Q&A with MDCE closing keynote speaker Sam Dantzler

Sam Dantzler of Sam’s Watersports Dock and Garage Composites is a familiar face to anyone who has attended the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in the past few years. However, the 2016 MDCE will offer attendees to experience Dantzler’s expertise in a whole new way.

Dantzler will present the closing keynote, “Change: It’s the Only Option,” on the final day of MDCE, which will be held on Dec. 5-8, 2016 at the Orange County Convention Center. The keynote will discuss the importance for marine dealerships to adapt in a world where commerce, employees and customers are vastly different than 30 years ago, but many processes are still the same.

“Every topic I attack I’m not looking at it from just the best business practice. I’m looking at it as how does a human being react and why do they go that direction versus this direction? I love the research and the topic, and then pull in the human component,” said Dantzler.

Attendees rave about Dantzler in post-MDCE surveys, with comments such as “Sam is very engaging. It’s a ton of great information and kind of different from what we’ve been told for so long. It’s entertaining. His whole sales process is killer,” and “We’ve implemented portions of Danzler’s talk, and it is working. It’s the part about selling vs. the need to sell and how to approach it differently. It’s hard to break old habits, but we’re finding it’s a good approach and people are reacting positively.”

We sat down with Dantzler to talk more about his closing keynote topic and why it is an important message for dealer attendees at MDCE.

Boating Industry: What can attendees expect to take away from your closing keynote?

Dantzler: “So much of what we have, we’ve been doing it that way for 20 or 30 years. Look at [how] commerce has changed in 30 years, look at what people want out of their jobs, look how people buy, and if it’s so radically different, how are we so far behind the times in adapting to that? And honestly, that’s probably the better word that I’ll use in the speech a lot is adapt, not necessarily change. … [The keynote] is a check-in with how antiquated we’ve become and then consider the solutions for how to bring yourself up to current.”

BI: You’re no stranger to MDCE – past attendees are already very familiar with you from your widely attended track sessions. For attendees who have attended your track sessions, what will be different about a closing keynote from Sam?

Dantzler: “In all of my other sessions, including the ones that I am doing this year, they’ve all been considerably more granular. Like ‘here’s a piece of the business that’s not working, let’s talk about that piece of the business and how we turn three dials and get that piece of the business better.’ And really, the scope of the keynote is much more of a 30,000-foot view of the retail experience in general. … ‘Let’s really take stock of what’s going on in the industry,’ certainly in a want-based industry, a recreational industry, and then talk about what we know has been working in other industries [for] how to make that change.”

BI: I’ve sat in on some of your sessions before and I know that being open to change is a sales and leadership concept that is important to you. Why does it need to be equally important to boat dealers?

Dantzler: “I believe, as a business, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. There is no stagnant, there is no coasting. I was actually out on my bicycle the other day and I was coasting … and then you realize the only way to coast is to go downhill. There is no coasting on a flat, right? It’s all the power you put into it. … I think the dealers who are able to adapt, they’re the ones that made it through the recession, they’re probably the ones that show up at [MDCE] and they’re the ones that need to constantly be refining the engine to how the American public is changing, certainly with the Millennials coming onboard and how they’re changing how we buy.”

BI: What do you think are the greatest barriers for boat dealers as they work to adapt to the transformations taking place in their employees, customers and retailing in general?

Dantzler: “If you look at the history of how anybody bought anything in this world … it doesn’t matter what it was – you’d think about it, and then you go gather a bunch of information to support your thought or reject it, and then you pull the trigger. So three different buckets. And I think the biggest issue is that middle bucket, the information gathering, because for years the customers have had to go to the dealership to see the boat, go to the dealership to see the options, to see the color, to try it out, to learn about it. … That middle piece has always been dealer-controlled. If you look at the Polk Industry Data, which I’ll bring up in the speech, we used to go to six dealerships before we would make a buying decision, and now we go to one. And now we pull the trigger within one week of going to the one dealership. So the time of acquisition is really short but the point is it’s shifted from dealer-controlled to customer-controlled.”

BI: How can dealers overcome them?

Dantzler: “It really comes down to that missing ingredient of human connection. Customers want a human connection, they want to feel good when they buy, they want to feel like they can trust the person, employees stay with organizations that they feel like they have an actual connection with. … What’s our ability to connect with them before they actually get into the store?”

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