7 Secrets to Capturing Leads at Boat Shows

7 Secrets to Capturing Leads at Boat Shows

7 Secrets to Capturing Leads at Boat Shows

Boat shows tend to be one of the most expensive forms of marketing in the marine industry. Millions are wasted every year at boat shows. Expensive booths, costly travel, cleaning crews, boat transport, moorage and fancy marketing material.

We’ve spent the last 5 years travelling around the world to boat shows in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Asia, North America and Australia. We’ve started to have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t and decided to share some tips with you.

Boat sales at boat shows seem to have declined massively and are not what they used to be. The boater who used to come to a boat show to get a deal, put a deposit down, and leave with a key and order form for their new boat is now more cautious by taking more time to prospect. Potential clients will most likely take weeks to make a buying decision, months or even years after meeting with you at a boat show.

On top of this, selling at boat shows is becoming even more difficult due to the fact that more shows organisers (who are naturally more concerned about their sales than the success of the shipyards) are progressively opening slips to brokerage boats which are hurting boat builders badly. How could you sell a brand new boat when you have, sitting 2 slips away, a 2 or 3-year-old brokerage model for 50-60% of the price of your new model?

But let’s talk about what really matters for boat builders at boat shows: MAKING MONEY

There are only 2 ways to make money at boat shows:
-Selling boats on site
-Collecting qualified leads that can be transformed into future sales.

With all the obstacles that you are facing at the show, it’s imperative that you ensure your boat show money doesn’t end up in the same place as many of your brochures- the trash.

Let’s put aside the champagne, hors d’oeuvres, booth babes and free candy for a moment and discover a few new options to increase boat show revenue and lead generation.

Boat sales at boat shows seem to have declined massively and are not what they used to be.


#1. Quit wasting money and have a lead generation plan 

Too many boat builders fail to give sufficient time and attention to their boat show presence. Boat shows are often organised last minute, with poorly briefed staff, uninspiring stands and stacks of unfocused product oriented brochures. First, you have to understand that generating leads is an investment and should be measured like any other investment. So quit wasting money on ineffective means. The best marketing investment you can make is to follow the lead generation formula of qualifying and offering helpful information to prospective customers. The secret to a successful show is to know, in advance, exactly what you want to achieve – and then craft a detailed plan to help you succeed.

#2. Set goals and targets

Pre-plan the number of qualified leads you expect to get. This shouldn’t be unrealistic if you’ve planned and researched properly. Establish a solid “Cost Per Lead” plan. For instance, if your total show investment is $20.000 and you plan to get 300 qualified leads, your cost per lead will be $66.00. Then, once you have a figure in mind, you can determine your “at-stand” strategy. Your tactics will depend on what you’re selling. For example, mass leads for more popular boats will require a very different approach to searching for a handful of well qualified, hot leads for a premium, high-value yacht.


Being ‘standard’ is the riskiest strategy of all. Competition is so fierce that you must create something remarkable in order to succeed. Seth Godin describes marketing as ‘something that is worth talking about.’ Marketing is really about storytelling, while sales are about persuasion. If you want people to remember your story, you have to be different and remarkable. Godin describes remarkable as “something worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting”. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure and not standing out is the same as being invisible.

I want to share with you some examples of boat builders who did something remarkable at shows:

Lurssen Yachts change the colour of their team outfit every day during the show.
Feadship Yachts and their beautiful white hats giveaway each year during the Monaco Yacht Show.
Sunseeker Yachts during the last Singapore Show, who distributed hand fans with the words “I am a fan” and their logo on it. It was so hot during the show that their strategy was an absolute hit! We could see their logos between the hands of every other visitors during the show!
VanDutch, who partnered with Red Bull during the last Monaco Grand Prix, had amazing exposure and presence in the harbour during the entire event.
Riviera at the Sydney boat Show with their campaign “I Love Riviera” like the very popular “I Love NY” logo.

Be creative and remarkable- it’s your best weapon to get sales or leads during shows.

