Used Boat Sales Tactics: The Old Give and Take

I’ve been writing here recently about what influences us in the purchases of used boats — or any big-ticket item, for that matter. We have talked about how people use and demonstrate authority to help sell product, and how the scarcity principle can get shoppers to become buyers. We’ve even talked about the “sudden buddy” salesperson.

give-take-300pxThis time around, let’s talk about reciprocity, which is a 50-cent word that describes the old give and take. Reciprocity is easy to understand because we see it and abide by it all the time, whether we know it or not. Very simply stated, we as human beings are obligated to repay in kind what another person has provided to us. Let me give you a couple of examples.

If someone sends you a birthday present, you are much more likely to remember that person’s birthday and repay in kind by sending him or her a gift. If a couple you’re acquainted with invites you to a party they’re having, you will feel obligated to invite them to one of yours. Reciprocity is ingrained into our society, and it is a good thing because it bonds us. When someone opens the outside door for you, you will return the favor by opening the inside door for them.

It’s so prevalent that “much obliged” has become synonymous with “thank you.” Not to get too academic here, but the phenomenon is what cultural anthropologists call a “web of indebtedness,” and it allows for division of labor, the exchange of unique goods and services, and helps create interdependencies that bind individuals together. It’s a better world as a result, but it can be used against us — eve when we’re shopping for a used boat.

In the sale of a used boat, the reciprocity rule can start with something as simple as a salesman getting you something to drink. It also can manifest itself in the form of an initial concession, such as a price reduction. It can be a gift just for stopping in.

Years ago, I used to work at a car dealership that ran a promotion based on reciprocity. We mailed out post cards telling people they could get a free pair of “diamond dust” earrings — I kid you not — just for coming in to test drive a new car. I worked in the parts department, so we had to warehouse the earrings, which were desperately chintzy, but people came, people test drove, and people went home in new cars.

If the salesperson works with the sales manager on your behalf and gets you the interest rate you want, you might feel obligated to ease up on your demand for a price reduction. That’s another example of an initial concession that should be kept in perspective.

The old give and take is a bit of a sticky wicket because it is what makes the world a more hospitable place. However, your job is, first, to be aware when it’s being used as a sales technique, and second, to decide whether it’s really in your interest.

When you do recognize it, try performing a simple redefinition in your mind. Rather than seeing the cup of coffee, the price concession, or the gift just for stopping in as gifts, redefine them as sales tools designed to persuade you to buy. Once you can redefine the situation, you will be able to defend against the technique better.


Boat Trader has plenty of  Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.


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