At the Helm: Immediacy reigns

Futurists may be able to predict trends that our society will experience, but rarely can they predict the attitudes or performance of the people affected by those trends. I remember thinking this as I listened to a so-called futurist speak about technology and how it would eventually affect the marine industry.

“Technological change will accelerate,” Dan Burrus, a noted “futurist” and speaker, told a room full of industry executives at an event a few years back. “There’s an absolute perfect storm of technological change headed our way right now. And there will be a shift from incremental change to transformation.”

Burrus referenced how device processing power doubles every 18 months as the price drops in half; how bandwidth is increasing even faster; how storage capacity is growing at exponential rates; and how the proliferation of devices will drive business forward. And he used all of this information to suggest that the marine industry at large needed to find ways to capture business using this technology.

This challenge came only months after a speaker at the annual dealer convention had told his audience that 60 percent of online leads sent to marine dealerships went unanswered. And 50 percent of those that were answered provided the lead with the incorrect information.

Clearly, the marine industry had a long way to go to keep pace with his technological predictions. Today, however, I’m thrilled to report that marine dealers, whether by choice or out of necessity for their very survival, have responded to the challenge.

As an example, over the first five years of the Top 100 Dealers Program, most dealers were “trying” to respond to online leads within 24 hours of receiving them. The best of them got around to responding, on average, in two hours. Today’s Top 100 Dealer applications tell a new story, however. They suggest that response time has accelerated at an incredible pace, perhaps as quickly as the advancements in technology Burrus described.

With smart phones and a renewed emphasis on these leads, dealers have cut their response time from a day or more to hours, and now to minutes. In fact, one dealership reported cutting its average response time by more than a full hour in the last year alone. The current average response time at this business is down to 24 minutes, which includes — yes, includes — those leads received after hours and on the day that the dealership is closed.

A recent survey, the results of which you can see in this issue, showed that nearly one-third of dealers now aim to respond to leads in less than an hour. But there’s still work to do. Not only are two-thirds of the dealers setting a target timeframe somewhere more than an hour after they receive the leads, but of the 260 dealers sampled, 72 percent of them admitted that they typically take more than two hours to respond.

If that’s you, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Research shows that the closer the response time is to “immediate” the more likely the dealership is to make the sale. And the closer you get to immediate, the less work you’ll need to do to keep up with technology — and your customers.

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