How do I gain new prospects?

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How do you gain new prospects? The simple answer is: Get in front of them.

I was talking to a good dealer and longtime friend in Michigan the other day. To my surprise, he said he was debating whether to exhibit again in a coming fall in-water show or use that money for an in-store promotion or open-house event.

Through my years in this industry, I’ve had this conversation with many dealers. And I’ll even bet some of you reading this have thought about it at some point in your business life. But, without pause, I told him what I know to be true: “If you want new prospects, get in front of them. Spend that money on the boat show.” Here’s why I didn’t hesitate to so encourage him:

It’s not complicated because it’s really just a game of numbers. Let’s say the show space will cost $10,000. Instead of buying the space, you decide on an in-store open house and spend almost all of the $10,000 on print, radio and digital advertising and the rest on refreshments, etc. Please don’t get ahead of me here by thinking I’m ignoring show participation does have other costs, like moving and prepping boats, etc. But some of those costs are inherent in any good in-store promotion, too.

That said, in my experience, a dealer in-store boat show or open house generally attracts fewer than 500 visitors and a very high percentage of those are existing customers with whom the dealership already has a relationship. So the $10,000 has really gotten you in front of a small number of prospects.

Meanwhile, over at the boat show, your absence has caused your sales team to miss getting in front of 5,000 or 10,000 or more prospects because the show has effectively combined your $10,000 space money with that of many other exhibitors to spend 10 or more times your budget generating traffic for exhibitors. So you’re in front of hundreds; they’re in front of thousands.

“So, my friend, when you pay your $10,000 to the boat show,” I summed up to him, “you’re not buying display space. No, you are buying access — the chance to get in front of the very large number of prospects the show will attract. They are numbers you cannot possibly generate on your own with the limited budget available.”

There’s no question boat shows were experiencing change before the Great Recession and that change was accelerated by it. Sadly, today is not the same as the time when dealers carried a large bunch of sales contracts off the show floor each night. Oh, to see those days again! We know the buying process now is longer, the volume for our industry is less; albeit we are steadily regaining.

Still, one thing hasn’t changed: Our industry’s boat shows continue to be the most cost-efficient way for a dealer to seriously stoke his “prospect pipeline” going forward. And until we find another way that allows very large numbers of prospects to rub up against our fiberglass in a few short days, boat shows will continue to be a marketing mainstay.

So, as our fall shows begin next month, if you haven’t obtained space in your local event yet, get in front of it.

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