Illustration of woman with a car in a shopping cart

My New Car Buying Experience

-by Sally Whitesell for AutoSuccess Magazine

The glaring mistakes of a well-intentioned sales team.

I was excited about buying a nice new car, but like many of your clients, I was dreading the process. As a service advisor trainer who specializes in teaching the differences between selling to women vs. men, I’m in car dealerships all the time. However, since I have limited exposure to the sales departments, I can offer my story as a fresh, and hopefully helpful perspective.

It was raining and 59 degrees in Florida. That’s like a blizzard to you northerners, so this is an indicator that I meant serious business! My financing was prepared, and I was determined to leave the dealership with my shiny new car. I didn’t yet have the exact model picked out, but I had done the research to narrow my choices, and I carried a list of my “must have” features.

First mistake: I was not directed to the right person.

While doing my research, I had contacted several dealerships through their websites. Some of them followed up, but many did not. A nice young man I’ll call “Kevin” responded to my inquiry. I told Kevin what I had in mind, and that I would be coming in Saturday for a test drive. After hearing my list of “must haves,” he assured me he had two of the cars I was looking for on his lot.

Once I arrived at the store, I completely blanked on Kevin’s name. (Cut me some slack here, I’m over f..…never mind!) A salesman approached me, and I let him know I had spoken to someone in internet sales, but couldn’t remember his name. “It doesn’t matter,” he responded, “those guys get enough leads!”

This new salesman (I’ll call him “Jim”) made no effort to find out to whom I had spoken. So besides being slightly embarrassed, I was now inconvenienced because I was starting all over again. But still, I was determined to proceed.

Just a few minutes later, Kevin approached me with a defeated look because I didn’t ask for him by name. I wanted to crawI under a rock, I felt so horrible! Should your clients be made to feel this way? Jim probably could have found Kevin with just a little investigating.

Second Mistake: My salesman didn’t listen to my “wants.”

Jim and I had a nice conversation as he started trying to build rapport. He was a very nice man but he was not listening to the clues I was giving him about my needs in a vehicle. Determined to take matters into my own hands, I asked him if we could go out (in the rain) and walk the lot, another huge indicator that I am serious! Instead of leading me to vehicles that fit my list of “must haves,” we wandered aimlessly around the lot while he complained about the weather. Believe me, I knew it was raining and cold!

Finally, we came upon a vehicle that had most of my wish list, but it was missing the leather interior and heated seats. Yes, you read that right. Heated seats in Florida. What can I say? I like to be warm while the air conditioner is blowing! Jim assured me that they could change the interior out for me and it would be like new. Really? Change the entire interior? I must have looked like I just fell off the turnip truck! I decided to play along, so we took it for a drive. I drove right past the dealership I intended to visit once this test drive was finished!

Third Mistake: My salesman wasn’t knowledgeable about his inventory.

I have to admit, Jim did a great job on the test drive, pointing out features that I didn’t even know existed. I thought the car was “acceptable” even though it didn’t have all my “must haves,” so I decided it couldn’t hurt to see what I could get for my trade-in just in case I decided to lower my standards. While I was waiting in Jim’s office, another salesman stuck his head in and asked what I was buying. I told him I wasn’t buying because they didn’t have what I was looking for. He asked to see my list of must haves, and then said… are you ready for this?…wait for it…


WHAT? Are you kidding me? Why didn’t Jim lead me to the right car? Wouldn’t he have checked the inventory that morning? Wouldn’t new car availability have been discussed in their morning kick-off meeting? Did they even have a morning meeting? Do you?

Now I have to admit that I appreciate the teamwork of another salesman stepping in to help, but I saw the look on Jim’s face when he realized what had transpired. He suddenly snapped to attention and it took all of five minutes to find my perfect car.

Why had Jim wasted my time on the wrong car? I was very clear about what I wanted. I even had a list! Was the car I test drove just one they needed to get off the lot? I was ticked, but Jim seemed like a nice guy and I am a woman, and you and I both know that (most) women do not like confrontation. So we moved back into the office to see if we could agree to a deal on my car. Don’t miss the lesson there:

Most women will not speak up (to you)
about poor service unless they are pushed to a breaking point.

I didn’t speak up to Jim that day. But you better believe I told all my friends the next day! And now I am telling all of you, so watch out! Besides telling all their friends, women are three times more likely to fill out surveys and write reviews.

Fourth Mistake: My salesman treated me like a close friend instead of like a client.

Once we returned to the office, Jim needed to get all of my information to start negotiations. He was pleasant, but exceptionally casual and would often stop typing to talk. I understand this to a point, (I do training on body language too!) but after 90 minutes I was ready to close the deal and drive off into the thunderstorm. My time is important and I wasn’t there to make a lifelong friend, but a major purchase.

As the process continued Jim made another huge mistake, one that I always address in my service advisor training. He started sharing personal information such as his knee pain, past surgeries, stitches, family issues and the fact that he had been in this business waaaaay too long to which I agreed. I even heard about his over-developed daughter (which included hand gestures) and how he had to “watch that one!” I began to look for hidden cameras because I knew this couldn’t be real! When is this ever appropriate to share with a client, especially a female?

Fifth Mistake: They didn’t offer me refreshments.

Three hours of my day had now passed. At this point, I made an excuse to leave for about 45 minutes to get something to eat and drink as nothing had been offered to me. The heavenly smell of the hot pizza that had been delivered for the sales team had put me over the edge. While I was out, I stopped in another dealership to look at a car I had been considering, but lucky for the first store, I had fallen in love with “my” car in spite of their lack of communication, knowledge, and respect for my time.

Sixth Mistake: The process was way too long.

After my much needed break, I decided I was ready to go back and close this deal. I arrived to find out that there had been computer issues and my paperwork was just getting started. I understand computer glitches happen, but between Jim’s lack of knowledge regarding his inventory, this delay, and a very long clean up, by the time I drove off the lot, it was closing time. I had walked into this dealership over SEVEN hours ago. This is completely unacceptable!

I didn’t write this to complain about our industry. I know we have a lot of great, well-trained professionals. I wrote this article hoping that we can all learn from these mistakes so our clients can enjoy shopping in our stores rather than turning to the internet. I am encouraging managers and dealers at all levels to be aware of how knowledgeable your sales team is regarding their inventory, how well they listen to their clients, how long guests are in your store, and how they’re treated while they’re there.

Sometimes even the best professionals can forget that everyone who comes through our door should be treated with as much respect as a guest in our home, and as someone whose time is valuable. We should be developing our sales team’s hosting ability as much as their sales ability because they are both equally important.

One final mistake: My salesman ignored my extended hand because he wanted a hug. UGH!

No one in your dealership should be initiating hugs with your clients. This is a personal gesture and breaks the golden rule of respecting personal space. If the customer reaches out for a hug, then go with it, but otherwise keep it professional.

Why women buy cars from their salesperson

Anne Fleming, president of, offers us the following statistics regarding women’s top 5 reasons for buying a car from their salesperson: 

1. Trust  52.3%
2. Being Respectful  52.1%
3. Likeable  47.8%
4. Knowledgeable  45.6%
5. Understanding  40.6%

(Percentages add up to over 100% because reviewers could submit multiple answers.)

Coming in at 34% was the “price of the vehicle.” Clearly, connection and relationship (minus the hugs!) outrank price.

How do you think my dealership stacked up in these areas? The bigger question is: HOW DOES YOURS?

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