Sell ‘escape weekends’ to your prospects

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I addressed the annual meeting of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association last Friday during the Progressive Mid-America Boat Show in Cleveland. I was happy to see the show going well, but my real pleasure was getting to talk to many dealers I have known for years. Their conversations and outlooks always give me perspectives I can’t get by sitting around Florida. I’m always grateful for their time.

In fact, “time” was a subject that came up more than once. All agreed that the use of “time” has changed. For example, the old one-hour lunch is gone. Most lunch hours are now 30 minutes or less (at least one study found only 15 percent of respondents had the old one-hour lunch).

Experts point out that our time is now “stacked.” We must do two or more things at the same time, such as drive and talk on the cell phone; work on the Internet while flying; text or read email while listening to someone in a meeting; the 24/7 work availability and so on.

Closer to our interests in selling boats, time for a week’s vacation, never mind a two-week trip, is difficult or impossible to even schedule anymore. Still, everyone still seeks an outlet for rest and relaxation. The answer has become “escape weekends.” Now that should be music to our ears.

While in Cleveland, I was interviewed by veteran sportscaster Jim Donovan. He asked me what it is about boating that attracts so many people. I responded: “Boating is really the great escape. Our boats are escape machines. When you cast off, the hassles of daily life on the shore are left back at the dock. It’s that simple. That’s why in Ohio alone, over 450,000 families own a boat. I like to say boat dealers are in the rejuvenation business.”

Virtually all the dealers I spoke with agreed that their sales teams must get away from selling “hardware” and focus the customer on the “experience” they seek. Today, the prospects’ view has clearly changed from the boat itself to the experience it will provide. And if the salesperson doesn’t connect with what’s in the prospect’s mind, there will be no sale.

Our message should be that our boats will carry the prospect and family on great “escape weekends.” And that can happen every weekend all summer long. It’s simply appealing to the prospect’s dream or fantasy.

Dealers also agreed with the idea that if we want prospects to buy our boats, we must make it easy. Like it or not, we all want “easy” now — we’re not into difficult. Witness that we buy prepared foods at a grocery, have Uber Eats deliver from a favorite restaurant, call our personal shopper or order from Amazon.

Dealers and manufacturers must work to get rid of everything that makes buying and owning a boat difficult. Moreover, we must recognize any prospect can really buy the hardware (boat) anywhere. He or she doesn’t need you. Unless, of course, you connect the boat with their desire for the good experience it will deliver.

While writing this blog (on Monday night) no final figures have been released by the early major shows in Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston or Denver that all wrapped up Sunday, but early signs are that the industry’s winter shows are heading for good runs in 2017.

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