Work together

By Wanda Kenton Smith, Kenton Smith Advertising & PR, Orlando, FL

I know I sound like a broken record, but in today’s sluggish market, our industry as a whole needs to be doing a better job of marketing at the local level. The Discover Boating campaign is addressing the big picture marketing and communications, but as we all know, sales happen at the grass roots level. I am increasingly concerned that many manufacturers and dealers are not working together to maximize the potential in a down market. We see inventories piling up at the dealership, manufacturing plants coming to a grinding halt and the powerful domino effect which results.

Nobody likes this situation. There’s finger pointing and frustration on all sides.

The dealer says … the manufacturer isn’t doing enough to move the product. The manufacturer should be doing more. The manufacturer has reduced its advertising budget. The dealer isn’t getting good leads. The manufacturer is forcing new product when the dealer is sitting on dated product he can’t move.

The manufacturer says … the dealer is doing nothing to move the inventory. The dealer isn’t advertising or marketing. The dealer isn’t taking advantage of the programs that are available. The dealer is just sitting around waiting for someone to trip in the door. The dealer is expecting the manufacturer to create and execute the promotions to drive sales.

I’ve been in the industry 28 years, and I’ve heard it all. What’s more, there’s some truth on all sides. Here’s my take on what we need to do now – what we need to be doing all along to minimize the financial and professional relational stresses associated with a declining market.

Manufacturers do need to have marketing, advertising and promotional programs in place to reinforce their brand and support their dealers year ‘round. The minute they go dark and quit or significantly reduce their marketing initiatives, they send a negative message to the boating public and to their dealers. Manufacturers need to maintain a strong presence in their target markets, be it national or regional. They need to partner with their dealers in creating effective programs that will help move inventory. They need to provide their dealers with professional tools which can be used at the local level and make it easy for the dealer to execute. When possible, they should provide solid coop funding to support these local marketing programs. From personal experience, I also believe it is smart for manufacturers to consult with a few key marketing-savvy dealers in the early stages of conceptualizing and planning dealer support programs to get their recommendations and ownership.

The dealers, likewise, do need to step up and become more accountable for marketing at the local level. The manufacturer needs to provide the program and the tools, but it is up to the dealer to champion the effort and enthusiastically plan and execute it in the local market. What’s more, dealers need to get much more aggressive. They need to ensure that their sales team is picking up the telephone and calling previous customers and prospects. Sound like a novel idea? I was speaking with Will Keene of Edson recently about this dilemma and he commented that we have to reintroduce people to the telephone and make sure they understand it is designed for two-way communication – making calls as well as receiving them. Sad commentary, but brilliant reminder.

In addition, dealers need to give customers real and enticing reasons to buy now. There is plenty of negative press as to why they shouldn’t buy … turn on any TV news station and you’ll hear the latest round of bad news – fuel prices, stock market, real estate/ARMs, plant layoffs and shutdowns, etc. We need to counter this awful stream of negativity with positive, legitimate reasons why now is the absolute best time to buy now and make it authentic. This may require some real creativity and customization, which is why the 1:1 customer contact is so important. What it may take to get Customer A off the block may be entirely different than for Customer B. We need to build flexibility into our programs to accommodate unique customer buying triggers.

Dealers need to get out there and ask for referrals and then systematically follow-up. Dealers need to get involved in their respective communities and network among prospects who meet the boat buying demographic. Don’t wait for Mohammed to come to the mountain: take the mountain out there! Dealers need to connect regularly with existing customers through special events and forge a relationship of trust beyond the sale.

Ultimately, dealers need to take the time to develop and create marketing strategies that incorporate a well conceived, specific plan, including tactics, timelines and budgets. Manufacturers need to do the same. If they don’t know how to do this, then get outside expertise. I’m often surprised by the minimal planning that seems to go into marketing at many companies, large and small. This requires thinking time and commitment. I submit that if you don’t have time to think strategically, your time is more limited than you may realize.

Essentially, nothing happens when we don’t market. The inventory stockpile builds and the product takes a beating. The longer it sits, the harder it is to move it and the less desirable it becomes to the market. The catch-22 domino effect begins to take full impact as retailers and manufacturers experience the sloping downward spiral we all so want to avoid.

Bottom line: we need to realize the importance of consistent, strategic marketing as it relates to our business survival and success, along with the very real need to regularly connect with our customers in meaningful and impactful ways.

This contribution is one in a series of solutions to the industry’s challenges as offered by female boating business professionals for the March 2008 issue of Boating Industry magazine. To view the article, Leading the way, including links to the entire list of solutions, click here.

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