Dealer Outlook

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Do our customers trust us?

Have you noticed that customers and prospects seem more difficult to deal with these days? It seems they want to challenge our sales presentations at every turn. They act tough, adverse and suspicious. Why, you’d think they don’t trust us. Fact is, they probably don’t!

Arguably, trust in all businesses has plunged in recent years, likely hitting rock bottom during the economic crash last fall. Why? For openers, think back to Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and others. Or, more recently, as Steven Pearlstein described in the Washington Post: The proxy sent to stockholders of Bank of America seeking their approval to spend $50 billion to buy up Merrill Lynch stated that Merrill has agreed not to award bonuses to employees for ’08 without first getting written approval from Bank of America. Oops, it left out the fact that Bank of America officials had already granted that permission for bonus payments of $5.8 billion! When things like that are uncovered, is it any wonder mistrust spreads to everything.

It appears we, as consumers, have come to the point where we don’t know who to trust so we just don’t trust at all. Certainly we’ve lost trust in businesses and even institutions like banks, investment advisors and government regulatory agencies that we thought would keep us from meltdowns. The Harvard Business Review reportedly surveyed readers about the level of trust they have in businesses: 75 percent of the respondents said they felt less overall trust in top management of America’s companies; nearly 50 percent had less trust in consultants; and 20 percent even reported lower levels of trust in academic institutions, suppliers and customers. So, is it any wonder our customers come into our dealerships carrying an untrusting demeanor?

Actually, business can only blame itself. Sadly, in recent years, success in business was measured only by how much wealth it created for top management and the shareholders. But with such a focus of greed now blamed for much of our crumbling economy, change is clearly taking place. For example, the Harvard MBA program has begun teaching candidates that they must build a “culture of candor” in businesses now. This, after a Harvard professor surveyed MBA students and found that their definition of right and wrong was simply whatever happened to be the norm . . . or a follow-the-crowd mentality.

Given all this, establishing a relationship in which our customers and prospects trust us will not be easy. We must first demonstrate that we have a sincere interest in their well-being — that we genuinely care about them. We must be transparent and truthful in everything we claim about our products and the kind of services we will provide. No hyperbole, no assertions we can’t or won’t back up, and no ambiguous offers, implied or otherwise.

I think it’s always been true that people want to do business with people they trust. But, given the circumstances that surround us today, we must purpose to build trust.

Enjoy today’s “How I Discovered Boating” video:


5 comments on “Do our customers trust us?

  1. Rich Lazzara

    Great post! This is something that is sorely lacking in our industry. Boat Salesmen/Brokers (and Im one of them) are often lumped into one group – one notch below used car salesmen, one notch above scum. Its time that our industry really start to turn this around. Your comment “We must be transparent and truthful in everything we claim about our products and the kind of services we will provide. ” is so crucial. Transparency is the key to a successful business going forward. Those that are will prevail, those that dont – wont.

  2. dave boso

    Make em an offer they can’t refuse, Speak frankly, have confidence in what you know, and tell it like it is, if you don’t know look it up don’t make it up. Build confidence in the customer. If he thinks he knows more than you, just listen he will screw it up.
    Oh, and don’t wear plaid pants.

  3. Don Thurston

    Having served on both sides of the fence. I sold cars for 15 years prior to joining my brothers in 1981 in the “family” marina business. We bought out my dad and are equal partners in the business. One thing that sustained me in the car business and keeps us on track in the boat business is to think “long term.” The salesman (I stayed in one dealership) or dealer who doesn’t think that way transmitts his short term objective for your money like a beacon. The customer sees him (her) self in the salesman’s eyes as a “cheeseburger’. Want fries with that?
    Somewhere during the sale you’ve got to master a way of getting the comfort across to the buyer. Dave Boso is right in saying that you need to know your product and you need to be correct when you say it. Slow down, (this really works) and check your facts if you are not sure. Customers like that.
    You’re going to find that dealing with the truth will make you at ease too.
    The future belongs to the salesmen and women as well as the dealers willing to committ to a long term relationship. I guess you could say that should be the way it is between the manufacturer and his customer, the dealer.

  4. Captain Andrew

    Excellent Post! One way to change the trust issue is for sales people to help find customers–especially new boaters, the right boat for them not necessarily the most expensive they can afford. Additionally, I think dealerships should be helping to educate boaters to be good recreational mariners. This will, in my opinion, increase the dealerships credibility by showing they (the dealerships) are interested in the customers well being in addition to making a buck. (I am always amazed how boaters purchase 1-5K dollar radars but the owners have absolutely no idea how to use them properly.

  5. Jeff Siems

    I agree with your post. I see another issue that makes our industry loose trust with consumers is that some sales staff distort the truth on what a boat can do. This can be on how fast a boat will go, or what you can realisticly do with the boat. I have heard from different customers that enter my dealership tell me that the dealership down the road told him one thing and I am now telling them another. This drops our industry’s trust to the level of a used car salesman. If a dealership has to drop to the level of distorting the truth about a boat to sell it, they need to get out of the business and sell cars.

    A boat sale should be a long term relationship with our customers not sell them a boat today and never see them again. We need to sell our products on the merits and quality of our products and services at our dealerships to earn our customers long-term business. I hear dealerships bashing a boat or motor brand. I feel that all products that are produced today are good products, but they have different quality levels or features that attract different customers.

    I see this in the outboard segement the most. If a dealership doesn’t sell a brand that offers a direct-injected 2-stroke, they distort the truth about what this platform of outboard will do for them. At our dealership we present both the pros and cons to each outboard style and sell the customer what fits their need the best, it could be the cheapest, most fuel efficient, quietest, or most powerful.

    There are times where I truely don’t have a product that will fit the customers needs, so instead of telling them a particular boat will do it, I let them know of another dealership that will be able to help them better then we can. Yes I loose a boat sale, but I gain trust with the customer. We then usually gain them as a customer for part, accessories, and service. Then the next time they need a boat that I can meet their needs I have a customer for life.
    In the Kansas City metro market, the 5 dealerships have a good working relationship. We hold group parking lot shows or on water shows, and can sell similar products side by side and all get along. We know that our boats have different pros and cons and never bash a brand or dealership. It is when we have an outside of or metro area dealership enter a show to try and capture some of our market where we see the un-ethical practices take place. Of the 5 dealeships in our area 4 of them are 50 years plus old. This is how we survive is thru truthful and etical business practices.

    The manufacturer’s are aware of these unetical practices but because they are just focusing on selling boats, they allow these practices to continue. This does our industry so much harm.

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