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Car shopping: To Buy or Not To Buy

Shopping for anything related to cars fills most women with a sense of dread. Venturing into a territory wrapped in incomprehensible technical mumbo-jumbo, when all you really want is a good-looking, safe, reliable and not-too-expensive car, is daunting for most women.

Having spent the past four months (did you know it takes women on average 17 weeks to complete a car purchase?) looking around for a new car, I've had the opportunity to do my very own detailed field research on the topic. I've learned a lot, and it boils down to this: there is good news, and there is bad news.

Let's start with the good news:
I think most women will agree: things have been looking up lately, and marketing to women has also entered the car sales industry. Sexy little city-zipping mobiles, in-house life-style magazines touting everything from the latest wellness spa in Sweden to the scenic drives you can take in your new car (if you happen to take it with you on holiday to South Africa), even a car designed solely by women for women (Volvo) cars to women has become increasingly sophisticated and slick. I was impressed!

One dealership I visited - and from whom I didn't end up buying a car - upon hearing that I had purchased a car at another dealer in their network, even sent me a very nice letter thanking me for visiting them and reassuring me that I was welcome to bring my new car to them for service and after-sales support. A very nice touch, I thought, were it not for the fact that the salesperson (man) at this specific dealership, was also the person who completely destroyed his expensive german manufacturer's efforts in marketing its cars to women.

Which brings me to the bad news..
Now granted, as women we don't always know too much about all the technical stuff in cars, so the sales people have to explain it to us a few times before we either understand (mostly not) or we simply make as if we understand. The look in their eyes and their body language always tell me they know I don't understand, at which point (mistake nr 1) they turn to my partner to explain it all a little more, instead of re-explaining things to me by linking these technical features to real-life benefits.

But mistake nr 2 really takes the cake.
Glancing down at your customer's chest - repeatedly -while walking her around a car and explaining the latest braking system to her (partner) is just unforgivable, no matter how subtle you're trying to be. She will notice, believe me, and with it you will loose any trust she may have had or any inclination to want to buy from you - now or in the future.

Marketing to women is not something which companies can do only through expensive ad campaigns in all the right magazines, sexy in-house magazines, funky point-of-sales materials or great personalized direct marketing. It also extends to the way in which its sales force treats its female customers.

If companies fail to train their sales-force to understand the mind-set of female customers in relation to their product, fail to teach them about women's needs and concerns in relation to their product and fail again to train them to approach women in an appropriate manner, the most refined marketing to women concepts will continue to miss their mark.