#4. Attract the right prospects 

Selling is not yelling but qualifying. Let’s put it this way: would you rather dominate 100% of the prospects 10% of the way or 10% of the prospects 100% of the way?
Your job is to develop a system for attracting the right prospects, not just the ones who want a free drink, bring their family onboard or a chat with your rented models. More money is wasted in marketing than any other industry in the world (other than politics of course). The experience that you offer at the booth should be intentional and in synergy with the clients you want to attract and the boats you sell. Fewer people will be interested, but those who are will be a lot more interested.

#5. Help prospects with the right info

I remember watching a video by world class marketer Dan Kennedy. He mentioned that every time he asked an audience which company used a little bunny to play drums in their commercials, 30% would say Duracell. It is actually Energizer.
What does this mean?

A shocking percentage of viewers remember your marketing or advertising but forget the name of your brand.

Make sure to provide your clients with valuable info. Respond the questions that are in the head of your clients instead of constantly bragging about your products. Education marketing works better than push marketing. Instead of just handing out pens, pins and other gadgets (hype marketing) to the sea of passersby, engage potential prospects in conversations about how to overcome the problems they face (help & education marketing).

#6. Follow Up, follow up and follow up

One of the biggest mistakes in sales and marketing is the lack of follow-up with the leads you generate. I always repeat to my team that our presence at boat shows counts for 50% of our success while the other 50% depends on our preparation (25%) and follow-up (25%). In the case of high-end products like boats, I would say that 60 to 70% of the success now depends on the follow-up. While you are planning your boat show strategy, don’t forget to take into consideration the follow-up. While it is true that boat shows and new boat launches create a buzz – the attention and excitement doesn’t last long.

Your prospects are likely to have visited a large number of stands so be sure to be forgotten very quickly. One way to overcome this issue is to follow up right after the show. Be creative and avoid the predictable “thanks for visiting our stand let us know if you need more info”. You can, for instance, send a written thank you card as it will have much more value that giving a brochure that will end up in the trash or send a follow-up email.

Be creative and unique and surprise your clients. I remember reading the story of the Porsche dealership in Toronto that was using Google Street View to capture photos of customers’ homes. Then, they would use Photoshop to add a Porsche in front of their driveway and send them a beautiful postcard with the caption: “It is closer than you think!” Or the campaign from our client Cessna selling their private jets who sent pigeons carrier to their prospects address and asked them to release the pigeon if they wanted to receive an invitation to an event to discover their last Citation. This campaign generated two citation sales!

#7. Collect leads and conduct survey

I wrote it before but will repeat it again:

There are 2 ways that you can make money at boat shows:
1. Selling boats on site

2. Collecting qualified leads

Depending on the type of boats that you are selling, it’s highly unlikely you’ll make lots of high-value sale during boat shows. What’s more likely is you’ll collect a pool of contact details of prospects who are potentially interested or willing to find out more. It is imperative that you make it really easy to collect data and have a robust and quick process for doing so.

After travelling the world to hundreds of boat shows and working with 250+ shipyards over the last 5 years, we have asked hundreds of exhibitors what they need. They told us that they wanted a simple tool to collect visitor information as simple as possible to organise, review and manage leads as well as increase show performance.   Following those recurring requests, our app developers created Trade Show Log.  You can now easily capture, manage and share leads straight from iPads and they are directly loaded onto your database. As well as saving masses of time and avoiding double-entry data inputting, you can easily start prioritising and act on that leads information.

Imagine being able to nurture those precious leads before your competitors have even uploaded theirs! In addition, because TSL syncs with your CRM – you can initiate powerful autoresponders and follow-up marketing instantly. A great tool like Trade Show Log will help you to manage your show performance in real-time and communicate with your team to make your boat show a success.

Another important task to do during the show is to conduct surveys. Entering leads, questionnaires and collecting data are the most critical tasks that you can ask your staff to do during boat shows. Surveys can help you identify visitors’ buying timetables, their product of interest and any other valuable info to analyse how performance in real-time and make your boat show a success. You can learn more about your visitor and sales activity at boat shows and plan for future marketing campaigns. Those possibilities are other features offered by Trade Show Log.

Good luck for your boat shows and remember that the idea of a great show is to welcome new qualified prospects to your booth as guests and have them leave as friends.

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Vincent Finetti

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