When Christine Wilson bought her Audi,
she told the salesman exactly what she wanted. With the help of the
Internet, Wilson had researched the price of her car and the features
she wanted. She brought these to the dealer. She didn't have time to
haggle back and forth. This was her third dealer already and she was
ready to buy. The salesman tried to raise the price, but Wilson held
her ground. "I know what I want," she stated. "I can pay today." She
drove off the lot in her new Audi just two hours later.
Sounds like a success story, doesn't it? Unfortunately, many women would raise their eyebrows at such a tale. Most of them had a completely different experience. "No one really listened to me," most would say. "My salesperson talked to my husband the whole time."
For a variety of reasons, women have a long history of discomfort with the process of purchasing cars. Regardless, they are putting their own dollars down on new sets of wheels--and lots of them. In 2002, women shelled out for 53 percent of auto purchases ($81 billion worth). The interesting part is that only a few dealerships are reaping all that female cash. That's right, 10 percent of the dealers are selling women that 53 percent. Why? Because they have tuned in to the innerworkings of the female brain.
That may sound complicated unless you ask Rebecca Maddox and Marti Smye, co-authors of the recently published book, "How to Get Rich Selling Cars to Women." Maddox and Smye know that paying attention to the special needs of women can boost sales and fatten dealership wallets. Each year, thousands of eager car dealers around the country sign up for seminars given by Maddox, excited to solve the mystery behind the female shopper.
The biggest misconception, explains Maddox, is that car dealers think women want to be treated the same as men because that is what society is telling them. Not true. Women shop differently than men, make different choices for different reasons and expect different treatment. "The key to selling to women is understanding and celebrating their differences," adds Smye. "Dealers must understand that when a woman walks onto their car lot, she is not just shopping for a product. She is looking to form a long-term buying relationship."
From an early age, women are taught that it pays to shop around. Maddox usually uses the "little red dress" story during her seminar to explain this mentality to her car dealers. "Let's say your wife needs to go shopping for a red dress and she drags you to the mall with her," Maddox begins. "She sees a red dress, tries it on, and you love it. You tell her to buy it. But she insists that she has to keep looking. Odds are that she will return to that first red dress and buy it. But she needed to know what else was out there first, so that she wasn't missing out on anything better. Women shop the same way for cars."
Because you can get the same car anywhere, women look for trust. With the average female buyer visiting three to five dealerships before making a decision, it all comes down to which salesperson they like. "The phrase 'off the lot means never to return' does not apply to women," Maddox explains. "Women will return if they like you. Women buy on emotion."
According to Maddox and Smye, every salesperson should memorize the following list of Do's and Don'ts to ensure that female buyers will return--or stay in the first place.
1. Approach women customers walking tall and confidently.
2. Deliver a smile and shake hands
3. Lean in while listening
4. Make eye contact
5. Be respectful of her time
6. Listen, Listen, Listen
"Listening means that you are nodding," Maddox elaborates. "Look the woman in the eye. Take notes. Women want to be heard. They want to make sure that you are understanding what they are saying."
1. Cross your arms over your chest in a defensive way
2. Use a dismissive tone
3. Act superior
4. Refer to the woman as"sweetie,""honey" or "dear"
5. Assume she is not the decision maker
6. Ask about her spouse or significant other
"What irritated me the most about my last trip to a dealer was when they asked me to come back with my husband," says Julie Langley, a recent car buyer who decided to buy her SUV out of the paper after six dealerships failed to show her respect. "The salesman treated me like I had no authority over the purchase, when in fact I had all the authority. I am the only one in my household."
Many salespeople mistakenly assume that all women live in a traditional family. In fact, only 13.9 percent of families in the United States represent "traditional families," where the woman stays at home and the man works. These days, 64 million women work outside the home, with 13.5 million earning more than $30,000 a year, and 6.5 million earning more than $50,000 a year.
"The best way to approach a woman in any business situation is to assume nothing," Maddox points out. By staying open, you are able to avoid misconceptions and truly address what the woman wants.
"What we are trying to do is get dealers to be more comfortable with women--more familiar," Maddox says. "
by Angelique Gillmer
Senior Media Planner
Avenue A - Razorfish