospects and customers. Mistake: Most sales people are so focused on getting new prospects out of a boat show that they overlook a quick “thanks for your visit” email to existing customers. Yet, these are the most promising long-term repeat prospects. Moreover, timing for taking action to nurture and grow your email list, even after the show closes each night, can be a sales advantage over a competitor.

Once you have an email list, go farther and create your own newsletter. You don’t have to be a writing genius. It can be as little as a single page sent periodically mentioning something coming up, like a holiday sale or a special program in the showroom (give prospects a reason to visit your dealership other than just buying), a hot fishing tip or a do-it-yourself maintenance suggestion from the service team. You want content that your recipients aren’t going to get anywhere else. If you think, you can always find something interesting about your brand that is worth highlighting without turning your newsletter into a commercial.

Want to get a little bolder and set yourself apart from most other sales people? Go for a live stream about something of interest to your customers and prospects. Teach something. Show something. Tour something. Between Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Periscope, etc., there are easy ways to live-stream events like a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of a new product, some instructional video(s), a primer on how it’s serviced or even how to clean fish fast.

Take another step up: Start a podcast. Podcasts cost you time, but they are not expensive. Essentially, it’s as easy as purchasing an appropriate microphone. This initial investment is a great way to build awareness, showcase your knowledge, connect with your audience and humanize your dealership.

Invite others from the service, parts or accessories departments to join you in your podcast. Remember, no one is going to look forward to your podcasts if they are straight sales pitches. They should include helpful information and discussions of topics that touch on your customers’ and prospects’ interests to have more enjoyable experiences on their boats.

So you’re not ready to podcast. This one’s easier. Take advantage of Instagram or Pinterest. Both are considered by experts to be great platforms to visually tell a story. Yes, a picture can be worth a thousand words. Best of all, using these will cost you nothing because you can just use the camera on your cell phone. Spend a little time editing and then upload.

What kinds of photos should you send? How about: Behind-the-scenes looks at your dealership; image testimonials from existing customers; shots of your newest models; or quick videos that provide solid advice.

Whatever vehicle you choose to reach out to prospects and customers, make it personal. For existing customers, take the time to show them how much you appreciate their support. You could do this by writing them a handwritten “thank you” note, of course. But you could also give them a shout-out in a video or on your podcast. This action could lead them to tell others how you treat your customers like VIPs.

Follow-up builds repeat purchases, referrals, and long-time loyalty.

Timing is everything. It’s important that you quickly start developing relationships in your follow-ups with customers and prospects. That’s particularly apropos if you rely on email marketing. When you allow your email contacts to get to know and trust you, you’ll find yourself with more relationships that lead to sales. 

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