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Master the Psychology of Selling Your Boat: Essential Tips and Techniques

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Unlock the psychology of selling your boat with our comprehensive guide. Learn effective salesmanship, presentation strategies, handling objections, and closing the sale to ensure a successful transaction.

Let’s think about the business of selling and salesmanship, and what you need to do to sell your boat.

Salesmanship 101

If you have prepared your boat as recommended in this book, you have already completed the most difficult work required to sell your boat successfully As stated earlier, the key to boat selling success is offering the buyers a sparkling clean, shiny, operating boat they will be proud to own and take out on the water and enjoy.

Salesmanship merely involves preparing yourself so that you can smoothly present your boat to the buyer, help him through the steps of deciding to buy your boat, get paid and wave bye-bye as he drives away To sell your own boat, you don’t need to transform yourself into The Greatest Salesman In The World. You don’t need to slick your hair back (unless you usually do anyway) or wear a loud sport coat with mismatched slacks (even if you usually do) or try to hypnotize the buyers with a lot of razzle-dazzle. I don’t have any mantras for you to repeat over and over as you fall asleep for the next 30 nights. Nor do I want you to repeat any promises to yourself upon awakening for the next 30 mornings.

If you began reading this article expecting a bunch of glib, professional salesman’s gab, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that all I’m going to talk about is a few basic rules you can follow to ensure that things go smoothly when the buyers show up to look at your boat. You may also be surprised to learn that this step in the boat-selling process is actually very simple.

Basically, selling your boat involves presenting it to the buyers in the most favorable terms, avoiding confusion and distractions while the buyer is considering your boat, and getting along with the buyer long enough to transact the deal. And that’s it.

With this in mind, here are a couple of lists of things you should keep in mind.

Six Things You Should Do

1 Smile

This is incredibly important because it has such a powerful effect on buyers.

When the buyers come to see your boat, they are usually in unfamiliar territory. This makes them uneasy and maybe a little fearful. Having to go and meet the people selling the boat in question can also create some anxiety; there is always a chance that the boat owner is going to be some kind of grump or kook or something, which could lead to an unpleasant encounter. If the buyers meet you and see a nice smile on your face, it conveys a sense of well being to them. The effect of a smile is irresistible.

As is so often the case when selling your boat, the reason a smile has such a powerful, irresistible effect upon us goes all the way back to our early psychology, and the way we are programmed at birth to react to our parents. From the beginning, we are programmed to be extremely sensitive to facial expressions. When our parents look at us with a smile of approval, we understand it, even before we can understand any of the words they are saying to us. Likewise, when our parents look at us with a frown of disapproval, we understand that, too. This is the communication mechanism that allows parents to teach life’s early survival skills to their very young offspring.

Our deep-felt reactions to facial expressions stay with us all of our lives.

When someone looks at us with a scowl or a frown, it makes us feel bad and creates feelings of unease.

When someone looks at us with a pleasant smile, it makes us feel good and makes us think that the person looking at us believes everything is okay.

Crazy as it may sound, practice your smile so you can do it without looking stupid. Spend a few minutes in front of a mirror and figure out how it feels when you put a nice smile on your face. It doesn’t have to be a big smile, and it doesn’t have to be the greatest smile in the world. What I’m talking about here is a pleasant, easy, relaxed smile. Not a big sloppy, fake, ear-to-ear grin. Just a sort of:

“Ahhh, everything’s fine, it’s a nice day” smile.

When it comes time to meet the buyers it is important for you to be absolutely sure you aren’t inadvertently displaying any kind of disapproval, or anger, or sadness on your face. And the best way to be sure of that is to paste a little smile on your face and make it stick. Similarly, when the two of you are looking at your boat, be sure it is there too. It would be bad if the buyer saw you grimace whenever you looked at your own boat.

If a buyer asks you a tough question or criticizes your boat, be especially sure you cement that smile in place before you say anything.

2 Make a good first impression

When meeting buyers, you need to make a good first impression. And as Yogi might say, you only get one chance to do it. Therefore, you should always be clean and reasonably well dressed when you meet with a buyer.

The reason you need to do this is that although you are selling your boat, to a certain extent you are also selling yourself. You need to appear to the buyer as a socially compatible person.

Two men shaking hands
First impression is very important
Source: unsplash.com

Let’s look at two extreme examples to illustrate why this is important.

First, suppose you are a buyer shopping for a nice used boat. You see an interesting boat sitting at a marina with a sign on it, and it looks pretty nice. You call the owner, and he agrees to come down and meet you at the boat in a little while.

When he shows up, though, he is filthy. He looks like he hasn’t had a haircut in years, and he needs a shave. His clothes are dirty and ragged, and he smells bad. As he is telling you about the boat you notice that he keeps scratching himself, on both his scalp and elsewhere, if you catch my drift.

