Is American Express Your Competitor?

Jeff SchererBy Jeff Scherer, Lifestyle Integrated Inc.

When I started in marine marketing over 10 years ago, we preached the message that businesses should be less concerned with the dealership down the street, but more about the recreational activities (sporting events, vacations, etc) that all compete for that recreational spend. While there may be no argument that is still true, today’s dealers may want to be cognizant of some additional outside influences that also shape the perception and expectations of today’s boat buyer.

A recent article in CRM Magazine stated that “the person that goes to Starbuck’s for a morning coffee also vacations at Disney, flies Virgin Atlantic, uses American Express, shops at Nordstrom, and indulges at a Ritz Carlton resort.” That same person may also be the guy that just entered your showroom to buy a boat. He has been courted, swaddled, and pampered by other companies that have stepped up their level of service even more in this tight and super-competitive economy. The article then posed the question “How would an airline or a jewelry store treat a $75,000 customer?” Even if you’re wanting him to buy a $10,000 boat, the same philosophy applies.

Recently there have been many efforts made by companies to review their existing methods and processes to become a more “customer-centric” organization. While this thinking is smart, often times the changes that are suggested (and too often implemented) are spawned from what the company or industry perceives will make their sales process and interactions more appealing- and not based on what their customers really think.

Whether we like it or not, our industry will forever be compared to the automotive industry. Automotive dealers sell more of a commoditized product- something that a buyer may also be able to find five miles away. Consequently they must rely on multiple methods to try to at least meet (hopefully surpass) that buyer’s expectations, which have already been seeded by his previous experience with Nordstrom. This may not be an easy task, especially considering that many people I know dread buying cars. Your path to the sale is hopefully an enjoyable one.

Customers ultimately vote with their wallets. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dealer, a vendor, or a baker. It is probably a worthwhile exercise to compare your present level of service and processes against other best-in-class, non-marine companies and see what might be learned. Ask what you or your team can do to surprise and delight your customers. Going the extra mile does not always mean having to travel 5280 feet.

Jeff Scherer is Director of Client Strategy for Lifestyle Integrated, Inc.

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