AM Online

The Big Picture: Don't ignore over 50s

What do your sales staff think when an OAP walks into the dealership? Do they hide behind their desks shuffling papers? Or do they see the pound signs? Most, I hope, see the pound signs – the grey pound, that is. Over 50s account for a staggering two-thirds of all retail car sales, yet the industry seems reluctant to sell them its products.

Research from Millennium Group, which specialises in creating advertising campaigns, is critical of all types of advertising, not just the automotive industry. But it does single out retailers, who the over 50s refer to as “pushy, dishonest and uncaring” – that image must change.

They also accuse carmakers of creating ads targeted solely at a youth market – a market which in many instances cannot afford to buy the car being promoted. It seems that little has improved since the report AM published in January 2003 – Millennium's latest research finds that older buyers still feel ignored.

Of course, the counter view to the advertising debate is that the over 50s have formed their views long ago and now cannot be sold to. Over the previous 30 years, they have built up clear preferences that override attempts by car companies to advertise their products. If true it explains, and partly justifies, the advertising stance taken by carmakers – although the over 50s still claim to be interested and influenced by TV and magazine campaigns. But it doesn't justify the apparent poor service offered to older motorists.

So what can you do? Part of the problem is down to training: sales staff – many of whom are themselves young – need to be aware that a significant slice of their monthly bonus will come from selling to the over 50s. In fact, their awareness should be even broader than that. Sales training should cover every type of demographics, including age and socio-economic group – each has its own specific needs, which must be taken into account when attempting the sale.

That's particularly pertinent considering the broadening model ranges at many carmakers. You can now buy a Volkswagen priced from £7,500 to £70,000, or go to a Mercedes-Benz dealer and look at cars priced from less than £14,000 to £90,000 (£280,000 if you include the Maybach). That brings in new types of customers that many dealer sales staff won't have seen before – among them plenty of over 50s. In fact, it's even worth considering splitting their areas of specialisation down into segments, such as city cars, mid-price and executive models, for some of the wider car ranges.

With customers arming themselves with greater information than ever before, now's an ideal time to refresh your sales staff's product knowledge. They'll appreciate it – and so will your customers.

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