Now, are you looking forward to loading your precious family into this man’s boat and spending the afternoon or weekend there? No way! You’re thinking the boat not only has this grubby guy’s sweat all over everything but is probably infested with fleas or some kind of terrible contagious skin disease. It doesn’t matter how clean the boat looks. You are not going to go live where this guy used to live!

Of course, it’s always possible that our hypothetical boat seller is in reality a nice guy who is normally very clean and well groomed. Maybe it just so happened that he was in the middle of adding some insulation to the attic of his home when you called, and he just didn’t take the time to shower and shave and put on some nice clothes before he drove down to meet you. It doesn’t matter. You’re never going to know because you split pretty quickly after he showed up.

At the other end of the hygiene spectrum, as it were, imagine visiting another marina while on vacation in California where you find a boat owned by none other than Clint Eastwood himself – Mr. Cool. Wow! Who wouldn’t want to own Clint Eastwood’s boat? If you can afford it, you buy it.

Now, I know Clint Eastwood, and I know you’re no Clint Eastwood.

Still, when those buyers start showing up to see your boat, you should do what you can with what you’ve got to make the best first impression possible. You should be clean, groomed and reasonably well dressed. Take care of your breath while you’re at it. Maybe even consider applying a light touch of a pleasant aftershave.

3 Decide who will be the one talking to the buyers, and stick to that decision

Only one person can talk to the buyers. If several people talk to the buyers, it creates the potential for a number of different irremediable problems that can negatively impact your sale opportunities.

For example, if several people speak to the buyer, one of them may accidentally contradict something that someone else has already said. At the least, this can be confusing to the buyer. It may also lead the buyer to believe that he is being lied to, when in fact, there is merely a misunderstanding among the different people doing all that talking.

Having several people speak to the buyer can also result in conflicts regarding the terms of the sale. I once saw a case where one family member completely misunderstood the Tips for Local and Online Advertising of Your Boatterms of the advertisement and told the buyer that several expensive accessories were included in the How to Choose the Best Selling Price for Your Boatprice of the boat, when in fact the price had been lowered and the ad written to specifically exclude those accessories. Once the buyer was told the items were in the deal, there was no good way to take them back.

Multiple contacts can also make a buyer feel that people are ganging up against him. I was once in a car dealership where the salespeople started to play this kind of tag team act on me. I started off with a guy who met me in the lot and introduced himself. Then, after we had talked about the deal a while and started to get down to business, he decided he needed to bring some other guy into our discussions. That was a setback. I didn’t have a rapport with the new guy, and since I hadn’t invited him into the discussion, I felt like he was intruding. Then, a few minutes later, they both decided they had to discuss the deal with some unseen manager in another room. While I was sitting there waiting for them to return, I began to wonder just how many people I was negotiating with, and which one of them could actually make a decision. I didn’t like being handled that way, so I left.

People on boat
Drone shot in Ibiza, Spain
Source: unsplash.com

Finally, when buyers are talking, sometimes they say things that can be very helpful to you in making the sale, and if there is a crowd of people all trying to sell the same boat you may miss these bits of important information. A buyer may mention that he really wants to get a boat to use on Memorial Day weekend, which helps you to know how close he is to making a decision. Another buyer may mention a characteristic in a boat that he wants to see, which you can then make sure you demonstrate when you take him out for a test ride.

If a buyer expresses some concerns regarding a boat’s ability in shallow water, you can address the issue by showing him how easy it is to tilt up the outboard or the outdrive to minimize the draft of the boat and get it back into deeper water without requiring assistance. If he has any concerns regarding safety on the water, you can respond by making sure he sees the nice new PFDs, fire extinguisher and the signaling devices you are helpfully including as part of the sale.

Talk with your spouse and decide who is going to handle buyers when they either call or come to see the boat. If you are the designated contact and you aren’t home when a buyer calls, have the other members of your household who may answer the telephone take down the callers’ name, telephone number and the time they called. Beyond that make sure they say nothing about the boat beyond the fact that it is for sale, and that you will call them back. If a buyer is on his way, ask everyone in your home to do a little disappearing act when he shows up to prevent the possibility for any contradictions or misunderstandings to occur.

4 Let the buyer talk

Once you have made your sales presentation, stop talking. Watch what the buyer does and listen closely to everything he says.

Sometimes, the buyer will talk himself into the deal. He will seek reinforcement from you about certain issues. If you are paying close attention, you will be ready to provide it.

Other times, buyers may raise issues about the boat that escaped your attention. Of course, you will try to answer these concerns as best as you can. But more importantly, you will also make a mental note to figure out what you are going to do about the issue before the next buyer comes along.

