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A scruffy old boat and missed opportunities

Recently, I bought a $300 boat. I hear you laughing. Yes, I know the joke about the favorite two days of a boat owner’s life (the day they buy it and the day they sell it). This isn’t a story about a boat as much as it is about thinking about every person who walks in the door of your business (virtually or for real).

This scruffy old boat is a 1988 Bayliner, even though none of this is really about the boat. It’s about the lens that you view someone through when they enter your business and how important it is that your entire staff is trained to use that lens.

So I bought this boat at this ridiculous price because a friend had to get rid of it and was unable to sell it for a year for various reasons. As you’d expect, a $300 boat needs a little bit of work. Given a full schedule and a serious lack of boat mechanic chops, I decided to take it to a boat shop.

It’s a sizable shop. Clearly successful, well-funded, nice showroom, plenty of inventory, employees all over the place, etc. So I drop off the boat and tell them what’s going on. They say they’ll be able to get to it early the following week, which is fine. The eight day wait isn’t surprising since every mechanic shop (of any kind) that I’ve talked to over the last month is backed up for weeks.

Educate the newbie

That was the first missed opportunity. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in this business and they know.

How? Why? Because they took my name, phone number, address, and email at the Service Desk. Everyone in the building has a computer in front of them. With that information, their system should know that I’ve never called, bought or rented anything there, etc. Yet, they missed an opportunity. The showroom and parts department is not crowded with customers for obvious reasons (it’s Monday 10am).

No one confirms that it’s my first visit – so what if I’m standing at the service desk. No conversation about the things they carry that I can pickup any time rather than order and wait online. No curiosity about what other boating I do (kayaking is not boating, IMO). No brief tour to make sure I know what resources are available to me there – even if I only have a couple of minutes.

In the following eight days until they look at the boat I was not contacted. I wouldn’t expect the service department to contact me as they’d already told me what to expect. Again, they have all my contact info. No postcard, email, or fruit bouquet (yes, the fruit would be overkill).

Another missed opportunity.

Once again, a motorhead

After 10 days, I called to see what was going on. The service department guy said the boat needed a starter and it’d be $1200. I was proud that I didn’t laugh.

I’m not much of a motorhead anymore but I wasn’t born yesterday so $1200 to replace a starter seemed a bit off. I asked the service guy and found that it was two hours to remove and replace the starter (WHAT?), another three quarters of an hour to test it, then another 90 min for possible follow up diagnosis (because something else is probably wrong).

Still, I asked for an estimate to fix the starter. The starter and solenoid were just short of $400 which seemed a bit rich for a starter, but there are good, better, and best marine starters if you look around. This one just happened to be the best – which is probably not ideal for a 32 year old boat. I told him I’d pick it up.

I mosey in to pick up the boat today, wait 20 minutes (after paying) for somebody to grab it out of the locked yard even though I called in advance to advise them that I was coming and they said they’d pull it around, then the service guy asked them to pull it out, then I had to come in and ask again.

The service guy gave me the estimate because it included part numbers. I thought that was nice of him as having the numbers will save me some time when I put on my motorhead hat. He agreed that it was nuts to spend $1200 to put a starter on a scruffy 32 year old boat. So I’ll be doing that next week when the $72 part arrives.

Look for signals, ask questions

I wonder if I will ever hear from them again. Multiple opportunities were missed. Will it continue?

The question to ask yourself is when somebody sends us a signal that they are interested in what we do, what happens? Sure, the context matters. It isn’t as if I would have wanted a 40 minute tour of the facility, or to get a 20 minute call from the owner.

Still, it’s September in Montana. Winter is right around the corner, at least from the boat’s perspective. There was comment about whether they offer winterization or winter boat storage. Who knows?

There was also no “here’s a list of the other services we offer that are useful to owners of older boats”, “So, do you own any other boats?”, or even “Got any other boating questions?” Remember, I told them that I just bought it, yet there was no “Dude, is his your first boat? If so, here’s our handy booklet of all the stuff someone should know (and what parts we’re happy to help with)”

None of that.

You might think that somebody who brings a 32 year old boat in for service doesn’t deserve those questions because they’ve already sent a signal that if they’re going to buy a $300 boat, they’re probably not going to buy a $40,000 boat (much less a $400,000 boat).

But you’d be wrong and I have receipts.

See, this place also sells campers. I happen to be in the market for one, but they don’t know that because they didn’t ask. But that isn’t why you’d be wrong.

Treat all of them like buyers

Back in the mid ’80s, I was fresh out of college, working my first job in the big city, and money was super tight. Of course, this means I visited Forest Lane Porsche in Dallas one Saturday afternoon. An older sales guy walks over to greet me as I step out of my 1980 fire engine orange Buick Century.

He didn’t look at me like “Crud, another one of those guys.” He didn’t make a snide remark. He treated me like I was getting ready to buy the most expensive car on the lot. At the time, it struck me that he treated me like he thought he was going to sell me a car that day.

So after we talked a little bit about the cars and I told him that I was a fan of the cars and was burning a little time on a Saturday afternoon. He said, “That’s cool. I’ll be here when you come back.”

THAT caught my attention. Normally when a wet behind the ears 23 year old admits to a salesperson that they wasted their time, that isn’t the kind of response you get. Maybe the kind ones will say nothing, turn on their heel and head back into the building until an actual buyer shows up.

So I asked him why. “Look, I pulled up in the parking lot in this ridiculous orange Buick. I’m young. You know I’m not buying a Porsche today or even next week. Why did you just say what you said?”

And he gave me the sales lesson of all time: “I treat everybody that comes on this lot like they’re gonna buy the most expensive car on a lot because I have no way to know that they’re not.”

Knowing I had another question coming, he continued: “I learned this lesson by accidentally being nice to a guy who came onto the lot in an old beat up pickup truck. He stepped out of that truck in muddy galoshes and overalls. He looked like he’d been working the fields all day. That guy wrote me a check for six figures for a car that day – the first time I met him. I didn’t take anybody for granted after that. Everyone who visits this lot looks like a customer to me.

A couple of years later, there was a story in the paper about that guy, who was retiring from the dealership. It turned out he’d been their most prolific salesperson for years. Not at all surprising.

Imagine if your team did the same. You might sell a camper or something.