Used Boat Sales Tactics: Social Proof

In the past few months I’ve written about a number of techniques that professional salespeople might use in your dealings with them when it comes to buying a used boat, whether from a dealership or a private seller. So far we’ve talked about the following:

If that many burgers have been served, they must be really good!
If that many burgers have been served, they must be really good!

This time I’ll cover Social Proof, an academic theory that has deep-reaching implications in the world of sales, marketing, and advertising in general, including the sale of new and used boats.

So what is social proof, anyway?

Simply put, the principal of social proof holds that the greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more a given individual will perceive the idea to be correct. Let me give you some examples you might find in the context of shopping for a used boat.

One example that you will often see is a dealership citing that it is the fastest growing XYZ boat dealership in your region. Or that it is the No. 1 selling ABC boat dealer in the country. Dealerships will state with pride something about selling more used boats than any other in your area, region, state, etc.

The notion is that if all “those people” bought boats from us, then you should, too, and you can feel comfortable buying from us. Have you ever seen a wall in a dealership where it displays photos of all its customers taking delivery of their new (or used) boats? It’s a persuasion method similar to The Authority Play.

Here’s another example from outside the boat business, but it illustrates the point well. Have you ever gotten one of those invitations in the mail for a “free” weekend at a time-share resort in Myrtle Beach? The only hitch is that you must tour that time-share resort with a salesperson, or a time-share in your area owned by the same company. It doesn’t really matter where it is. The ploy is the same.

The mailer tells you the tour lasts about 45 minutes, and that’s usually true, but at the end of the tour, they sit you down in a big room full of other people also there as a result of the mailer. Here’s where it gets brutal. Before they let you go, they try to get you to buy the time-share you just toured. The sales tactics are usually pretty high pressure. If you try to leave they turn you over — a process known as T.O.’ing — you to a manager, who continues the pitch. They’ll T.O. you more than once, too.

About that time you’ll see other salespeople around the room bringing “boxes” to the tables. Those are people who just said yes and bought. The package has nothing but brochures and collateral materials in it, but the box is usually large and quite visible. They could deliver the materials in a slim folder they keep on the tables, but the package serves as social proof that others in the room are buying. And here’s the kicker: Once one or two salespeople appear with packages, you start seeing the pace at which the boxes appear begin to quicken. The box is social proof that people are buying. The box means you should buy, too.

According to research, social proof works best when the proof is provided by the actions of other people, especially by people similar to you. So, in a boat dealership, that would be boaters like you.

Social proof is clever in that it hinges on and is implemented to remove uncertainty. In situations where people have trouble deciding, they often look to the actions of others for guidance. You see it in advertising all the time, though you might not even realize it.

The moral of the story is that you need to be aware of how this tactic is implemented in a sales environment. Dealerships should be proud of their growth or their sales volume. You, on the other hand, don’t need to be as impressed as they would like you to be. Focus solely on your deal.


Boat Trader has plenty of  Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.



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