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Is the boat buying process broken?

By Jim Jabaay

As a business partner to dealers and OEMs, the boat buying process has always been a bit different for me than if I were a regular consumer. Our company, LotVantage, helps dealerships manage their online presence and in turn, strategically guides their prospects into customers. I have more insider knowledge of the full buying process than the majority of consumers. I put that knowledge and insight aside to put myself “in the market” for a new boat as a typical consumer would, working through the entire purchasing process and found it both eye opening and challenging.

I began my buying journey on a manufacturer’s website to learn more about the boat I was interested in and also visited their Facebook page to research the brand. On the manufacturer’s website, I submitted a lead form and selected my local dealership without even knowing the price of my boat of choice or any available rebates to offset the cost. I waited in anticipation to see what would happen next with the information I submitted. Within 30 minutes of my lead submission, I received an email from the OEM to inform me of the rebates, the MSRP of the boat and available options. The email also provided a link to the local dealership to view inventory. This information seemed like adequate resources to learn about my local dealership and purchase from them the boat of my dreams.

The next steps I took showed how strongly the disconnect was between the OEM and the local dealership with their marketing. I visited the local dealership website and was introduced to other brands they carried, including direct competitors of the original boat I had wanted. The information provided took me down the rabbit hole of researching more about the competitor’s boat and searching on Google for comparisons of the competitor boat and the original boat I wanted to buy. Frustrated with my findings, I decide to learn more about the dealership from their Facebook page to get real insight from past customers. I was disappointed in the stale six-month old content and lack of engaging information. Thankfully, there were some actual reviews both positive and negative for me to skim, although the dealership rarely responded to either type of reviews for me to get more insight into how they would treat me as a potential customer. After two hours of research from the time I got the OEM email, reviewed the OEM options, visited the local dealership website and Facebook page and researched the competition, I still felt I was no closer toward purchasing my desired boat as when I submitted the OEM lead form.

Three days after giving all of my information to the OEM, I finally received an email from the dealership introducing themselves and thanking me for visiting, although I never went to their physical location. I never received a follow up phone call or another email from either the dealership or the OEM to provide more assistance with the boat from the lead submission.

As a consumer, I left the entire process frustrated and no longer interested in upgrading to a new boat. As an industry professional, it left me wanting to identify solutions to assist in growing everyone’s business. Getting leads as a dealer is difficult and expensive. It is always easier to sell a boat to someone who walks in to the store, but the typical consumer has over 30 touchpoints before even walking into a dealership and over 75 percent of those are digital!

I’ll leave you with a challenge: how do we improve this process to grow our industry?

Jim Jabaay is the vice president of LotVantage, a digital marketing company for dealerships and original equipment manufacturers. LotVantage specializes in posting dealer inventory to Craigslist, eBay and driving engagement on social media on behalf of their customers. Visit lotvantage.com or call 1-888-569-3865.

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