5 Get Along With the Buyer

You need to get along with the buyer, to develop a friendly rapport in order to cultivate his good will and trust. A few people seem to have a natural flair for making friends and charming people. Most of us, though, have to get through life without such a gift. If you aren’t one of those naturally charming people, that’s okay You can sell the boat just fine, if you avoid some of the more obvious pit-falls of interpersonal relationships.

Avoid discussing controversial subjects with the buyer. Do not engage in discussions on political or religious topics, or any other controversial issues. Keep your opinions to yourself.

Two businessmen meeting
Negotiations with buyer
Source: unsplash.com

Along these same lines, do not let the buyer draw you into any subject not directly related to selling your boat to him.

If the buyer tries to feel you out about politics or religion, don’t get involved!

Get the conversation back to boating and your boat in particular as soon as possible. Ask his opinion about the area lakes, where the fish are, what’s the best marina to use, etc.

Do not talk about yourself beyond what is required for a polite introduction. This is not really a social situation, and if you tell people enough things about yourself, they will sooner or later hear something about you that they can dislike or disapprove of.

Be aware that you may meet a buyer who thinks he knows everything there is to know about everything. He’s going to straighten you out every time you say anything, and he can drive you up a wall if you let him. Of course, you could always educate this guy and leave him a little smarter at the end of the day. But if you do, chances are he won’t like it, and as a result he may not buy your boat. When you encounter these kinds of people, don’t let them draw you into a discussion on their favorite know-it-all topic. Keep bringing the discussion back to your boat.

“Hey, did you see the nice wheels on this trailer? With those new hubs and tires, you could hitch that trailer up and head across the country right now”.

The only subject you’re going to have to disagree with the buyer about is your boat. When you are selling your boat, you are advocating it. You cannot let criticisms go unanswered. If a buyer starts denigrating your boat, paste that smile in place and dispute his criticisms with facts, good humor and tact. Take comfort from the fact that you have the advantage in these situations because only you have personal experience with your boat; no buyer will ever know as much about your boat as you do.

6 Ask them to buy the boat

Don’t let the buyer leave without asking him to buy the boat. This is simple and basic, but you would be surprised how many professional salespeople beat around the bush and never “ask for the sale”, as they say.

A good way to do this is to simply ask a question that requires the buyer to consider the buying decision before he can answer. One I like to ask in particular is:

“Do you think this boat is fairly priced?”

If the buyer says yes, you can pursue that thought. If he says no, you can pursue that thought as well, trying to get him to name a figure. When he does it is almost the same thing as offering you that much for the boat. What you want to do here is open the topic for discussion. Listen carefully to what the buyer says and how he says it. If the buyer still has reservations, this is your chance to discover them, overcome them and ease him into the deal (this last part will be covered in more detail in subsequent chapters***).

Even if you cannot close the sale with this particular buyer, it’s important to hear his reasons for not buying the boat, since that will be information you can use to help make the sale with the next.

Three Things to Avoid

1 Do not criticize your boat

It is not the salesman’s job to criticize the product or service he is selling. The salesman is there to be a professional advocate, telling buyers about all of the nice features the product has to offer, and all of the benefits of ownership the buyer will enjoy when he buys the product. It is not the salesman’s job to give the buyer a critical, objective, balanced review of the product.

For example, suppose you are shopping for a new truck to tow your boat. You stroll onto the dealer’s lot to look at the latest model of the pickup truck you are interested in. The salesman comes around, introduces himself and starts telling you about the truck.

“Well, they kept the same 14-inch wheels as last year”, he says, “even though the competition has been using 15-inch wheels as standard equipment for two years now. There have been some overheating problems with that engine. And there is a tiny scratch on the left rear fender where it got nicked coming off the truck. We tried to polish it out, but you can still see it if you look closely”.

Have you ever heard a car salesman talk this way?

Every car, boat, house, computer or whatever has defects, whether it is new or used. No one is selling perfect products. It is not the salesman’s job to draw attention to a product’s defects, flaws or shortcomings. The salesman’s job is to tell buyers the good things, the product features and benefits of ownership. There is nothing dishonest about this.

Photo of boat
Boat near Maldive Islands
Source: unsplash.com

Therefore, when you are telling the buyer about your boat, accentuate the positive. It is not your job to offer a balanced critique of the boat. And it certainly isn’t the time to bare your soul and confess all the bad things you and your boat have done with and to each other in the past. Full disclosure is definitely not required here. After all, how many people would get married if they knew about all the dumb things their hubby- or wife-to-be had ever done?

Don’t fall into the trap of apologizing or making excuses for the shortcomings of your boat. You are the salesman. Your job is to advocate your boat. Do not criticize it.

2 Do not complicate the deal

Do not introduce issues that complicate the deal. If you start talking about all the repairs and maintenance you recently did to the boat, that may suggest to the buyer that the boat was in disrepair and you just patched it up to get rid of it.

