Good signs from Houston; Are boat shows for building relationships?

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Early reports from the Houston Boat, Sport & Travel Show are just what we want to hear. Meanwhile, working a boat show exhibit raises an interesting question about the potential to build relationships.

In spite of having to remain closed for its first Saturday, reports from the Houston Boat Show are painting a robust picture for our winter shows ahead.

“Giving up a Saturday is distressing,” admits Ken Lovell, executive director of the Boating Trade Association of Metropolitan Houston. “But, through Wednesday, our attendance has been up each day and we’re now only 1 percent below last year’s numbers with our last 4 days to go. Obviously, we’re already declaring this show a winner,” he added.

The boat show (normally open 10-days) had to remain dark last Saturday, traditionally a big attendance day, because the Houston Texans were playing an NFL wild-card game at home immediately next to the NRG Center. All parking was used for the game. It’s not the first time. The boat show had to stay closed for the same reason in 2017. But that show also ended up beating the previous year’s attendance.

“To top things off, we’re getting good early reports from exhibitors that boats have been selling well, too,” notes Lovell. “I guess boaters aren’t watching the news these days that might make you think the sky is falling. It’s obviously not falling around here, unless you consider our Texans lost.”

Since Houston is the industry’s first major winter show, it’s a positive indicator for those opening today in Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Relationship Building

One major benefit of exhibiting in any boat show is to build a good list of prospects that the sales team can mine in the time ahead. We know the decision to buy often takes months. So the question for the sales person is how to make certain he or she will be called when that prospect is ready.

These days, our sales metrics seem to measure everything like: how many emails sent, voicemails left, cards mailed or likes on Facebook. But these comprise a measurement of “activity” and it directs the sales team to work toward sending more emails and leaving more voicemails. In many cases, measurement of activity is actually being used to manage sales teams. To be truly valuable, however, the focus should be on measuring relationships, not activity.

The most effective measurement initiatives are those that seek to guide behavior. Business management guru Peter Drucker says, “what gets measured gets managed,” so the measures we should be looking for are ones that relate to things that we want to improve, like relationships with customers and, especially, those prospects.

Steve Woods, cofounder and chief technology officer of, a relationship intelligence platform, agrees. He writes that in today’s era of automation we’re using progressively worse metrics. Let’s face it, with a single click, a sales person can send an unlimited number of undifferentiated, automated outreach emails. But measuring the number of emails sent does not correlate with positive successes. And if not careful, email volume can trigger a negative outcome.

Measuring the strength of a relationship is much more challenging. But, as a rule of thumb, the more interactions, the stronger the relationship –only if they are “balanced” between the participants. That means there must be an equal number of messages and responses in each direction. The more interactions both ways, the stronger the relationship.

Relationships can get built when sales staff begin to understand a prospect’s interests, position, expectations and vision of the boating lifestyle. Individual communications that address those interests become the foundation of a relationship. So rather than send undifferentiated emails, look to send specific information, advice or items of interest (not blatant sales pieces) that relate directly to what that recipient has shared about his or her vision.

In terms of existing customers, Woods points out that relationships can decay over time, but older, stronger relationships decay much more slowly. Put another way, relationships grow with interactions, and they grow much more with one-on-one interactions than one-too-many interactions.

FREE Promotional Materials

And, speaking of boat shows, if you failed to read yesterday’s Trade Only Today, you missed the announcement about the excellent promotional assets and marketing items that are free to dealers to use at their winter boat shows. These are high-quality Discover Boating marketing materials, collateral and tools for you. I urge you to Read More about them now.


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