Any Lead Can Be a Hot Lead

How much money are you leaving on the table by not following up on every Internet lead?
According to 27 months of data from, dealer response rate to consumer e-mail queries is less than 50 percent. If one assumes a 10-percent closure rate on those queries and the average price for a boat, “Dealers are missing out on $200 million in sales each year — and that’s just from our site,” says David Bingham, general manager of and Yacht Trader magazine. “I was floored when I found out.”
How a dealership presents itself on the Internet and the way it responds to Web-based queries can mean additional sales in this tough retail environment, echoes John Bratten, national sales manager at Marine Web Services. Statistics from the marine industry Web creation and lead management company show that 66 percent of customers who walk in to a dealership already have perused a dealer’s Web site and know what they want before arriving. Another 20 percent of customers purchase products from a different dealer because of poor response at the first one. And e-mail campaigns have a 63-percent retention rate, Bratten says.
The following nine tips offered by a number of Web site and lead management companies should help you generate additional sales by delivering some ideas on handling Internet leads with the care they deserve.
1. Treat e-mail leads the same way you’d treat a customer who just walked in the front door of your dealership. You would never make a walk-in customer wait two hours before you help him, would you? Why is it conventional wisdom that it is OK to make them wait when they contact you via the Internet?

2. Your online marketing process starts with a good, detailed description of the boat you’re trying to sell, says Drew McFadden, vice president of marketing services at, based in Draper, Utah. Photos are important, too. If the boat is being stored, put it back in the water, take the cover off and take exterior and interior photos. “Customers will blow past ads with no photo or a bad photo of a perfectly good boat,” McFadden says. There’s nothing wrong with taking a picture of the boat in front of your dealership for a little more brand awareness.

3. Communicate with the customer in the same way he communicated with you. “Even if the potential customer provides a phone number, don’t call him if his preferred contact is e-mail,” says Chris Kelly, publisher of, Winter Park, Fla. Kelly acknowledges that Internet leads may not be of the same caliber as a walk-in, “but you will sell boats this way,” Kelly says. “In fact, he has worked even harder to become a lead than the guy driving past your store.”

4. Speed is of the essence. Bob McCann of Channel Blade says many dealers disregard the validity of Internet leads. However, the company’s director of education believes, “They’re the No. 1 lead opportunities out there.” Leads should be handled immediately. Channel Blade, which provides data-driven, Web-based solutions for marine dealers, counts that time in minutes.

5. Prepare background information in advance. In order to meet an immediate turnaround time, McCann says the company’s Footsteps lead management program includes template responses to queries that can be tailored to an individual e-mail. “We call the e-mail response an electric handshake,” McCann says. “The goal is to get the customer on the phone.” The system can be configured to ping cell phones with incoming inquiries “or literally turn on a light in the showroom, if that’s what the dealer wants,” McCann says. Answer the customer’s specific questions, then include relevant background information to write a complete, compelling e-mail, he advises.

6. Patience is a virtue. Marine Web Services’ Bratten advises dealers to remember that selling boats often is a months-long (if not years-long) process. Even if an initial query doesn’t lead to an immediate sale, don’t delete it. That information will come in handy later.

7. Have a plan to manage leads. Your dealership may not need a lead management system, but it should have a process in place to handle leads — both the immediate query and the information it contains. “If you flow chart the sales process around leads, everyone will be much more efficient,” Bratten says. How do you assign leads? Is it round robin? By brand? Other internal factors such as sales quotas? “Manage Internet leads like you do your normal business,” adds’s Bingham.

8. Create a database. Many dealers have found that the immediacy of online leads can be used as a research tool. The constant flow of information allows them to see what types of promotions are working, and perhaps more importantly, what products consumers are interested in.

9. Use leads as a promotional tool. Don’t miss out on opportunities to create brand awareness, loyalty and future sales by misplacing or trashing that lead, Bingham advises. Put that information into your marketing database. Especially if you communicate electronically, sending a few extra e-mails costs next to nothing and could bring great rewards.
“Many dealers are wrapped up about the Internet as some complex entity, but they really have no choice but to deal with the technology,” Bingham says. “If they stop and think about it, it’s just a different way of talking to customers.” — Matt Bolch

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