A marine dealer’s perspective on marketing

In a dealership, we as operators are very proactive about forecasting inventory, budgeting expenses and profits and scheduling service. All of this is done as a method of advanced planning to help us run our dealership more efficiently and effectively. Why then do so many dealerships not do the same with their marketing? To us a marketing plan is just another part of the road map that helps us run a successful business.

Marketing, however, isn’t just about advertising and in my opinion that is where marketing plans need to start. You need to know who you are, what you do (or don’t do) and how effective it is. First you need to look at who you are as a company, what you do well and what sets you apart from your competition to determine your niche.

Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. Once you have nailed that down, you need to take a look at who your customers are, where they are and what they do. This will give you a basis for your marketing plan. This task will take some research. I would suggest that you involve your staff and customers in this process. You may find that you will learn a lot about your business that you didn’t know by doing this.

From this point, write a simple list noting all aspects of your business that are touched or seen by customers and understand that all of that is part of marketing. From the sign at your front entrance, to the outdated poster hanging on the door that someone forgot to take down. Look at your staff and how approachable they are. This can be determined by their attitudes and what they look and smell like (Yes, I said smell — how many boats will a salesperson sell if they smell like yesterday’s dirty laundry?). The look and presentation of the product you have for sale along with every ad or promotion you use to get customers to your dealership is all part of marketing.

Using the list you formulated, determine what you do well, what you need to improve on, what works and what doesn’t work — you can reassess this as time goes on. For advertising, this is often a little easier to determine with the use of 800 tracking numbers, Web trend reports and customer surveys. For the other equally important points, this is where the assistance of your staff and customers come in. Ask them what they think.

After you determine who you are, who you are talking to, your good points and your bad, you can decide where you want to go from there. Putting together a plan is much more manageable with this information. Just before the end of our fiscal year (for us this is in the fall), we gather our 800 tracking numbers, Web trend reports, customer focus group reports, customer follow-up logs (which always include the questions: “How did you hear about us?” and “What could we do to improve your experience?”) and look through them thoroughly to see our wins and losses. Then we meet with staff and management to get their opinion on what they think we did well and what we should change or add for next year, as well as what the forecasted sales will be for the coming year, to help determine what product segments need special attention.

After this research, we sit down with a calendar and chart what our advertising and promotions will look like for the coming year. Once the calendar is complete, we use the dollar amount that is allocated during the dealership’s budgeting process to allocate funds to all of the different marketing initiatives for the coming year.

In the end we have created a specific marketing budget, which helps to guide us through the coming year. It is important to note that all of this is monitored throughout the year and adjusted as the market changes, mediums prove ineffective and inventory levels need to be refocused. We borrow money from some initiatives to give to others as we see fit.

In the end, this gives us a good road map for where we are going. Like every road map, there are detours along the way, but as long as you return to the map you are sure to get to your final destination.

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