If the buyer brings up a sea trial or a marine survey, you may have to live with it to close the deal. But don’t suggest it, and don’t help the process in that direction. I’m not suggesting that these things aren’t good things for a buyer to do. I’m just saying you should not introduce them into the deal yourself.

3 Do not lie or cheat the buyer; don’t ever attempt to defraud the buyer

Do not lie, and do not set out to cheat the buyer. Lying and misrepresentation constitute fraud, which, you may be surprised to learn, is illegal in every state.

If a buyer asks a pointed question about something on the boat where there is a significant problem, answer truthfully. As a salesman, you have the right to explain things in the most favorable terms to help you make the sale. It is also permitted for a salesman to put his own “spin” on issues, to fluff up the good things about the product, and minimize the shortcomings, even scoff at any criticisms. However, salesmen do not have the right to utter outright lies.

Read also: Top 7 Secrets to Successfully Sell Your Used Boat

Along these same lines, if your boat has a serious hidden problem that you do not want to repair, you’re going to have to let the buyer know about it. Again, you are permitted to reveal the situation in the most favorable terms you can, but never put anyone’s safety at risk.

Prepare Your Sales Presentation

Selling your boat may be as simple as saying to the buyer, “Hello, would you like to buy my boat?” The buyer may take over from there.

If that’s the case, don’t let your mouth get in the way. Be aware that there are times when it can be your worst enemy. There is definitely a time when it is better for you to stop talking and listen. With this in mind, a fine sales approach is to escort the buyer to the boat, hand him a copy of your sales brochure and then tell him about your boat, referring to your own copy of the brochure to be sure you do not omit anything. Open up all the clean, empty storage spaces for him to see. Demonstrate the things on the boat that do something, so the buyer can see that the boat is alive. Then, shut your mouth and listen to what the buyer has to say given all that you’ve shown him.

It is at this point that you need to be ready to respond to any questions the buyer may ask. Your brochure will include the facts and features about the boat, but beyond that the buyer will undoubtedly have some additional concerns. Be sure you are prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Why are you selling the boat?
  • Has the boat been in the shop?
  • Has the boat ever been damaged?
  • Has it been regularly serviced by a factory-trained, certified mechanic?
  • How often do you change the oil?
  • When did you last have it serviced?

As people come to look at the boat, they will inevitably ask questions you haven’t anticipated. As you are answering these questions, make a mental note of these issues and decide how to best respond to them before you meet the next prospect. You may even want to amend your sales brochure if a host of new issues are raised during talks with buyers.

Keep in mind that as the seller you have the right to frame your answers in the terms most favorable to you. Sellers are allowed some latitude for slight exaggeration, “puffery” in the parlance, and they are expected to gloss over things during their sales advocacy. Caveat emptor, and all that.

Unresolved Problems with Your Boat

If your boat has one or more significant problems, things you decided not to repair yourself for one reason or another, you will need to decide how to deal with these issues when the buyers come to see the boat.

Sometimes it is helpful to the buyer if you have some written estimates for getting the problem corrected. The buyer may tend to overestimate the magnitude of the problem, and a written estimate places a factual cap on the repair expense. The buyer may actually be surprised at how economically the problem can be resolved. Then again, he may look at the parts list on the estimate and start thinking about doing the repair himself. In those cases, where the repair is difficult and/or expensive and the problem is tolerable, it is possible that the buyer will decide he agrees with your decision not to do the repair since solving that problem is not worth the expense required.

The problem with your boat might be a production problem common to all boats like yours. In this case, offer the buyer documented evidence that lets him know the flaw is not unique to your boat, and that he will encounter the same problem if he tries to buy that model boat from anyone else, even a dealer. This also lets him know that a lot of boat owners are living with the problem and therefore he can live with it too.

Do a Walk-through Presentation

Every salesman knows that Murphy’s Law is alive and well and capable of manifesting itself spectacularly during unrehearsed portions of sales presentations. Sooner or later every salesman learns:

“That which you do not rehearse beforehand, will indeed go wrong and embarrass you in front of the customer”.

Before you start fielding calls and bringing buyers to see the boat, step into the buyer’s shoes and try and imagine what he will experience when he comes to see your boat. This will help you to discover and eliminate potential problems that can arise when the real buyers (you know, the ones with the money) arrive to see the boat.


As part of this pre-preparation process make sure you have good, easy-to-follow directions for getting to the boat. When the buyers call you will want them to be able to get there without any undue aggravation caused by missing turns or getting lost. In fact, unless the boat is in a location known to all far and wide, it will often be worth your time to get in your car and actually drive along the route that you are going to recommend to the buyers yourself You might be surprised what you will find.

