A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Boating industry sales – an inside look

There is a big concern going on at this time about sales being down in the boating industry.  There are a variety of factors that are reported to be contributing to this concern. Regardless of floor traffic being up, down or flat there is one single common denominator that remains – without salespeople understanding what constitutes a professional understanding of selling the likelihood of a sale commencing is drastically reduced.  All the kings men and all the kings horses cannot mend a broken sales process.

If I, as a salesperson, greet you as a customer and do not understand how to grow your trust and excitement towards the product of which you have an interest then I am the biggest obstacle to the sale.  If I choose to use manipulative tactics or talk at you instead of understanding you, prejudge you as I see you walk in, forget (or avoid) follow-up to aid in your apprehension to an ownership decision or best yet, simply do not understand the 3 simple steps to closing a sale then perhaps the biggest problem isn’t the economy – it’s me!

A manufacturer can build the most functional or beautifully crafted boat in existence, ship it to a dealership and there it sits and sits until a salesperson represents it in such a fashion that a customer would like to own it. 

Why is it that the average technician spends more money on their tools than a salesperson invests into understanding the profession of sales?  Did you know that the average tool set for a technician is easily over $25,000?  How many salespeople do you know have invested in a $20.00 book on selling in the last year?  How about a book on negotiation, body language, personality types or communication?  

Perhaps hard times requires a hard look at what I am doing or not doing as salesperson to do things differently.

Glenn Roller
The Glenn Roller Institute


20 comments on “Boating industry sales – an inside look

  1. Kerry D

    Yes, I totally agree. This downturn in boat sales is quite obviously being driven by a poor sales approach by all of the salespeople in the marine industry. The same people who were able to sell all those boats over the past five years have all turned into either ignorant or arrogant boobs who have no right to claim the ability to sell anything, let alone boats. I appreciate Mr. Roller trying to sell his services, but these kind of sentiments are extremely offensive to me. It is true that in any industry there are some who are more capable than others and some who don’t deserve their positions, but in my experience, the vast majority of salespeople that I’ve met, have some skills that keep them employed. Even in good times, salespeople are always in competition with others from competitive brands and dealerships and would quickly be out of work if always overmatched. Certainly, there is alway room for more education, but unlike a set of tools where money and quality are directly proportional, the quality of that education is not always related to the dollars spent on it.

    We are also an industry with many, many multi-generational, family owned dealerships with decades of experience who have weathered many downturns and still managed to stay “afloat” for all these years only to have Mr. Roller incinuate that his services are the only thing that will make things right. I for one, have been one of the top salespeople for one of the top manufacturers during the past five years and maintained my success, this year included, soley through the willful and conscious neglect of many of the sales practices taught by almost all of these “services.” I treat people the way I like to be treated and never use the the three simple steps of closing a sale. In fact, maybe those three simple steps that all these guys seem to teach during any one of the miriad of sales seminars that manufacturers will force us to sit through (Yes, most of us are trained on a regular basis), are one of the reasons the industry is down. I’ve heard many techniques over the years that I would find offensive as a consumer and would never utilize in my sales approach. Maybe, just maybe, consumers have grown tired of the “game.” Now, I have never been to The Glenn Roller Institute, but judging by his post, this is my “educated” opinion.

  2. Lori Mason

    Good comment! We have been investing in sales training over the last number of years and can see the results in a slower economy now! Sales training is an ongoing process, how about some tips and articles from Soundings Trade? Any help is welcome! Would you like some shoes with that bottom paint?

  3. Nyla Deputy

    Before you can lay any blame on sales people, you have to get customers in the door. The number of customers walking in the door are far fewer today than they were 5 years ago. If you get the buyer in the door, and then they walk away, then it can be said that it is the fault of the sales person.

