A recent ASM blog post included this huge headline, “Fortune Magazine Writer Lambasts Car Salesmen.” It described an article by Becky Quick, a contributor to Fortune magazine as well as an anchor on CNBC’s Squawk Box describing her bad experience(s) in a car dealership and generally reinforcing the age-old stereotypes of car salespersons. I responded that, yes, there is a problem but, no, it was not hopelessly widespread. I recently stumbled on an article that I wrote for the former World of Special Finance magazine in 2003, titled A Special Point of View and thought that it might warrant another look.
Here it is:
Have you ever been sitting behind your desk talking to two prospective buyers, obviously a couple, and had the feeling that one of the two was off in another world? Chances are pretty good that she was. And I don’t suppose that you had a clue as to what was wrong. Try looking at your style and pitch from a woman’s point of view.
Okay! I know! Most of you are chuckling and chortling and asking out loud, “What the heck does he know about a woman’s point of view?” “The net effect of his sensitivity training is to not laugh at his wife when she cries at TV commercials.” Granted, having been around women for my entire life has given me no clue into a woman’s point of view. I also don’t know, for the most part, when to challenge that point of view and when not to. But I do know that there is a difference between the way that men and women think, feel and act. Bruce Willis, the actor, describing his view of the difference between men and women, said; “On the one hand, we’ll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars.” Could it be that there is someone even less enlightened than yours truly?
The recent media blitz surrounding the North American International Auto Show, held here in Detroit, Michigan in January, included plenty of ink about women in the Auto Industry, women as new car buyers and women’s viewpoints in general. Jean Jennings, editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine has been quoted as saying, “Anything designed for women is better for mankind.” I am not sure, but she may have something there!
What you may or may not know is that women make up a pretty good percentage of new vehicle buyers. Depending upon whose numbers you chose to believe, that percentage is anywhere from 35% – 50%! By any measurement, that is a pretty good chunk of your new vehicle prospects.
Think about this the next time you are interviewing a prospective couple in your Special Finance office; the newest numbers are in and a good 23% of American women now make more than their husbands! You had better be talking to the women. And lets add some pretty heavy emphasis on that “to” part. The surest kiss-of-death is to talk down to your female prospects as if they were “the little woman.” When I am talking to new Special Finance managers, one of the things that I suggest is that in the initial interview, they determine, as soon as possible, just who the decision maker is going to be. And believe me people, that is not necessarily the one who talks the loudest.
Our government and society as a whole have encouraged us to treat women as equals. Now in the case of a lot of guys I know, equality may not necessarily be a good thing. You had better listen to what women have to say. If the guy in front of you, listing all the alibis for all his credit problems had listened to his wife, he probably wouldn’t need your help in the first place. All I know is that women control an awful lot of the wealth in this world and you and I had better not get caught ignoring how they feel and how they want to be treated.
Do credit problems impact women differently than they do men? Do women want to be treated differently when it comes to Special Finance? Do women make better Special Finance managers than their male counterparts? I don’t know! But I have a sure fire way to find out. Come to think about it, this method will work for you in an awful lot of situations where you need answers. Why don’t you ask? Now don’t just sit up in your chair and throw those awkward questions across the desk. Present a well thought out question and, and now this is really revolutionary, listen to the answer. “How do you feel, Ms. Prospect, about the cars that we are looking at?” “ How do you think, Ms. P, that this payment will fit into your monthly budget?” You will get more information this way than you can get by reading a whole magazine full of somebody else’s opinions.
Now it may appear that I am talking mostly to the male portion of our readers. But, I am not. From women with whom I have discussed this issue, I find that male and female salespeople are equally guilty of treating female customers with less importance than they do males. I know that this is hard to believe. It was for me at first, but the more I observe interviews, the more I become a believer.
Well, you say, you haven’t told me a darn thing. I know that! I knew it when I started this article. But what I hope I have done is to make you aware of behavior that could be a problem. Actually it could be costing you money. Be aware that the decision maker is not always the guy. Be aware that women are quite sensitive about how they are treated by you and your dealership. Be aware that women have an awful lot of earning and buying power and have choices when it comes to spending that power. There are women out there, like my wife, who have made a conscious choice to buy only from other women based on the way they have been treated by male-oriented salesmen most of their lives.
Okay, fellow dinosaurs, listen up! Women are equal, but different. Learning how to distinguish and use those differences will go a long way toward earning the respect of your female customers and the profits that those repeat customers and their female friends, daughters, sisters and their mothers can provide.
About the author
Dick Hassberger, of Lake Orion, Michigan is a veteran of over 50 years in the Automotive Financing and Leasing industry, starting his career with the former Wayne Oakland Bank in September 1960. Dick currently represents VOISYS in Michigan. He has held executive positions with Major Banks, Lending Institutions and Leasing companies and has accumulated a vast store of knowledge in the automotive financing industry, which he regularly shares with his client dealerships as well as readers of this blog. Dick was a regular author for World of Special Finance Magazine.