During the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, there was one phrase from branding expert David Avrin that really stuck with me.
“If you’re being hammered on price,” he said, “your customer doesn’t see a big difference between you and your competitors.”
That’s never something you want to hear. Some of us may say to ourselves, “I need to train my sales team to better sell the unique features of our products and services.” Or perhaps lamenting, “If only my manufacturers would do a better job of designing products that stand out from the competition …”
Those are valid points, but they sidestep an even bigger opportunity, that of strengthening your dealership’s brand. Your brand can set your business apart from your competitors, regardless of what products and services you have in the showroom or on the shelf on a given day. The benefit to your business is much higher when the customer has reason to be loyal to both your brand AND the brands of products you sell.
Here’s the good news: If your products and services are priced fairly – within 5 to 10 percentage points of your competitors – the vast majority of people are open to buying from you, even if you’re not the low price leader, according to Avrin.
Most businesses don’t invest the time and the energy in identifying their competitive advantages and developing strategies to communicate them in a meaningful way.
But now is the perfect time to change that. Not only is it the offseason, but it’s also boat show season. It’s even harder to avoid competing on price at shows because most exhibitors look very similar. Knowing your competitive advantage – and bringing it to life at the boat show – is the most powerful antidote.
To get started, conduct a competitive analysis. This may sound complicated, but it’s really just a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and those of your competitors.
To get a better feel for both, secret shop your competitors on the Internet, over the phone and at their store. Then, have someone you trust to give you honest feedback secret shop your business as well. Be sure to involve your employees in compiling these lists. They will have insights that you, as a manager or owner, may not.
You also should ask your customers to explain why they chose your business over your competitors. Oftentimes, what we believe is important to our customers is different from what they tell us influenced their purchasing decision.
Be sure to pay attention to what consumers are saying about your brand on social media and business review sites.
Another important strategy: Look at what’s selling (and not selling) in your local market. You know what you’re selling each month. Subtract those sales from the overall results, and you can get a feel for what your competitors are selling too. One way to access this info: Statistical Surveys provides a Dealer Area Report that breaks out boat sales in your region by length, brand and boat type for less than $100 per month.
It’s important to conduct this exercise not just for the dealership as a whole, but also for each individual department or profit center within your business.
Once the analysis is complete, use the results to compile a “Why Buy From Our Dealership” document. This should be discussed internally to ensure that your entire team understands your competitive advantages, believes in them and can communicate them to customers. In addition, it is a great marketing piece to hand out at boat shows and in the showroom.
Finally, take a fresh look at all your marketing materials. Do they communicate why consumers should do business with your dealership in a way that is compelling? If not, it’s time to think about a redesign.
Warning: Don’t use your competitive advantages to trash talk your competitors. In fact, there’s no greater turn off for most people. Rather, talk about your unique strengths and what that means for your customers.
As your dealership does a better job of standing out in the market place, I bet you’ll see your revenues and profits begin to stand out as well.
Liz Walz is director of membership & marketing for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. To learn more, visit www.mraa.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.