10 Boat Show Sales Secrets that work…

Bruce McArthur Boat Show, Marketing, Powerboat, Sailing

VMG Media is attending the 2011 Miami Boat Show. As a service to the exhibitors, we offer the following tips…
Which would you approach?  (Scroll down to Secret #10)

This isn’t your first trip to the rodeo. You’ve been at this a long time, and you know the ropes. But your staffers may be less experienced.

You’ve heard all the advice, tips and reminders, from breath mints to comfortable shoes. Blinding glimpses of the obvious.

But these secrets are quite arcane, and that’s why they work

1)  Adjust expectations.
This is a big show. With travel, fees, lodging, freight,  time away from the office and other expenses, a major financial investment. We all want that investment to pay off – fast. We want to sell some boats.  But the reality is…
Trade shows are rarely sales opportunities. However, they are terrific lead-generating opportunities.
Just try to make some friends. If you do… the sales will follow.

2) Nobody ever sold anyone a boat… EVER!!!
Remember your new car? When you first drove it home to the wife and kids, did you say, “Hey, look what some guy just sold me?” No. You said,  “Hey, look what I just bought.”
Big, BIG difference. Have your staffers stow the sales pitches and belay the snappy closers. A thorough knowledge of what differentiates your product from competitors will be more effective than canned patter. Listen more…talk less.

3) Re-arrange the furniture – including you.
You’ve spent a ton on the exhibition. Carpeting, back-drops, accent lighting, sound system, A/V o-rama. An environment so comfy your boat may never want to leave. And one a customer may never want to enter. Have you created a “spider-and-fly” setting? The exhibit is art-directed to a ‘t’ and staffers sit on captain’s chairs, kibbitzing and watching the show-goers go by. And go by. And go by.

Put yourself in the shopper’s Topsiders. Maybe they like the cut of the jib. But are they looking for a sales pitch? When they see someone loitering next to the hull, eyeing them like a chunk of Kobe beef, they want to run like hell.
So get out of the area and into the aisle. Let them wander in of their own accord. Ask them how they’re doing. Where they’re from. Just make a friend.

4) Don’t try this at home…
We’re astonished by the exhibitors we see who lack a simple product card on an easel, articulating the features and benefits of that product. And many of those who do have a product card, display one that torpedoes the very vessel it is supposed to sell.
We see the do-it-yourself kinds all the time. Amateur art-direction. Typos. Illegible fonts.  Grammatical errors. Point-and-shoot photography. Copy that undermines the sale. Targeting the wrong demographic.

Are you in the  boat business or the advertising business? Though your wife, cousin, brother-in-law or kid may have a flair for words, and take a nice photograph – they are not professionals.


The single most important element of ANY business is the marketing. Exxon, Microsoft and Toyota stick to making oil, software and cars. They don’t do in-house advertising any more than they would run in-house health care — because marketing is that specialized. Hire a pro and watch sales grow.

5) Make it hands-on.
Does your vessel do something else different or better than any other? Put a spotlight on that feature. Many boat show visitors are first time buyers. Maybe he’ll fall in love with your pop up cleats or nautilus-themed chocks.  Encourage shoppers to feel, touch and try.
Make it as interactive as possible.

6) It’s a boat, not a museum piece.

We see it all the time. Boat sellers ask shoppers to remove their shoes before boarding.  Okay, we get that. But then, a sales guy shadows you around the vessel like he expects you to pull a ball peen hammer and start wailing on the instruments. It’s a boat, not an artifact. Shoppers like to explore on their own. Welcome them aboard and let them wander. When they’re comfortable, they’ll start to ask questions – and that’s where sales begin.

7) Personal Inventory
Of course we’ve shaved, showered and brushed our teeth. We think we look irresistible – like an upscale castaway, in Tommy Bahama shirt, baggy shorts  and braided sisal huaraches. That outfit  may work for Jimmy Buffet, but he’s an entertainer.
Anyone thinking someone is going to spend six or seven figures on a boat with a guy looking like that is terribly mistaken. Of course, a three piece suit is just as wrong. But a business casual outfit will throw off a more professional vibe. Opt for slacks, a collared shirt and leather shoes. No hoodies, no sneakers, and no bling. Buyers want to feel they’re paying for the boat, not subsidizing the sales guy’s penchant for iced Rolexes.

8) Qualifying prospects.
No one wants to waste time with window-shoppers. And it’s pretty easy to pick them out. That kid barely shaving with the ratty t-shirt probably can’t afford your 60-foot trawler. On the other hand, he just may own Facebook. Or maybe his rich old man is a few steps behind, and the kid’s doing recon. You just never know. So be courteous to all. Treat everyone as if they can buy.

9) Data collection.
Whether or not you have a smart phone that captures electronic business cards (check the DUB app), or a fish bowl full of paper cards, after each day, sit down and take notes on the people you’ve met. Memories fade fast, and if you wait until you get home from the show, it may be tough to recall which business cards go with solid leads vs. window shoppers. Note a snippet of conversation you can reference in a follow-up call or email. It makes a HUGE difference.

10) Brand Ambassadors (AKA: Pretty Girls)
The truth is, boats are overwhelmingly purchased by men. An attractive, professional, outgoing young lady representing your brand will generate more traffic than a half-price sale. We’re not talking Hawaiian Tropic models in g-strings and spike heels (although if you’re selling sea-going missiles in acid colors, babeage is de-rigueur). A polished woman with some knowledge of your line is worth more than truck load of branded key-fobs and beer cozies. There are dozens of agencies that provide these ladies at reasonable rates.

If you don’t believe us, believe the automotive companies. They know more about trade shows than anybody – and they’ve been using spokeswomen forever.

We’ll return with more Secrets of Boat Show Success.

LARRY BLEIDNER