Drive out to the starting point for your directions with your spouse and have him or her bring along a pencil and paper to jot down mileages, landmarks and other noteworthy observations. Then, beginning at the first landmark, re-trace the route to your home or boat. Note of the exact mileage between turns and the exact number of intersections and traffic lights that you pass along the way. Note any helpful landmarks like prominent businesses or signs. Note any road construction or hazards, and find an alternate route if necessary. After you arrive at your boat, finalize your driving directions so that you will be able to give them to any buyer quickly and easily. Then put these directions in your boat sale folder where you can find them when you have a buyer on the telephone.


Along these same lines, decide where the buyers should park their cars, and include these instructions when you are telling them how to get to the boat. You don’t want your sales presentation interrupted because of a parking problem.

If necessary, put out a sign or some other kind of recognizable marker that will tell a buyer where to leave his car.

Getting to the Boat

Finally, park your car where you will have the buyers park theirs and walk to the boat the same way the buyers will. As you do so, try to spot any potential trouble or things it would be better the buyer did not see. Is there clutter along the way? Take care of it. Is the path blocked? Trim those shrubs, or pick up the obstruction. Are there hazards that might cause problems for someone unfamiliar with the area? Is there an unsightly or disorderly storage area along the way? Are there boat accessories stored in view that are not part of the sale and which you do not want buyers to see? Move them out of sight.

About your dog…

I like dogs. I used to own a German shepherd. But someone else’s dog can still put me off when I am in an unfamiliar home.

I remember once trying to talk to a guy about buying his truck. He had a German shepherd fenced or tied behind his house, but I could still hear the dog, excitedly woofing his characteristic, loud woof, wanting to get free and check out the action in front of the house. Even though I was familiar with the breed, knew them to be smart dogs and knew the dog was restrained, it was still a distraction. I couldn’t help but wonder if at some point a powerful, excited German shepherd was going to break his restraints and come charging around the corner at a good 80 mph! And there are plenty of people who are much less fond of dogs than I am. So keep your dog out of sight, and out of earshot, if possible. Same goes for your cat, your kids, your spouse and your neighbors.

You want to bring prospective buyers in to look at your boat and hopefully buy it, without getting any more involved with them than necessary. Chances are they feel pretty much the same way. Some people love kids, some people don’t. Some people love cats, some don’t. Keep all these kinds of distractions out of the way for the brief time that the buyers are present.

You especially need to make a deal with your buddy next door. When a prospective buyer is looking at your boat, you need to be absolutely sure that no one speaks to them but you. Not even “Hello”. You would be amazed at all of the unpredictable ways the best intentions of your buddy next door can blow up your sale. He may accidentally contradict you. He may refer to accessories that you are not offering for sale with the boat. He may helpfully mention that you finally got that noisy transmission fixed, so the buyer doesn’t have to worry about it. He may laugh about the time the boat came off of the trailer. Ho! Ho! Ho! Get the picture? Good. Ask your buddy to stay away from the buyers, please.

Then there is the ego thing. One of the worst things that can happen with a prospective buyer is for him to have a disagreement with your spouse. It doesn’t matter what the disagreement is about. Your spouse may be absolutely right. The buyer may be dead wrong. It doesn’t matter. If your spouse argues with a buyer, it will be extremely difficult to make the sale.

Boarding the boat

Figure out how your prospective buyers are going to enter and exit the boat. If they are going to need a step stool or a ladder, go ahead and get it into position ahead of time, taking care of any leveling problems. Do whatever you have to do to keep the step or the ladder steady. Figure out how many people can enter the boat at one time without falling all over one another. If necessary restrict the simultaneous occupancy of the boat when your buyers arrive.

Sometimes when a boat is on a trailer, you have to be careful that the bow doesn’t lift up when you place too much weight on the stern. If this is the case, locate some blocks and place them under the transom to prevent this from happening when the buyers are in the boat.

People unfamiliar with your boat may do unexpected things. Plan to look out for your buyers’ welfare while they are in or around your boat.

Showing the Boat

In order to verify that there are no problems, practice demonstrating everything on the boat in exactly the same way you will when you are doing so for the buyers. If the boat is out of the water, go through everything that you have to do to run the engine for them.

Hook up a cooling water supply to the engine, figure out where you are going to keep the key, then fire up the engine just like you will for the buyers.

If the boat is in the water and you plan to take the buyer for a ride, run through that procedure too. Verify the location of the required PFDs. Be sure you can release the lines and cast off by yourself, or arrange for assistance when the buyer is present. Don’t rely on your buyers to serve as deck hands. It would be very bad if a buyer were injured on your boat while you were trying to sell it to him. Take the boat away from the dock, then return and land the boat exactly the way you plan to with the buyers on board. If you discover that you need more lines or a boat hook, put them in place now.

Don’t forget to take a look and be sure there is sufficient fuel on board to take a few successful demo rides.

