The Polarisation of Customers

The Polarisation of Customers

Customers have always been different. We, as an industry, treat people very much as individuals, but we at Martec think a new, distinctive trend is emerging when it comes to car-buying with customers in one of either two camps: they either know what they want or they have no idea.

Our teams spend their working days either on the phone to dealers, analysing calls for dealers or training dealer staff, so we have our ear to the ground and, interestingly, over the past year, our customer, you, have been saying the same thing: that you have never seen customers fall so readily into two opposing groups.

Customers seem to be well and truly polarising and most by far can be found at one of the two extremes: they either:

  1. know the exact make and model and the funding method, having undertaken wide-ranging research online and are looking for their order to be fulfilled, or,
  2. having researched potential vehicles online, they feel overwhelmed and confused with all the choices and would like some expert help.

Sales executives that recognise both types of customer and treat them both accordingly, remembering that both are likely to buy, always sell more.

The Decided Customer

This person can come across as unfriendly and impatient. They may have spent hours researching their product and have mostly made their decision already. All you need to do is fulfil it – quickly, efficiently and with minimum fuss. These customers are less interested in your sales patter and they will probably not respond well if you try and convince them another model is more suitable. Not to begin with at least. The decided customer is likely to have amassed huge amounts of product knowledge which can be off-putting for sales executives who are accustomed to, for want of another phrase, being in the driving seat when it comes to the sales process. The decided customer can appear factual and unemotional which could easily be mistaken for disinterest or for a company car driver who just wants a quick look and a test drive.

The key here is to not make hasty judgements or to become defensive. In fact, this customer is really easy to manage. Be polite, professional and deliver the goods. Make sure you keep in touch though as this person will want to be certain you’ve covered all bases and to be kept well and truly in the loop, even if your update is no different to the one you provided last week.

Interestingly, a study ( ) by a Stanford team of researchers supports the view that once a person has made up their mind, the research they subsequently undertake, simply serves to reinforce the decision they already made. This concept is well known in the fields of social science and is called ‘biased assimilation’ which is basically an intellectual way of saying that once you’ve made a decision you will take on board all evidence which supports your point of view and subconsciously discredit anything you find to the contrary.

The Undecided Customer

So this is the person who quite literally does not know which way to turn. All they are sure about is the need to replace their car. Whether it’s new or used, let alone, the make and model is quite another matter. They will obviously have set criteria, such as budget and whether they want a supermini or a sports car or if they need a vehicle which easily transports the trappings of their lifestyle whether that’s a surf board, dogs or kids. But that’s just about as far as it goes. With only a vague idea of their choice, they will have taken to the internet seeking clarity and ended up overwhelmed. What happens is they accumulate more and more information which leads to more confusion. So, they pick up the phone or turn up on site hoping that someone with precise knowledge will very helpfully point them in the right direction.

The mistake many sales executives make is to dismiss these types of customers as hard work. That’s the worst thing they can do. Don’t misinterpret their indecisiveness as a sign they are not serious, they just need help.These individuals need gentle guidance, they want you to impart your clear knowledge, apply it to their circumstances and for you to show them the car which meets all those requirements.  Provide these people with genuine advice, exemplary service and take the time to understand their motoring requirements and you could well gain a customer for life.

A Newsweek article based on information and research from the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University ( ) sums up the conundrum quite nicely and it’s even given a name – ‘info paralysis’. “The booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret. It has shown that an unconscious system guides many of our decisions, and that it can be sidelined by too much information,” the article informs us.

The last word

Perhaps what’s most interesting about these two customer extremes is that dealers are reporting they are not seeing too many people in the middle of the spectrum. Being faced with two very different types of customers can be a little disconcerting for sales executives expecting to follow a set format. Instead, dealers need to put their preconceptions to one side and treat all potential customers as genuine whether they call, email, post on social media or turn up on site unannounced. They then need to provide advice and guidance if required and if it’s not; a validation of the decision made followed by a professional service will be the order of the day.

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