    But let’s not forget, today people are worried about their job. They are worried about keeping their house, their car and everything else they already own. They are not in a mood to add on and run up more debt. They are trying to get out of debt. If they own a business, they are worried about dropping sales and their lack customers in the slowing economy. Working Couples are worried about spending $75 a week on gas for each car they need to drive to work. They don’t have $100 (20 gallons) to put in the gas tank of a small boat. Buying a boat is way down on the list of priorities for 90% of the people. What is pushing a boat down so low on the list of priorities? The economy.

  4. bill

    I could care less about the salman.
    Boating industry in in big trouble be cause of oil, which hit a record $139.12 today.
    That’s the bottom line.
    Boating for the “average Joe” is all but over. A saleman trying to sale a Grady-White
    that gets .93 miles per gallon better be selling it to a buyer who could care less about
    the price of fuel, not how well trained the salesman is.





  6. George Fischell

    The boat sales people are approximately where the automobile sales people were in 1980. Faced with competition, an aware public and a demand for a more consumer-friendly sales process the automobile manufacturers forced standardized selling and accountability via CSI scores on the dealers. I doubt that anyone would truly wish for a return to the old ways of “can I help you?”

    Now is the time for serious dealers to start training their people how to be a professional salesperson as opposed to an order taker. The poorly run dealerships will soon be gone, and that is a good thing.

  7. Bob A

    Glen Roller is absolutely right! the majority of the boat sales people are way under trained, Mr Roller is also wrong in suggesting that the sluggish economy is not the reason for a slow down in sales. My career has taken me in and out of boat dealerships in the state of Florida, for over fifteen years. The same guys have been selling boats the entire time. The slow down is Definitely Not due to a lack of salesmanship, but in fact Is a result of the economy, jobs , and consumer confidence. Having said that, I do believe that the sales guys could be better. Most will start showing all of the features of the boat before they ask the right questions. What do you see as a typical day on the water for you? How many People will normally go? Will they be fishing, skiing, cruising. Listen to what the customer is telling you is the most important issues to them and then try to address those issues not the ones that are important to you. I could go on, but I won’t. In the past I have not responded to many of the less than informed and humorous comments that are posted on this blog but as an ex retail boat salesman I found Mr. Rollers comments were to insulting to ignore.

  8. boatman

    Boats were selling well up until 2007 because we had a false economy going. You had people entering the real estate market doubling or tripling their profit in a year or two. You had people owning a condo worth 150k who were getting these units appraised for 400k , and taking out equity lines of credit and buying boats with that money. Easy credit everywhere. Average consumers felt rich! People were purchasing 300k boats on stated income only. When the bubble burst, so did boat sales. Their homes lost much of their value, credit tightened, the economy went into a tailspin. The boating industry got hit with a one-two punch at this same time, Just as the housing market was entering the meltdown phase, Many Marina developers started condominiumizing their boat storage slips at unrealistically high prices that put boat storage out of reach for many boaters. Couple this with fuel prices that will be hitting $6.00 a gallon at marinas this summer,and more than just the “average Joe” will be affected.
    Is it because of Boat Salesmen? As the old saying goes, “It’s the economy stupid” This is not just a phase. Because of the oil factor, there is going to be a fundamental change in the economic landscape of our society for years to come.

  9. Todd

    As a professional salesperson, I agree AND disagree. I disagree that there is anything a salesperson can do about the FACT that traffic to a store is down over 66% based on the ECONOMY (yes it IS the casue of slower sales!).

    However, I agree that in tough times, when TOP salespeople cannot pay their bills, some fundamentals go our the window, and attitudes can need ajustment to make the most of the traffic you do have.

    The bottom line, Glenn, is that the economy has put this industry in a DEPRESSION and their is little that sales skills will do to change that. Sure you can mitigate it by trying to beat the competition, but at the end of the year, you have only taken a bigger share of a much, nuch smaller pie. Buying a $20 book on sales for the long-term sales professional will not change this unfortunately.

    When you have a way to drive traffic to stores in large numbers, then write an article, because that would be useful. This article, however, is akin to kissing your sister.