Finally, look ahead to success. Once you get a buyer who wants to make a deal, you will need to have a place for him to sit to help draw up your agreement, get out his money and sign the sales agreement. Decide ahead of time where the closing area will be, and be sure you can walk the buyer there from the boat without any problems. Clean the area up a little and have your boat sale folder nearby. Be sure to have a working pen, steno pad and calculator handy.

Sell Your Boat

Okay. Prepare the Boat for the New OwnerYou’ve prepared the boat, written and published your ad, and prepared and rehearsed your sales pitch. It’s time to bring in the buyers.

Your first contact with buyers will be when they call or e-mail you in response to your ad. As stated earlier, you should make a record of every contact with every buyer in your contact log in the boat sale folder. Each time a buyer contacts you, record his name, the time and date of the call, and his telephone number. If a buyer contacts you by e-mail, your e-mail system will record this information for you automatically. But you should also include the contact in your contact log with all of the other contacts, so you can see all the buyers’ interest in one place.

Your objective when buyers call is to get them to come and see the boat. Answer their questions up to a certain point, but emphasize that your boat is in terrific condition and that they really need to see it to appreciate it. If you are in a position to take buyers out for a boat ride, make the offer to them while you have them on the telephone. It will make the drive more worthwhile, give them something to get excited about.

Be prepared to move quickly when buyers call. Once they are in the mood, some buyers will buy the next boat they see. If you can avoid it, don’t ever put buyers off when they call. Try to get them over to see your boat as soon as possible.

Be prepared for the fact that you are going to get stiffed once in a while whether you are selling a boat, a car or anything else. It goes with the territory.

Always try to make an appointment to see the boat at a specific time. Instead of tomorrow afternoon, try for tomorrow between 1 and 3 p. m.

If a buyer doesn’t show up, don’t worry about it, and don’t take it personally.

Sometimes things come up. Some people just aren’t considerate. Don’t let it affect your emotions. You can never tell that same busy buyer who has trouble making an appointment may be the one with the most money to spend and the least amount of time to mull over your boat. If you work with him, in the end he may actually buy your boat that much quicker since he doesn’t have the time to shop in pursuit of the optimal deal.

Greet the Buyer

Whether your boat is in the driveway or down at the marina, make sure you are there waiting for the buyer when he shows up, with a couple of copies of your sales brochure in hand.

Introduce yourself with a handshake and a smile. Thank the buyer for coming over. Walk him to the boat, taking advantage of the opportunity to ask what else he has been looking at. When he starts talking, pay close attention to what he says. Make a mental note of anything you can use to your advantage. One of the nice things about giving the buyer a copy of your sales brochure in the very beginning is that it will establish your boat in the buyer’s mind, and keep him from mixing it up with any of the other boats he’s been seeing. If the buyer wants to make a few notes about your boat as he looks it over the brochure will provide him a good place to do so.

Present the Boat

Next you need to present the boat to the buyer. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just run down the facts about the boat and point out all the nice things about it. Remember to smile when you look at your boat.

Escort the buyer into the boat, helping him, if necessary, to board the boat safely. Demonstrate as many things on the boat as you can to make the boat seem alive. Light the lights, honk the horn, play the radio.

Open up all the clean, empty storage compartments and make sure the buyer gets a good look at them. There is something strangely enticing about clean, empty storage compartments. It’s like the boat is inviting the buyer to pile his junk in them.

At this point, you might want to let the buyer do some talking. He may have a few questions. Keep the discussion centered on the boat; don’t get off into side issues.

Demo Ride

If the buyer seems to like the boat, offer to take him for a demo ride. Even a brief little turn around the marina can be an exciting experience for the buyer. It will demonstrate the boat’s usefulness more than words possibly can.

Even if the boat is on a trailer, you should be prepared to take an eager buyer out for a short demo ride, hopefully demonstrating how simple it is to launch the boat and retrieve it at the ramp, increasing your status in the eyes of the buyer in the process. On the other hand, if trailers tend to befuddle you whenever you try to back them down the ramp, you should schedule the demo ride for a time when you can manage to have the boat already launched and tied up before the buyer shows up.

Boat in Marina del Rey, CA, USA
Prepare your boat for test drive
Source: unsplash.com

With larger boats be prepared to have a competent assistant on hand to help you safely take the boat out and return it to the dock.

The buyer may or may not have the boating skills needed to help you. It is your responsibility to make sure things don’t get out of hand. Unless you have reason to be certain of the boating skills of the buyer, and the buyer is willing to be your deck hand, do not rely on the buyer to help you with the boat. He is, after all, a guest of sorts.

Often, when a boat is large enough that it is somewhat of a production to fire up and take out, the deal will actually be made in advance, with all the details worked out contingent on a final check ride or sea trial. In that case, the seller and the buyer leave the dock with a signed agreement in hand and the deposit paid. Assuming the boat doesn’t do anything too terrible during the sea trial, they will then exchange the money and title after returning to the dock.

