As marine dealers adapt to ever-changing market conditions and work toward more efficient processes, the major players in sales, service and marina operations software continue to refine their products to make an even bigger impact on a dealership’s bottom line. New developments in Web-based technologies, along with nearly instant information updates and departmental integration have greatly expanded the software’s effectiveness. And on top of that, many of the platforms are easier to use and more intuitive than ever.
Lead Management & Marketing Communications
Maintaining and communicating with your lead database is vital to bring in business. Outdated or missing information can make it difficult for even the most capable sales team to drive revenue from direct-mail or e-marketing campaigns.
Exuma Technologies, maker of the DockMaster platform, has developed WebConnector, which opens DockMaster up to a host of web-based applications. Similar to Apple’s AppStore, Exuma is partnering with companies that have developed web and mobile applications for lead management, online parts sales (eCommerce), mobile time tracking, ePayments and web-based slip reservations. Dealers can also license WebConnector to create their own DockMaster apps. The combination of WebConnector and LeadMaster CRM can help dealers evaluate the ROI of various lead and social media marketing programs.
“We believe that the stability of the platform and the continued work that goes into improving the core software is of the utmost importance,” said Exuma’s Cam Collins.
Partnering with Advanced Dealer Solutions, Exuma now offers services that include ADS Market Reach to assist dealers with e-mail and letter generation campaigns, ADS Social Media Services to help dealers leverage the potential of social marketing communications, ADS Customer Reach Surveys, ADS Alerts – a proactive support service that alerts dealers of financial, inventory and lead management concerns — and ADS Remote CFO Services.
Lead management is a key component of the new IDS Astra G2 platform, which features a beefed-up customer relationship management system. New components include the ability to track and enter leads from the showroom, website, or third-party sites. Enhanced search capabilities allow staff to search for individuals or groups, then conduct e-mail campaigns.
Inventory Sharing & Warranty Management
The larger a dealer network, the tougher it is to share key information about available inventory. Have you ever worked your way down a phone tree, looking for a certain boat model with a specific upgraded power package? Then you know the feelings of frustration and helplessness as a live prospect tells you he’ll just keep looking and walks out with his checkbook.
It’s just that sort of scenario that drives Connect4Business. Focused on improving interactions between the manufacturer and dealer, and dealer to dealer, C4B has improved functionality for 2011, making it easier to perform inventory swaps, order products and parts, register warranties and file warranty claims.
“Warranty claims processing needs to be an open, consistent reimbursement system,” said Eugene Jones of Connect4Business. “Claims are complicated. Which parts need to be replaced? And if two parts must be replaced, do we pay full labor on both? This system allows you to submit, modify and resubmit as needed, all with a written record.”
The contract stage is where the rubber meets the road. Deals can go awry in the blink of an eye. The more steps you take to get the contract document tightened up and easy to use, the better.
Leasemaster has dedicated itself to solving the problems inherent in complicated tax structures as they relate to the boating industry. New software features, for example, eliminate the need to generate separate purchase orders, which can interfere with financing, when accommodating different tax rate limitations on boats, motors and trailers. Contracts can also be typed incorrectly, resulting in the dealership undercharging taxes and having to attempt late collection, which can end up as write off.
“Boat and accessory buyers are quick to get cold feet and back out of a sale if they’re called back to the dealership to correct paperwork, so there is a great need for perfect contracts,” said Ivan Blume of Leasemaster.com. “We’ve created a single file that makes it easy to print an error-free contract right on the spot, even when you’re at a boat show.”
Last-minute options can wreak havoc, especially when dealing with a handwritten contract. At a busy boat show, there may be a temptation to “throw in” the extras a customer asks for to avoid rewriting the contract. Leasemaster’s features can quickly update the contract and make sure associated costs are added as well.
Other additions to the Leasemaster system include Buy Here Pay Here accounting, which enables the dealer to carry a balance on a sale to offset insufficient bank lending. Reports can be created, along with a collection plan, and payment books can be printed on the spot. The system integrates with QuickBooks, enabling the entire transaction to be posted directly to accounting.
In the new reality of today's boating market, decision-makers need all the information they can get to steer their companies toward a brighter future.
Anchorsoft, which develops dealership management software, has expanded the business-forecasting capabilities of its products to allow owners and managers to easily see what products and services have been most profitable historically. It also provides projections and recommendations to continue on that path. In the first quarter of 2011, it will release a redesigned one-click interface with QuickBooks to allow dealers already using the software to continue to do so, while at the same time taking advantage of specialized software for other departments.
With the newly launched True system, Spader Business Management has created an online, real-time tool to measure a dealership’s performance with interactive dashboards to compare actuals to budget, year-over-year, and forecast future profits. Whether it’s a report with 25 key indicators or more-in-depth financials, the software takes the guesswork out of data.
“True provides an immediate scoreboard, which is critical, particularly when you need information quickly during the busy season,” said Spader’s Noel Lais. “And we can take each dealership’s information and compile it, anonymously, to give you an idea of where your sales compare to industry averages.”
Capable of running on any operating system and on any device that runs a browser (including iPads, iPhones, Droids or iPods), the Lizzy platform from nizeX integrates customer relationship management, financing, invoicing, inventory control, shipping, service and warranty.
A master price system for nizeX is now being developed to enable free price updates and provide the ability to categorize and link those items with others. This allows dealers to view and purchase inventory online with the same internal database.
