During many of my speeches and coaching calls, we talk about the “Educational Spectrum of a boat buyer.”

That concept ties in here but I want to look at the issue from a different perspective. The perspective of what REALLY happens in your boat business. And, what really happens on the prospect side of things.

On average, consumers take five to 12 touches to make a buying decision while only 12 percent of sales people make three contacts and 48 percent never make a follow-up contact.

Now comes the hard questions … what truly happens in your boat business?

While you ponder that answer I want to share some of my research.

One of the services I offer my coaching and boot camp alumni is to mystery shop them and their competition.

This is typically done online along with some phone calls and boat shows. If travel permits, I will also stop in person; however, this is often not a practical method.

Let me share with you the results from a recent mystery shopping experience of 10 dealers, all done online and via telephone.

  • One dealer did not accept leads via their website. They required you to call.
  • Three dealers had auto responders set up with a canned email that instantly responded.
  • Six dealers responded to the lead within 24 hours.
  • Two dealers responded to the lead within 72 hours
  • Two dealers never responded

After 30 days, none of these business have sent me a 2nd contact.

That’s 10 boat dealers in three markets who presumably would like to sell another boat.

Ten salespeople who I assume are paid based on some type of pay-for-performance system.

Ten dealership owners who are spending money to drive leads (via BoatTrader, the website, manufacturer sites, social media, etc.) and allowing these opportunities to be squandered because they have no lead conversion system.

I have a Boot Camp alum that said; “In my 20 group, they taught us to set up systems for our service department, back office, F & I and yet, I never considered a system for my sales department. And, that’s the area with the biggest impact on my future growth. That’s why I invested in your program”

I wish I could tell you for the sake of the boating industry as a whole that this was an anomaly. But, time and time again, I mystery shop with little to no follow-up.

Even when I shop boat shows and in person, the emails stop coming and the phone stops ringing after the first, second or third attempt.

Even if the email is not replied to … even if the call is not returned … does that mean that prospect is not going to buy?


That means the prospect is not ready to buy right now.

So, while almost everyone is trying to find the next potential buyer in a sea of unqualified and non-boaters with TV, radio, banner ads, social media … they let a lead go to waste who expressed an interest in a boat and put little to no effort into converting them over the long haul.

If the average buyer takes even 90 days to make a decision to buy a boat and you follow-up for a month (which based on my mystery shopping is over twice as long as most dealers) you’re still two months shy of being there when that prospect is ready to buy.

But, it’s not really the salesperson’s fault. If you receive 10 leads a week for six months, that’s 260 leads they need to manually follow up with. If they’ve been in the business for three years, that’s 1,560 leads in their data base that should be touched at least once a month, if not more.

It’s just too many leads to follow-up with in a manual process. OK, so that’s a simple solution: implement a 24/7 selling machine. (See related article.)

OK, so there is a huge opportunity for most dealers to improve their follow-up with a more automated system. But, here is something else I found during my mystery shopping: The email responses had huge opportunity for improvements. Let’s take a look at a few of the responses I received.



Email #1:

Have you been to to see all the pics of this boat?

Please let me know what additional information you need.

This boat is new and on closeout!


Dealer Name

Sales Consultant



Email #2:

Yes this is a new boat, and not a demo model. I have a list of the features:

-Stereo Upgrade (JL audio speakers w/subwoofer)

-Trim Tabs

-Bow fill-in cushion

– Stereo remote on transom

-Stainless steel ski arch

-Bow scuff plates

-Table w/mount

-Docking lights

-Mahogany steering wheel

-8.2L MerCruiser 430hp w/dual counter rotating propellers

This boat is priced without a trailer. Let me know what you think.

David XXXX – Sales



Email #3:

Thanks Jeff for your inquiry on this great boat. It has a mercury leg but will not be at the boat show. They will not let us take a used boat to the show. Please let me know when you would like to come look at. Thanks




OK, so, all three of these responses were made within 24 hours of the lead being submitted. Kudos for a quick response time.

What do you think about the email message itself?

The first question I ask, is what is the goal of my follow-up?

  • Answer their questions? Sure
  • Respond quickly? Sure
  • Make the sale? NO
  • Set an appointment? Maybe
  • Get them on the phone? Maybe
  • Build trust? YES
  • Build the relationship? YES
  • Move them down the Educational Spectrum of a Boat Buyer? YES

In each of the emails (real life examples) how well did they do?

Based on my personal sales experience and the results of my members, I can tell you with absolute certainty there is room for considerable improvement.

And, when you consider this is the first and only email sent, the entire idea of building trust, relationships and moving down the spectrum … they could have a better response (and more than one follow-up).

So, how do you fix this problem?

It varies business to business. But, the short answer is to develop a 24/7 selling machine that delivers a message that builds trust and the relationship with your prospects while guiding them down the spectrum of a boat buyer.

So, back to your business. What truly happens in your follow-up process?

If you’re not 100 percent certain, you may want to find out. And, as a loyal reader of Boating Industry, I’m willing to help you out. I’ll mystery shop your dealership and send you the results.

Because this is will take some time, I have to limit it to the first 27 dealers who respond.

Just give me a call at 803-526-7400 x710 and leave me a message. I seldom answer incoming calls (it’s a time management strategy because of my busy schedule) or email me at and I will mystery shop you and offer a “Follow-Up Audit” with recommendations and ideas to improve them.

Here’s the catch. I only have time for 27 of these free mystery shopping “Follow-Up Audits” so if interested, you may want to contact me right away.

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, top producing boat salesman, speaker and presenter at the Marine Dealer Conference and Expo. He now helps dealers, brokers and manufactures sell more boats with proven sales and marketing systems.

To receive a free copy of the only business building and marketing book for the marine industries, visit to receive instant access (and your special bonus training). More info at