A few years back, my husband and I set out to buy our dream car. We knew exactly what we wanted – we were in the market for something in the luxury segment – but with two Labrador retrievers and an expanding family, we set our sights on a BMW X5.
The tough part was finding a dealer I wanted to buy it from.
I'll confess that my feelings about cars run a little warmer than the norm. Sometimes I like to turn off the stereo when I'm driving alone so I can listen to the engine; I relish pushing my dad's Mustang Shelby GT500 through the low gears, where you can really feel the power of all those horses. As a kid, I would beg to go to the local stock car races and stand in the pits, where the smell of tires heating up the track seemed the most delicious.
While this car fetish sets me apart from most of my female counterparts, it's safe to say that my approach to buying is firmly middle-of-the-pack. Like most women – we influence 80 per cent of auto purchases – I wield hefty sway over our household vehicle purchases. I like to be part of the process and while I don't need to be lured to the dealership with free manicures, fancy coffee or hot pink paint jobs, before I sign on the dotted line, I need to connect with a salesperson who has patience, listens well and whom I can trust not to up-sell us on useless features that only benefit his bottom line.
In other words, I want a relationship – a real one. As it turns out, so do most female buyers.
"Women definitely do buy cars differently than men," said Katie Quinn, general manager of BMW Grand River in Kitchener, Ont., and Parkview BMW in Toronto. "It's not something you do on a whim. You want someone who is going to understand that this is a big purchase for you. A female buyer really looks for someone who wants to be a part of that process with them, as opposed to getting the sale as quickly as possible," she said.
The automotive sales force has struggled to grasp this notion, despite knowing that winning over women is a key business driver. In North America, women make between 40 and 60 per cent of all vehicle purchases. They also spend more service dollars at dealerships than men do.
To learn how to reel in some of that business, dealerships across the U.S. and Canada often look to Jody DeVere, a marketing consultant and founder of AskPatty.com, an automotive advice website for women. She routinely teaches male sales teams how to communicate effectively with women.
"If you see a bunch of guys watching football, they do not make eye contact. They talk side to side. They also do this at the dealership," she said. "Women like a lot of eye contact. We talk face to face. We want to connect with people. Men, in selling to women, often do not make eye contact. Their eyes are shifting side to side. We interpret that as 'I can't trust you,'" she said.
To build trust, female buyers also like to tell "their whole story" to sales people, DeVere said. "Having really good listening skills helps build that relationship,"she said, adding that she coaches salesmen to consider how their female clients feel about their experience, whether they formed a bond and established trust.
"Women are also less confrontational than men," she said. "We'll smile if we're having a bad experience … then we'll walk out the door and badmouth them to everyone we know, even online. We will never go back. But we will never tell them."
Quinn said women consider how a vehicle is going to fit into their long-term lifestyle before making a purchase. "They're a lot more cautious and careful than men are; they usually take a bit longer to make their decision. They're going to buy a car they're happy with for years," she said.
Janice Dickey, director of dealer organization and business management for General Motors of Canada, said company research shows female buyers tend to place higher importance on the price and cost of ownership than men. Safety features are particularly attractive to women, as are perks like no-charge scheduled maintenance.
In my case, I burned through three salesmen before I found Martin, who deftly sealed our deal. He listened. He made eye contact. He nodded a lot, talked us out of running boards, a third row of seats and a souped-up sound system – but into the upgraded 355-horsepower, V-8 model.
The outcome: four years of driving bliss. As for Martin, he still ranks as one of my most memorable relationships.
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