A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Sell sincerity along with the boat

On Thursday morning at IBEX, I’ll have the pleasure of moderating a seminar discussion that includes an industry veteran and one of the really good guys in our business. Bing Fishman, who was the longtime Northeast regional sales manager for Grady-White, will be talking about the finer points of delivering great customer service and being an effective problem solver.

His very capable wingman will be Don MacKenzie, vice president and general manager of Boats Inc. in Niantic, Conn., one of the largest Grady-White dealers in the world.

Customer service and integrity are “everything,” says Fishman, who retired about three years ago after spending more than 40 years helping Grady-White dealers sell boats and take care of their customers. “If you sow the proper seeds in the good times,” he says, “you’re going to retain those customers” when times are tough. “Without that, you’ll be short-lived.”

Fishman says he pushed dealers on product knowledge, sincerity and putting a customer into the right boat. “Sell them exactly what they need and, if anything, undersell them,” he says.

They’ll be back to buy their next boat from you — and the one after that.

“Just make friends, but it has to be sincere,” he says. “You have to know the wife’s name, the kids’ names, the dog’s name. And you contact them a couple times a year.”

“It’s not rocket science,” Fishman adds, “and it should come natural to someone in sales. Again, it comes back to having fun and having a passion for it. I don’t care if you’re selling refrigerators or selling boats.”

At the end of the day it’s about relationships, the industry veteran says — relationships between you, the salesperson and the customer, the factory and everyone at the dealership where you work, from the service manager to the guy putting on the bottom paint to the GM.

And sometimes it’s the seemingly little things that can mean the most to an owner. For example, Fishman recalls, “I had more upset customers because the waterline wasn’t straight.” Don’t just solve the problem, he notes, solve it “graciously.”

Helping a customer frustrated by his electronics — a typical scenario — provides one of those opportunities to either cement a relationship or push someone away. “They use their electronics once or twice a month, and they forget,” Fishman says. “You have to be there when they forget. And help them graciously.”

Don’t roll your eyes or sigh or look at your watch, because the customer will pick up on it. “If you take care of that customer’s electronics problem without making him feel stupid, he’ll come back again and again,” Fishman says. The CSI tells the whole story.

After a customer takes delivery, Fishman says, it’s important to call three or four days later and see how they’re making out. Have they had any problems? Is there something about the boat that’s bothering them — anything at all? “You really have to probe,” Fishman says.

“There has to be something wrong,” Fishman would say to new owners over the phone, urging them to be frank. “It’s a boat.”

By doing so, he says, “you’re heading off a problem before it becomes a real problem.” And the buyer appreciates having a true conversation with the dealer rather than thinking he has only received the requisite “canned call.”

“I always told dealers, ‘No one needs a boat,’ ” Fishman says. “They need cars, houses and food, but they don’t need a boat.”

Looking back on a long, successful career, Fishman says, “You need to have a passion for it. People are people. I just really enjoyed it. If you don’t, you’ve been miscast. You need to find another job.”


4 comments on “Sell sincerity along with the boat

  1. Wally Moran

    All of this is so very true. I’ve watched people get out of boating because their needs were not met by the dealer, and every person who leaves the sport is one who will in all likelihood not be back. My take on this topic is ‘sell boating, don’t sell boats’ because, as Fishman says, no one (in his right mind!) needs a boat.


    About 30 years ago, I attended a seminar put on for salesman just prior to a major boat show. The leader was the typical slick seminar presenter. About a quarter way through, he asked everyone to write down every practical reason for buying a boat that they would point out to a potential buyer. I was disapointed to see all the older experienced salespeople not participating in this exercise, as the newer folks wrote volumes. It took a few years to understand that the joke was on the young ones, as there are no practical reasons, just emotional ones..

  3. Roger Herd

    I learned volumes from Bing Fishman when I was selling Grady White for Port of Egypt years ago and I keep that knowledge with me today. The boat is only 50% of the deal and the dealer “experience” constitutes the other 50%. Fall short and you’ve lost future sales.

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