How Not to Sell a Car

I thought I was beyond bored bemoaning women’s annoyances about buying cars. SO 1999. Or 2005. But I just bought a new car and what I observed wasn’t about how car dealers fail when selling to women, but how the in-person experience has degenerated for humans. It’s a meltdown of magic.

Let me back up. My father loved buying and selling cars. He wasn’t a car salesman but he loved the romance, the engineering, the finish. He studied passing cars on the road and bought his fair share of new and used ones with the relish of a smitten teenager. He LOVED bringing them home for the first time. I remember our family gathering on the sidewalk to ‘ooh.’  And he loved selling them too. Dad helped me buy a used red, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle for $750 to drive to college. He sold it five years later for $750 because he curated that car to its prettiest. He sold it as he bought it—with pride and integrity and flourish.

Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I walked in to a favored brand dealership, with confidence in the nameplate of the car we were about to buy. We had done the research and felt this model would be just right for us. We didn’t showroom shop and leave for cheaper pastures. We didn’t haggle. We were super friendly and easy. And what did we get? Paperwork and a handshake without a moment of eye contact. Though I called him his name a couple of times, I don’t ever remember hearing mine or Joe’s.

When we picked up the car, we brought our little dog. It’s true that Rocky is darn cute, but the staff seemed to think that complimenting him would replace…yes, again…eye contact. (They asked his name at least four times.) As we approached our new vehicle, there was no “Wow! Here’s what you just wrote a big check for! Great choice!” No smile, no cheer, no…romance. I guess car sales are picking up. Maybe that’s why the sales guy was in such a hurry, barely explaining the complicated computer system, ignoring our questions with that ‘I’ll get to that in a minute” mumble. I suppose his Labor Day plans were burning a hole in his iPhone since it kept going off and he bolted the second we left as our check was popped on the pile on the almost last day of sales. But let me say, that he sucked the excitement out of what used to be a moment of magic in my house.

So, my road rules for any car company who is wondering why sales aren’t where they should be:

Look in our eyes. Money is harder to come by. Appreciate us, the people who pay your salary.

Celebrate the sale. The sale isn’t over when we say yes. The pick-up should be staged like a prom. Elevate the emotional energy. Make it memorable.

Explain what we bought. If your sales guys aren’t great at details, get yourself someone who loves the art of describing how a car works. Hearing “it’s in the manual” after handing over many tens of thousands of dollars doesn’t cut it.

And finally, some female perspective. We take it personally when you don’t try to connect. It’s rude. Don’t call the women who work in your back office “girls” and how about hiring even one woman on the dealership floor? And say thanks, with a smile. We say it all the time. We were brought up that way.

PS: Got a “form thank you” note emailed the next day. Dry as dust. Makes buying online look warm by comparison.


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April 19, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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