What I learned mystery shopping over 100 dealerships this summer

One of the services we offer our clients is to mystery shop their competitors. When traveling, I typically stop at a dealer or two to shop them in person and attend multiple boats shows each season. It’s part market research for my clients and part industry research for my team and me. 

One of the biggest areas of opportunities I’ve seen is the initial response to a new online lead; website lead, boat trader or manufacturer. 

First, let me give you a real email response I received from a Top 100 dealer after inquiring about a boat listed on their website.  Then I’ll break down the five parts every email to a new lead should contain.

This is very typical of the first personal response I receive:

Subject: New More Info from Dealer Website

James, Thank you for contacting DEALER NAME REMOVED on the BOAT NAME REMOVED. It is priced with a 60hp MOTOR NAME REMOVED but you can put anything on there up to a 175hp. Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you,

Now, you may say that’s not a bad email; the response was within 12 hours. Let’s see if we can improve on it to increase engagement and increase our chances of turning this lead into a high-margin boat sale.

Let’s start with asking ourselves this question: Could this email be any better?

Based on my client’s experience, the answer is yes.

Incorporate these five key areas when crafting a new lead response email to increase engagement, improve positioning, and move the prospect forward.

#1 – Craft an engaging subject line so your prospect will open the email.  Over 79 percent of lead responses we received had the default system generated subject line instead of a subject line meant to engage the prospect to open. For example, “25’ XYZ pontoon info” versus “New more info from dealer website.” If you were a prospect, which email are you more likely to open?  If they don’t open the email, you’ve already lost.

#2 – Thank the prospect for reaching out and reference the boat to jog the prospects memory. Prospects researching online often inquire about multiple boats and then forget which ones they were looking at. We’ve all had that phone call where you say “I’m calling about the boat you were interested in.” And, their response is, ‘Which one was that again, I’ve looked at so many lately.” Avoid confusion at all costs.

#3 – Answer any questions asked by the prospect (even pricing questions) and use some salesmanship in the response. Take a few extra moments when responding to leads and think about their question and how you’d answer if they were face-to-face with you. Then, craft the response in a conversational manner as if they were in the dealership. Perhaps consider using a personalized video to help set you apart.

#4 – Sell yourself, your dealership and your manufacturer (and model).  Most emails we see have little to no salesmanship in the copy (like the one above). Take some time to come up with a great sales presentation for your email responses. 

#5 – Have a direct and impactful call to action (CTA). I see the above call to action all the time “Let me know if you have any questions.” Instead, be more direct. Tell the prospect exactly what they should do next. We’ve created multiple CTAs for our clients that range from an invite to an event, invite to get pre-approved for financing or even ask a well thought out question to move the conversation forward. All of these CTAs are orchestrated to elicit a specific action to move the prospect down the Educational Spectrum of a Boat Buyer.

If you’re not sure what type of emails your sales team has been sending out, you may want to do a little research. Take a look at 10 of your most recent emails against these five key areas to see how well they are doing. 

Don’t be afraid to invest some time with your team to build a few solid email templates that will save time and deliver a stronger sales message to all of your leads (even in the busiest time of year). 

This month’s challenge: Mystery shop your competition or have a friend do it for you and see how well they do. Then, mystery shop your own dealership and sales team. You will discover where you have opportunities to improve and areas to exploit your competitions weaknesses, leading to more sales, more profit and more fun in your dealership.   

Matt Sellhorst is the author of the book “Marine Marketing Strategies” and head profits coach at Boat Dealer Profits. Sellhorst was also the winner of the MDCE Best Ideas Contest, Boating Industry’s Movers and Shakers Bold Moves award, a top producing boat salesman and speaker at many industry events. Visit BoatDealerProfits.com for more information.


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