Buying a car is one of the most important purchases you will make in your lifetime, second only to buying a house.
These days, women have become increasingly involved when it comes to making the decision of what car to buy, which manufacturer to choose and, most importantly, which dealer to hand over their cash to.
Why is it then that men and women are still treated so differently, and why do women frequently face condemnation when we they arrive at the dealerships?
I believe there are two reasons why this happens. Firstly, according to a major online poll conducted in the US and Europe, more than a quarter of female buyers believe they were foiled at the showroom in an attempt by the dealer to make a “quick sale that fits their specific sales target.”
The second reason I know men and women are treated differently when it comes to car service and sales, is because my job involves teaching the sales staff all about the cars they are employed to sell, and all too often they tell me that they can make an easy sell to a woman because ‘she’ doesn’t understand as much or ask as many questions as a man.
In short, I deliver product training on new vehicles to everyone from the design team to the dealer. As soon as a car manufacturer brings out a new model, I can almost guaranteed that I will know more than the entire sales team put together because I need to know last detail from the composites used to build the chassis to the distance in millimeters from the A-post to the B-post. As you can imagine, this can be great fun when walking into a car sales garage with my husband or a group of girlfriends!
To start with, let me explain how it works. Every time I go into new car showroom, I will loiter around a specific vehicle and wait to see how long it takes for somebody to come and talk to me.
You may not be surprised to know that generally the service and communication will be quicker if I am with my husband. As soon as the car salesman engages with me, I ask them to tell me about the car I am standing closest to. Theoretically what should happen is that he or she should say, “I am happy to tell you about this car however, why don't you first tell me about yourself so I can understand your specific needs and we can look at a number of models together?”
Generally, a salesman will tell you the make and model of the car, the colour and a few features they think will impress you keep. For instance, this is the all-new blah, blah, blah. It has AFS, cruise control, pedestrian recognition, does 35 mpg and comes in red, white or blue.
I know it sounds like a cliche but it's true, many car salesmen don't think women know much about cars and tend to carry that attitude through the introduction process and into the sale. So, imagine the sort of fun you can have when you start asking questions that little bit more in-depth and technical – like asking them to explain AFS and giving statistics on the pedestrian recognition system? It's a great game to play but it can go one of two ways.
First, there is the car salesman that doesn't like to be shown up and takes great offence when meeting a woman who quite clearly knows more than he does about his own product - the car - his perceived ‘man only’ machine. He starts by being a little embarrassed and taken aback by not knowing the answer to (in my opinion) some pretty simple questions.
I find that these few questions are enough to set the ball rolling. “When you said the car has AFS, do you mean the adaptive front lighting system? If so, can you tell me how your system works in comparison to the competition? Are you using LED bulbs and if so, how many? Are there sensors to detect light from oncoming traffic? How many degrees will the lights alter by when driving through the corner? Is this activated below a certain speed and do the lights actually rotate or does the fog light come on like in many other models?”
The embarrassment of the salesman often increases and can manifest itself into arrogance and an inability to accept defeat.
The second scenario is quite refreshing. Some salesmen realise that they do not know enough about their product and start asking me questions – mainly just to see if I can answer them. Within five minutes there will be a large group of dealership staff surrounding me. I would like to think it is because they are enthused by my knowledge and would like to learn more about the car however, I have the distinct impression it’s more to do with the great comical value they get in watching a woman talk about cars.
To summarise, if you are a great business owner, you already know that to ignore the female market, or any potential customer, is business suicide.