  10. Wade N D Waters

    George Fishell wrote: “Now is the time for serious dealers to start training their people how to be a professional salesperson…” So they can go into the auto business where they can make more money & have full time employment 12 months a year and sell out of inventory every model, trim level, & color of vehicle the manufacture makes. They may even get a car with gas in it to drive!!! …

    George people need cars -now they need fuel efficent cars- they do not need boats, training is good but it is not the answer to all the issues this nitch industry & country faces.

  11. William

    Sounds like a consultant selling services during a down cycle! Perhaps our sales process is still broken (but improving for those serious about growth). Nonetheless, it does not take much to train wreck sales for an expensive toy, whose purchase is easily deferable to future periods. It’s a highly descrentionary purchase with high monetary stakes which can be knocked off it’s feet by just about any negative economic news whether actual or perceived. Batton down the hatches and prepare for a cold winter.

  12. Phil Watson

    A MESSAGE MISSED…..I do not get that a claim is made that “the economy” is not a challenge…in-fact…i think that the message is that TIMES ARE TOUGH and that business as usual and usual sales approaches may make them tougher for the salesman/customer and the dealer. If you consider that a customer financing a decent sized boat will COMMIT to a PAYMENT TERM that will OUTLAST the AVERAGE MARRIAGE in this country…begs the question…as a customer, what can or should we expect from a salesperson that is going to guide us through our decision making process before we “put pen to paper?” Is this person a good “marriage councilor”..and am I/we comfortable with him/her.
    I absulutely agree with the sentiment(s) expressed regarding most sales training “gurus” and “systems”….ask most people how they would FEEL if they were on the RECIEVING END of these “systems” and you will most likely sense discomfort.
    A customer(s) spends an HOUR with a salesperson on the showroom floor……the manager or owner sees the customer(s) leave…..asks the salesperson….”What happened with them?”…and the salesperson responds with…”he/they just are not ready yet”….or…”they were just looking”….how much did it cost to get them in the door?…..where are they going next?…..what do they say to each other as they drive AWAY from your showroom?…if your potential customers have a question mark on their back as the LEAVE..how frustrating for EVERYONE INVOLVED???
    If a technician performed as many NOT ALL salespeple do….your service drive would be blocked with upset RETURNIG customers….in sales however….those customers probably just STAY AWAY.
    I too have encountered a lot of sales training, and most if not all had me squirming on the inside…Mr.Rollers’ material was not-so!…for what it is worth.(don’t want you guys shooting the only messenger that I actually liked!!!!!)

  13. Island Boy

    Good point, I thought I was the only one who thought that many of the boat selling guys acted like used car salesmen-LOL!

    It’s really not fair to label “all” salemen this way, I know sales people who really care. They go over the top for their clients and employer(s), work long hours and are exceptional trained about the many products they sell. When I say products, I mean they know and understand electronics, electronic engines and a variety of engine controls made by several manufacturers, generators, inverters, windlass’s, water makers, vessel monitoring systems- and a bunch of r/c systems etc.

    The standard needs to be improved. It’s not just salesmen either, some business owners conduct themselve in the same manner. I guess all the displaced car salesman went into the boat business when their culture changed…… It’s times like these that make us start to reflect on how we can improve our business performance/practices. Truth is we can all find things within our areas of responsibility to improve, I know I can!

  14. Sunshine State

    Having been involved in new boat sales and brokerage for the past twenty years I realized long ago I am involved in an unprofessional industry in so many respects.”Sales People” are a noted low point and simply one aspect, a hint to a larger weakness .There are too many bad sales people because there are too many of us period, too much emphasis on unlimited,exponential “growth”.As another writer noted , the true pros are few and long established.(I have been at the same desk in Jacksonville,Fla. since 1991…) And then there is the “passion” some consultants try to instill. For some, working in boat sales because you like boats and boating is like working in a grocery store because you like food and cooking….and it shows.
    This simplistic premise of this article reflects poorly on the industry.

