Where did all the boat show leads go?

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We’ve had enough reports from our January boat shows to know they’ve been better than expected. Great news! Even better, reports from virtually all shows indicate a definite improvement in prospect quality over last year when show visitors wouldn’t even talk to us!

The heightened interest at shows this year signals two good things: (1) A building pent-up demand for boats; and (2) a greater number of quality leads acquired at the shows. In turn, it also begs the question – where are those leads now?

Leads are as critical to the sales team as wrenches are to service. The leads we got at the show today are our buyers tomorrow. We can’t forget this sales basic: Prospects buy when they are ready to buy – not when we are ready to sell! The time between the two is where effectively managing our leads is in play. 

Every sales team should have a working lead system. The days of the old 3” X 5” index cards or wrinkled slips of paper are history. The days of 1 follow-up phone call or postcard are also gone. With a laptop and a database, good lead management is faster, easier and better than ever. For example, say you just finished a show last Sunday (three days ago.) By now, all your leads could (should) be in your database, ready for follow-up targeted marketing.

According to the Center for Exhibit Industry Research, studies show less than 50 percent of exhibitors in trade shows do any follow-up! Hopefully, the rate is higher for consumer shows like ours. However, it is possible we fall short, too. Sure, we’re tired after a show and we usually take a well-deserved day or two off. But, with good lead management programs operating in our stores, the computer can be target marketing the leads with special email follow-ups, thank you notes, invitations to the showroom, suggested dates for a demo ride and always giving the prospects reasons why they should buy . . . all while you’re taking that day off! And, the good system will continue to be used to communicate, educate and maintain a relationship with the prospects.

From a different point of view: What’s the cost of lost, discarded or leads not followed up? Answer: spend more money to seek more leads! In addition, your sales team is most likely not the only one trying to sell to your prospects. This is the age of information technology. If we want to meet the competition where they are, we’ve got to have a working lead follow-up system. There are inexpensive off-the-shelf lead management programs, custom designed programs and even lead generation/management service firms.

It’s a fact that a lead is worth nothing until it actually generates a sale. In most cases, we simply don’t know when a prospect will decide to buy. Unfortunately, he’s on his schedule, not ours. Our goal with a good lead management system is to be in front of him, top-of-mind, when he makes that decision.

I recently read somewhere that a salesman, who maintains a large lead management system, likes to think of his prospect database as a list of customers. He says: “The way I see it, I have hundreds of customers -- some are just not buying right now.”

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