Let the Buyer Talk

If a buyer is interested in your boat, you will usually be able to tell by the way he acts and by the questions he asks. He will examine things closely and ask meaningful, probing questions about the boat and its equipment. Let him talk, and listen closely to what he is saying.

Be prepared for the fact that it is perfectly logical for a buyer to feel some discomfort when it comes time to make a final decision. Because they have limited financial resources, most buyers only get to buy one boat at a time, so they naturally want it to be the right one. They also know that once they’ve made their decision they will be stuck with it for the next few years. Call it fear, trepidation, indecision, cognitive dissonance, whatever term you like. It’s all the same thing. In fact, in most cases, buyers will be experiencing some or all of the following worries:

  • They may be overpaying for the boat.
  • The boat has undisclosed problems that will cost them a lot of money and headache to resolve.
  • They may be buying the wrong type of boat.

Incredibly, there are some professional salesmen who respond to the buyers’ fears by implying that they are stupid. I’ve even heard of car salesmen who come right out and tell the buyers they are stupid if they don’t buy his car on his terms, right now. This is definitely the wrong approach to take with the buyer!

All of us tend to turn to the salesman during a deal to ask questions. Haven’t you ever asked a realtor a question? What about with car salesmen? If we thought about it for a moment, we would know that since the salesman has a vested interest in the deal, he is probably the last person we should rely upon to provide us with unbiased information. But we turn to him for answers nonetheless.

This provides a tremendous opportunity for the salesman. If the buyer is going to ask him questions, the salesman gets to frame the answers in a way that best serves his interests. With this in mind, if the buyer asks you questions about the boat, its manufacturer, the economy or whatever, you will respond in the most positive manner. Just for fun, while you are doing so you might imply that there are other interested buyers looking at the boat, and you think it won’t last much longer. Whatever you do, don’t tell him he is stupid if he doesn’t buy it right now.

Objections and Criticisms

Sometimes buyers will raise concerns that they have with the boat that may keep them from buying it. Listen to what they are saying and how they are acting. While you are doing so, ask yourself if they fit into one of these three categories:

  1. They are seeking reassurance that they should buy the boat.
  2. They are staking out a bargaining position to use to get you to reduce the price.
  3. They are seriously concerned about the issue they raised and the sale hinges on your ability to resolve the issue.

Seeking Reassurance

As detailed above, actually making the decision to buy can be difficult for some people. If they are having trouble making the decision, they may raise a lot of meaningless issues about the boat while they are stalling, sort of waffling back and forth around the decision to buy or not to buy.

When a buyer acts like this, his emotions are in control. Factually, either the boat is what he is looking for, or it is not. Either he can afford it, or he can’t. Either he likes it and wants it, or he doesn’t. Unfortunately, he isn’t thinking about facts at this point. He is struggling with his feelings.

You can help by being supportive and confident, by helping the buyer get back to the basics of the deal, by maintaining your smile and your sense of well being. Remind the buyer that he read the ad before he came over, that he knew what type of boat it was, how old it was, and how much it cost. You might say:

“Well, is the boat what you expected when you read the ad and decided to come see it?”

This will get him thinking back to the decision he made earlier to pursue the boat by calling you and driving over to see it. This might help clear things up a little.

Some buyers like to go off and think about things for a while before leaping in and laying down their money. That’s not a bad idea, if you stop and think about it. And if that’s what the buyer needs to do, be polite and respectful, and keep the door open for him to come back and buy the boat. If you engage in serious arm-twisting, or if you disparage the buyer for wanting to think it over, he might not want to see you again, no matter how nice your boat may be.

Creating a Bargaining Position

Some buyers may try to grind you down by pointing out each and every little thing they see that is wrong with your boat. There are people who think this is an effective bargaining technique. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to offer an explanation for everything.

There is no perfect boat. Even straight from the dealership, a brand-spanking-new boat will have little flaws on it if you look closely enough. As the boat ages, things happen, and more and more flaws develop.

Not only that, every boat, by its very nature, is a compromise. For each model, the manufacturer selects a packaged set of features that it thinks will appeal to buyers, and then makes the boat to meet those criteria, at the expense of some other features and characteristics.

Heavy boats, for example, ride smoother, but require bigger engines, use more gas and are harder to trailer. Narrow boats go through the water more easily, but also roll more and have less interior space.

Some manufacturers have a reputation for putting more care into the boat, and charging more for it. Others have a reputation for delivering value. And so on.

Since you neither designed your boat nor were in charge at the factory where it was produced, you don’t really have to explain why things were done the way they were. Not only that, since you are not selling a new or perfect boat, you should not feel you have to explain every single little issue a buyer can raise. Remember, there are no perfect boats out there, and that your boat is much nicer and cleaner than any of the other used boats the buyer will see.