  15. Bill Kearns

    The boating industry lack of sales professionals is only a partial answer.I have worked boat shows with part timers that were totally incompetent. Does that not make the polished professional more valuable and ready to make a sale? The problem lies in dramatic prices in mid sized boats as well as the entry level boat going by the way side. Over the last ten years the $25,000 boat now costs $50,000. It chases people away. This problem, coupled with a lack of marina slips at affordable prices have turned the customer off. Manufacturers have to attract the entry level purchasers with quality product and dependable engines at affordable pricing to begin the sales cycle over again. The trend of marketing to “high end” customers in the last year is futile because they represent only a small portion of the market.

  16. Sunshine State

    Face it- we are involved with a mature industry with little room to grow in so many respects.We probably didn’t appreciate what we had in the past,and the value of all the certasin elements, including excellent sales staff.

  17. Arch

    I’ve been in the business for close to 20 years and considered one of the best in my field. Glenn is right when it comes to salespeople NOT investing in their craft and not being as good as they can be, BUT GLENN IS WAY WRONG THAT THIS HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH WHY SALES ARE OFF IN 2008.
    KERRY D and others are exactly right.
    Like it or not, he is also wrong that a boat needs a salesperson to sell it. Yes, it certainly helps, and NO, I”m not claiming that boat salesmen are a dying breed, BUT…. I am a salesperson and I will telll you that in todays market, with the internet and word of mouth, a great boat sells itself. 10-15 years ago when a person walked into our dealership, he had no idea what he wanted and what model fits his need. Nowadays, many come in knowing EXACTLY what they want and end up just trying to get the best deal on it. There is much more order taking going on nowadays. That is a fact.

  18. Anonymous Bob

    Hindsight is always great and is always correct. It’s like the government telling us we’re in a recession – 6 months after the fact!!

    Arch has it right on in that consumers know exactly what they want when they walk in the door. It’s true of most industries because of the information and research available online. An educated consumer is a better consumer with one caveat: the salesperson has to know what he AND the customer are talking about. It’s saddening to see salespeople in dealerships nowadays just sitting at their desks perusing eBay or checking their Yahoo! emails instead of brushing up on product knowledge, climbing over boats to see what is what, or, shudder the thought, prospecting for sales. I find that the aggressive, proactive dealers are the ones SUCCEEDING in this down market.

    Consumers may be a bit more conservative with their money. But, guess what?? They still want to spend it. The on-water lifestyle of boating is as exciting as ever, so why shouldn’t consumers buy a boat? You don’t have to hit the profit home run every time, so it’s quite okay to sell that $20k package instead of the $100k package. Baseball teams succeed a single at a time. And a $20k sales gets the dealer another customer. Present the value of today’s technology, your dealer’s investment in training, and the fact you’re an enthusiast and that you’ll probably see the customer on the water, too. Product, by and large, is pretty uniform across the board. The thing that sets you apart from your competition is your dedication to the customer, the product, and your employees. Create value for the customer and you’ll see the sales continue. Just don’t give up hope.

  19. Buck

    Geln seems to leave one major part of the equasion, the thousands of potential buyers who never even make it into the showroom because they have delayed the buying or shopping process as a result of the economic times we are in. Good salesperson or bad salesperson never has a chance to discuss the sale with the buyer who never shows up. Currently there are thousands of potential buyers who have been virtually eliminated from the market with $5 dollar a gallon gas at the dock. How many buyers are you seeing who call you on a boat and say “no problem for me, gas is just not an issue”

  20. Barb Caster

    I am in outside sales of marine accessories and have been witness to many techniques in selling boats. I have owned a marina in the hay days, and I have sold boats in the late 90’s. What I believe is happening is a very discouraging attitude. I think the talent is there but it used to be easy. You just needed to guide the customer through the accessories on the boat, the added features, the financing and that was it. Now I believe a salesperson approach’s a customer like his mind is made up, when in truth, he is so confused because of all the information overload and all of the choices. I really cant blame the salesperson on having his enthusiasm tainted because his pay has gone way down, for lack of sales that is not his fault. I think you should put some fuel on the fire with your sales team, its not that they are not talented just not motivated and that’s just my take…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.