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Will she take her business elsewhere?

November 23, 2010
Selling to women-more than half your market, By Joan Mooney

Glenda Elam was ready to buy a Mazda Tribute at a Southern California store but didn't want the optional side-step bars, already attached. The salesman said the bars couldn't be removed, so Elam agreed to his offer of a discount on them if she bought the car. But Elam soon found the bars were only bolted on and promptly removed them herself.

Furious, she went back and got a refund for the option and an apology from the sales manager. The salesman "probably figured he could make a few hundred dollars more and that, because I was a woman, I would never crawl under the car to see how they were attached," says Elam. With such treatment, it's no surprise some women still hate to enter showrooms. And dealers still suffer the consequences of manipulative or abusive salespeople.

"If a woman feels like she's being talked down to or not being listened to, she won't try to work it out-she will just take her business elsewhere," says Lynn Kimmel, who owns three Saturn and two Cadillac stores in the Indianapolis area. R-E-S-P-E-C-T Women make up 49 percent of new-vehicle buyers and 55 percent of used, says CNW Marketing/Research, Bandon, Oreg. But they also influence an estimated 80 percent of sales overall. It's a market dealers can't afford to ignore.

So what do women want? Well, for one thing, a little respect. Both Andi Voight of Sandy, Utah, and Laurie Tyler of Watervliet, N.Y., encountered prejudice when they bought their full-size pickups. Voight, an avid off-roader, was shopping for a Dodge Ram when the salesman told her, "That's way too much truck for a little girl like you." The 35-year-old, 5-foot-7-inch mother bought her dream pickup from another dealer. Tyler, who wanted a GMC 2500 heavy-duty pickup to tow her horse trailer, also met skepticism.

"I asked for the model with 4:10 gears, and the salesman looked at me wide-eyed saying, 'Why would you need that?' " says Tyler. And when customer Arlene Henken of Simi Valley, Calif., and her husband were shopping for a new car, they immediately explained that the vehicle was for her, yet the salesman "didn't include me in the conversation or even make eye contact," Henken says. She finally interrupted, "This is going to be my car and you are completely ignoring me.

There is no way I'd buy a car from you." At Cerami Pontiac-GMC/Isuzu, Paramus, N.J., dealer Sandy Cerami reminds old-line salesmen that these days, in fact, wives are more than likely to control the buying decision-and the checkbook. One strategy: Women on staff Cerami saleswoman Rachel Katic has found many female customers relieved to see her in the showroom (though women make up only 7.5 percent of dealership salespeople, says NADA-unchanged for the past seven years). They tell her, "I went to three dealerships. [The salesmen] asked, 'Is there a particular color you want?' " The Cerami store gets many referrals from happy women customers who have bought from its two saleswomen.

Dealers agree that many women buyers prefer to deal with saleswomen. Dealer Kathleen Sims, Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) Honda, says having saleswomen gives customers a choice- and saleswomen are particularly diligent about follow-up. At Moore Auto Group, Williamson, W. Va., the saleswomen are among the top 10 percent in performance, says dealer Betty Jo Moore, who calls them good listeners. Do women hate to negotiate? Then there's the haggle issue: Many women buyers simply prefer not to, says Miriam Muley, director of GM's Center of Expertise for Diversity and Growth Markets. "Salespeople need to be sensitive to [that]."

Dealer Annette Sykora, Smith Ford/Mercury, Slaton, Tex., thinks many women are "afraid they don't know how to play the [negotiation] game." Yet perhaps because women want to ensure they aren't taken advantage of, says Burnam Eubank, owner of Palmetto Jaguar, Charleston, S.C., they come armed with information and can be a very tough sell. The result, other dealers agree: Women can be more particular than men in choosing a vehicle and making sure it has the features they want.

Features for females Among vehicle features, CNW and J.D. Power surveys show, vehicle safety-including vehicle reliabilityand crashworthiness-is a higher priority for women than men. Dealer Eubank finds that her female customers are also interested in comfort and ergonomics, in features such as the adjustable pedals on the new Jaguars. Women are generally more conscious of design features that affect height and sight, agrees Mary Jackson, president of Women at the Wheel, Boulder, Colo., which conducts seminars for women buyers and for dealership staff.

"Power seats are enormously important." Another concern is ease of loading- as is cost of ownership, including fuel economy, insurance, interest rates, and credit terms, says Susan Pepper, marketing manager for Ford Motor Co.'s multicultural marketing office, which includes women as part of its focus. The showroom experience Although features are important, they can't match good treatment. "Women's decision to buy is more driven by how they're treated, while men are more driven by the deal they'll get," says consultant Jackson. Men are more interested in the bottom line, agrees Brad Steuert, general manager, Burt Lincoln Mercury, Englewood, Colo. For women, "the trust factor is paramount."

Women, adds dealer Kimmel, seem to like the "full-disclosure selling" in her Cadillac stores, where the trade-in value, the discount, and other financial details are disclosed. Good treatment, of course, can earn loyalty. In California, Libby Atwater was counting on a Toyota store to get her a Camry with a specific trim level and color: The shipment never arrived and the store didn't return her calls. So Atwater turned to her second choice, a Honda Accord EX, and had such a positive experience at Honda of Oxnard that she ended up leasing there instead. When her lease was up last year, she leased another Accord from that dealership. Even a mistake can be corrected and turned to advantage.

Glenda Elam, who had bought the Mazda Tribute with the unwanted side-step bars, hesitated to go back to the store for service. But when she did, she got an apology from the salesman and extra accommodation from the service department. Now, she says she'd have no problem buying another car there. Reprinted by permission, NADA's AutoExec magazine, October 2002. Joan Mooney is a senior editor of AutoExec. Contributing writer Tara Baukus Mello provided research assistance.