Basically guys who raise all kinds of unreasonable objections are trying to scam you. If they really don’t like the manufacturer or the model, why did they bother to come over to see it?

In situations like this I just smile, let the guy talk himself out and then remind him that I have a very nice used boat for sale. I tell him what it will do for him and how he can buy it and take it out and enjoy it, starting tomorrow. If necessary, I’ll tell him that I know all about the boat, and that everything he has mentioned is already factored into the price, which, by the way, is a lot less than they are asking for a new boat at the dealership.

If the buyer really didn’t like your boat, he would not be standing there bringing up all these criticisms. He would just get in his car and leave. You are the expert on your boat. You know all about it. Go ahead and use this knowledge and experience to help you overcome the buyer’s objections and make the sale. Tell the buyer about the things your boat does well, and all the things you have enjoyed doing with your boat. Eventually, he will see that you are speaking from firsthand experience, and it will impress him.

Serious Objections

A serious objection is one the buyer voices that he thinks will make the difference between buying and not buying the boat. When a buyer raises a serious issue, it means he wants the boat and hopes something can be done to resolve the issue so he can buy it.

If there is a clear-cut unresolved problem with the boat, you should have factual information at hand to show to the buyer to help you work something out. Demonstrate to the buyer that you know all about the problem and have thoroughly investigated the options for resolving it. Show him your written estimates, and tell him what local marine professionals have said. If the problem is already factored into your asking price, Make the Essential Paperwork for Boat Sellingshow the buyer the documentation you used to arrive at this number.

On the other hand, suppose the buyer likes almost everything about your boat, but there is a styling issue or something about the boat that he objects to. It’s not that the boat is exactly broken or malfunctioning, it’s just that there is some issue about the boat that bothers him.

Here are a few time-tested tools that salesmen sometimes use to soften up these types of buyer’s objections. Say that:

  • It isn’t so, or it isn’t quite the way the buyer says it is.
  • Every other boat is pretty much the same in this regard and the buyer just failed to notice it before.
  • The so-called problem, if that’s the objection, isn’t a problem at all, because in certain situations or circumstances, it is actually beneficial.
  • It is a personal preference issue and once you get used to it this way you will never go back to the old way.
  • The circumstances the buyer mentions when the problem would occur never happen, or happen so rarely that it does not matter.

You’re the one who has been living with the boat, right? Just think how you became accustomed to the problem, and use that experience to tell the buyer why the problem is not going to stop him from enjoying the boat.

Ask Them to Buy the Boat

As stated earlier, never let a buyer leave without asking him to buy the boat, one way or another. There may be times when you are almost certain he isn’t interested. But unless he has told you this directly, go ahead and ask to make sure. At the very least, you may discover some important issue that is keeping him from buying the boat that you weren’t aware of. And you never know for sure what they will say until you ask.

Of course, posing this kind of a question requires you to be a little forward, but it is expected, and you can do it in a polite, indirect manner. The questions in the list below are designed to lead the buyer right smack into his buying decision when he answers. Try these out on the dog, and use the ones that you are comfortable with.

  • Do you think the asking price is fair?
  • Would you like to have this boat?
  • Do you think you would enjoy owning this boat?
  • Do you think the ad fairly describes the boat?
  • So, how do you like the boat?
  • Is this what you were looking for?

Before you go through this with very many buyers, at least one of them will indicate that he wants the boat. When this happens it’s time to negotiate a deal and close the sale.

Author photo - Olga Nesvetailova
  1. Baber, Michael. How Champions Sell. New York: AMACOM, 1997.
  2. Carter, Rita, and Christopher Frith. Mapping the Mind. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
  3. Farber, Barry J. State of the Art Selling. Piawthorne, NJ: Career Press 1994.
  4. Lawhon,John F., Sherwood Harris, ed. The Selling Bible: For People in the Business of Selling. Tulsa, OK:J Franklin Publishers, 1995.
  5. Thorson, Esther. Advertising Age: The Principles of Advertising At Work. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books, 1989.
  6. Wechsler, Warren, Kristine Ellis ed. The Six Steps of Excellence in Selling: The Step-By-Step Guide to Effective Selling. Edina, MN: Better Books, 1995.
  7. Willingham , Ron. Integrity Selling: How to Succeed in Selling in the Competitive Tears Ahead. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
  8. National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Pre-Owned Boat Market Analysis”. Chicago: NMMA, 1999.
  9. “Boat Buyers Stay Loyal in Cooling Economy”. Press Release. Chicago: NMMA, December 29, 2000.
  10. “Boating 2001 — Facts and Figures at a Glance”. Chicago: NMMA, 2002.
  11. The Sailing Company. “The Sailing Market: State of the Industry 2001”. Chicago: The Sailing Company 2002.
  12. “The Sailing Market: State of the Industry 2002”. Chicago: The Sailing Company 2003.


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