Getting a boat customer from your website to the showroom

By Soundings Trade Only staff

It is conventional wisdom that the first impression is key. But some dealers neglect the meet-and-greet with customers at their most important store — the Internet.
Some 76 percent of the customers start their search on their computer screens, according to Bob McCann, director of education for Channel Blade Technologies, a Web solution company. These consumers may be simply browsing, or they may be motivated buyers who are hungry for more information. In either case, when that consumer requests more information, a dealership should respond as soon as possible, he says.
“The first touch point has to be quick,” says McCann. “It sets the stage for future contact.”

The more time that passes from the initial contact, the less likely a potential customer is to read an e-mail or welcome a phone call.
The next step, he says, is to implement a good “follow through” plan, with many touch points along the way.

“The most effective and cost-effective way is e-mailing a customer on a regular basis,” said McCann.

But those e-mails should have some value for the consumer, he says. Simply blasting e-mails that say “Buy a Boat,” will not likely be read by a potential customer. A well-written newsletter with tales from a boat owner about a recent trip, or tips on winterizing boats, are examples of e-mails that may grab a consumer’s attention, says McCann.

Once a dealer talks to a customer, the dealer should have a tracking system to remind him to contact that customer, again, at strategic times. For example, if the customer says he or she wants to wait until boat show season to buy a boat, the dealer should have a reminder system to call that person a few weeks before the local show, and perhaps offer to help him or her get tickets to the show.

Some dealers get frustrated when the buying process drags on too long, he says. They focus more on the sales they can make today, and let the long-term relationship with a potential customer fall by the wayside. Dealers have to recognize that consumers have different buying cycles.

“Depending on the boat depends on how long that might be,” said McCann. “Smaller boats have shorter buying cycles than cruisers and yachts.”
In addition, the Internet brings potential customers to the dealer’s attention sooner.

Years ago, customers dreaming about boats could stroll on the nearby docks to look at the different types of vessels before they headed to a dealership. Today, those customers can satiate their curiosity on the Internet, without leaving the comfort of their home or office.

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