“We release major updates every 1 to 2 months, which enables us to respond to customer needs and refine our testing processes,” said Glenn Hancock of nizeX. “Updates are pushed out automatically with no input needed from dealerships. Backups are also performed daily for free. The primary goal being to allow the dealership to do what it does and not get bogged down trying to keep up with technology.”
Integrated Dealer Systems has just launched Astra G2. With a new graphic interface and new features designed for ease and efficiency, the update of its Astra platform now allows users to build custom dashboards to monitor their important metrics.
“This makes the product an even better experience for users by allowing them to do more, faster, and in one screen that previously required them to navigate three or four screens,” said Sean Raynor of IDS. “This is an evolution rather than a revolution. Dealers have a choice of either using new screens or sticking with the traditional menu-based interface. The new system is fully backwards compatible at this point, which is a huge benefit because they can slowly migrate toward full-staff utilization.”
One thing every dealership faces these days is having to do more with less. That goes for staffing issues more than any other facet of the business. So how do you manage all the frequent, but sometimes complex issues that need to be handled every day?
BiT Marine has expanded training opportunities to improve efficiencies and help quickly get the front-line users of its software up to speed. By implementing regular online group seminars, BiT helps staff share solutions, and introduces new hires to correct processes.
“One of the biggest challenges we are seeing at boat dealerships is their efforts to improve efficiency and communication while they are functioning with fewer staff,” said Ed MacFawn of BiT Marine. “As the economy slowed and dealers reduced personnel, they have been forced to improve efficiency in order to maintain the quality of service and customer satisfaction while continuing to drive profitability. As a result, we see many of them coming to BiT for training and for guidance on how to use best the tools available.”
Whether you’ve embraced the pervasive trend of communicating via text message or not, the technology has become an undeniable part of the day-to-day interactions many customers rely on. And it gives dealers one more way, some would say the best way, to grab their attention and get them in the door.
Recently, Anchorsoft introduced a way for dealers to interact with customers electronically by adding SMS (texting) capabilities to the software’s existing e-mail system. Now, customers can be notified by e-mail or text message. Also in 2011, Anchorsoft is focusing on integrating mobile devices such as iPad, iPhone and Blackberry with its software for functions such as taking inventory or quoting a boat.
Parts & Service
We all know the drill. Go to look up a part number in your system, write down the price and type that part number into a sales order. Then you notice a stack of CDs that should have been plugged in weeks ago to upgrade numbers and options, along with new pricing. There has to be a better way, right?
Integrating with more than 85 existing business systems and vendors, the new PartSmart system from ARI immediately sets in motion a comprehensive set of operations that identifies the item in current inventory with pricing, along with bin location information and pushes it all to an invoice. Pick lists can be easily created and everything is tied back into the business system without the need to re-key into an invoice or repair order.
“The real benefit here is the immediacy of the information and efficiency on the customer service side because we’ve eliminated errors due to simple mistakes like transposed numbers, said ARI’s Campion Jaques. “Superceding part numbers are always up to date due to our contract with all major manufacturers that keep our information current. Plus, dealers have the ability to share notes on particular parts such as ‘Don’t forget to include bolts and a gasket.’ That gives the dealer an upsell opportunity and allows more experienced techs to share repair techniques and other information.”
Another major advance is the move toward Internet-driven updates that happen automatically as opposed to CD or DVD updates that can be delayed or require extra effort from dealers.
The dreaded chore of taking inventory has gotten a little easier with advances in technology from Huggins Outboard Computer Programs. Now, dealers can take inventory wirelessly using networked software with a basic laptop on a rolling cart or even a handheld computer. Wireless bar-coding and store-and-forward technology can now replace handwritten inventory sheets and even expensive specialized inventory equipment.
Huggins maintains the Aftermarket Parts Cross Reference System to give repair shops more choices on where to purchase replacement parts. In some cases, a manufacturer that contracted a part for an OEM sells replacement parts through a different channel. This is one method to tame fluctuating parts availability and instantly see pricing variations.
Whether you operate a marina as your primary business or it’s a component of a larger operation, automation can be the key to making it a profitable enterprise. It can also help alleviate many of the hands-on details that can fill up your day.
Nautical Software Solutions has added to its stable of dealership and service operations products. The Marina Program, acquired last year from WatchCaptain, automates vacancy searches, reservations, deposits and permitting, among other common activities, for marina and port operators. The software links to QuickBooks for easy integration into existing systems.
"Historically, small private owners and operators to large multi-sized ports have relied on The Marina Program for its ease of use, expansive marina functionality and its responsive customer service team,” said Joe DeMarco of Nautical Software Solutions and its parent company, Alliance Management & Consulting Group. “There are needs unique to maritime businesses, and we’re all forced to do more with fewer resources. We can offer that support system.”
You no doubt have a website that’s up and running and does a fair job serving as an electronic business card. But are you really using your site to its fullest potential?
Integrating with its customer relationship and dealer management software, IDS is now rolling out its Digital Dealership system, a website tool that includes a slick front-end design and integrates with a dealer’s profit centers. The website can be color-customized and has built-in search-engine optimization features.
“That will enable the dealership's website to become an online extension of their brick and mortar business,” said Raynor. “Our goal is to provide a single input source for dealership staff so that whatever data is needed from the CRM or the DMS, the system will push that information to the website.”