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A consumer boat show’s B2B side

While exhibitors work the consumer crowd, they’re being pitched themselves by other businesses

Business to business might not be at the forefront of company mindsets during consumer boat shows, but it doesn’t mean business relationships aren’t ripe for the taking. Even though the fall and winter shows are geared toward consumer spending, there is no shortage of business-to-business activity.

Ben Dorton, brand manager for Bryant Boats and son of co-owner John Dorton, says his father and Bryant vice president Jeff White will do some “guerrilla work” at the Miami show in their efforts to expand the brand’s dealer network.

“We’re not going to set up a booth or anything like that,” Ben Dorton says. “They have some contacts with some dealers down there who are going to the show and they want to walk the floors and see what’s out for 2013.

“There’s a lot that can come out of a boat show,” he says. “It’s more than just selling to the consumer.”

The consumer element just means those focused on B2B need to choose their timing and pitches wisely so they don’t interfere with consumer sales. That’s the approach Jared Jester, founder of mobile app designer, took as he made his pitch to potential clients at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat show in October.

“Obviously you don’t want to be invasive when people are engaged,” Jester said at the time. “My boat show pitch is about 3-1/2 minutes, includes buzzwords, and depending on the company I’m approaching I have an app loaded and ready to show them. They can relate easier to someone within their own segment, and then I explain how those apps work for those specific companies.

“We can definitely prove at this point that we save money because they print less brochures,” Jester says.

He says that after Fort Lauderdale he made hundreds of calls to potential clients, and he is tweaking his Miami follow-up approach. After that show he’ll send interested parties a proposal to eliminate some of the back and forth, he says.

After the Fort Lauderdale show, Dave Kowalski, senior account manager at InnerWorkings, rode the shuttle to assess how the flags his company had made for some builders were holding up in wind and rain. “There are a ton of B2B opportunities at shows like this,” Kowalski says.

Not only did he get to see how his flags withstood the weather — all of them seemed to have taken the beating with no problems — he also says he was able to cultivate new leads.

Bob Rose, a sales consultant with Elite Carpet Workroom, says the boat shows are essential for establishing relationships with potential clients. “I have found [consumer shows] very productive in making new contacts, as well as reacquainting with others I’ve met in Palm Beach or Miami,” Rose said at the Fort Lauderdale show. “I would say that’s where most business gets done.”

Martin Meissner, marketing director for propulsion manufacturer ZF Marine, said at FLIBS that acquiring business-to-business leads “is why we’re here.”

“We don’t sell to the general public,” Meissner says. “We’re here to meet with boatbuilders and project managers. The great thing about a show like this is you’ve got all the management and engineering teams in one spot, so it’s a good opportunity to get together with them … sit down with them in our booth.”

Grand Banks marketing and brand manager David Hensel agrees that despite the consumer emphasis, the largest shows are fraught with business opportunities.

“It’s a great opportunity for everyone involved in the building process to meet, ask and get answers to the right questions — to not only discuss the product itself, but product availability, custom features. You’ve got all the right people in the right place.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue.


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