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Top 10 ideas to improve your boat show exhibit

From New York to Los Angeles, Seattle to Miami, the all-important winter season is expected to see more than 1.5 million people come through the gates of major boat shows. After all, shows are the only venues that let buyers both climb aboard and compare their boat options — from price to brand to model — side by side. It’s the power of hands-on marketing.

To gain access to those prospects, dealers will strive to make their exhibits stand out and draw in those potential buyers. With the first winter show under way in New York and many more set to go from now into March, here are today’s top 10 ideas for those getting show-ready:

10. Make certain everyone understands why you’re exhibiting. It’s to gain face-to-face access to qualified prospects (and the $10 to $15 admission qualifies them as interested.) Although sales at the show are goals, gaining solid leads is the key to sales back in the store.

9. Have your best lead generators man the exhibit. Seems logical, but many dealers think everyone on the staff should be there. The truth is that some very good employees may not be good at mining for prospects.

8. Look sharp and be sharp. The team should talk to everyone possible. Never sit down, drink or eat in the display. Never be a jerk by ignoring or walking past people because you think they’re not qualified.

7. Be memorable by being daring. Make people take note because you have your own event going on in your exhibit — perhaps not a water-skiing squirrel, but a water skier or fisherman or cruising or pontooning expert giving periodic talks about the specialty, etc. People will stop to listen and get information.

6. Similarly, always look for opportunities to sponsor something or provide a speaker. If you sell fishing boats, for example, consider being the sponsor of the show’s main fishing stage. Sponsor benches around the show for people to sit on. Put your name on a kids’ event. And always take advantage of an opportunity to have one of your team do an applicable clinic or presentation in the show’s seminar series.

5. Promote the show as if it were your own. It is! Dealers who think it’s solely show management’s job to promote are shortsighted. If you’re exhibiting, it’s your show because your focus should be all on you. Promoting to your customer and prospect base that you’ll be there helps solidify your relationship with them and your chances for repeat business.

4. Back up your exhibit through your website and social media. How can any dealer put so much effort into a show and not tell everyone possible? Keeping customers and prospects informed about activities is key to a good relationship. If you use Twitter, Facebook or have a blog, post photos and updates regularly — and even videos. And, give them incentives, such as a prize drawing, discount coupon or gift for coming to see you.

3. Many times, executives and reps from manufacturers will attend the show for a day or so. Determine in advance who and when, and then let your customers and prospects know, even offering to set up appointments for them to meet these executives.

2. Have an immediate follow-up plan. It takes a lot of money to exhibit at a show. We lose when we fail to respond as fast as possible to all requests. Strive to set appointments right at the show. All salespeople should be reviewing contacts and any requests in their hotel room that night and fulfilling them the next morning. The “need for speed” heads off the competition. Wait a few days, and your window could be closed!

1. Get a little radical. Have an employee wear or hire someone to wear an interesting character costume, such as Jack Sparrow, Sailor Bear, Popeye or a mermaid, to greet people and pose for pictures in front of a sign or product. Shoot a picture and send it to the person’s email address — which gets the prospect’s email on file — so the potential customer can print it at home or use it as a screen saver. People may snap their own picture with their smartphone. So be it. But snap a picture, anyway, that can be posted on your website or social media site.

No matter how we look at it, boat shows are still the No. 1 avenue to accessing a lot of qualified people in one location at one time.

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