Selling to Millennials: Avoid These 5 Misconceptions

I’ve been in the car business as long as some millennials have been alive, and I’ve never lost my love for it. Why? Because it’s a business of connections, and connections energize me. I love figuring out what makes people buy, how that changes, and how I have to change accordingly. And I have to say, I’ve never seen so much opportunity for lasting and game-changing connections than I do right now with today’s millennials. They’re the very faces of the age of connectivity, and yet the many ways they’re misunderstood are creating disconnects with the dealerships I talk to every day. So let’s clear the air, right here and now.

There are about 74 million millennials out there; that’s close in size to the boomers—a generation that fueled the auto industry for decades. If you think millennials are impossible to understand, communicate with, or sell to, I have two responses: You’re wrong and You have to.

But if that’s how you feel, you’re not alone. There are a lot of misconceptions about this major market segment, and the sooner you set the record straight, the sooner you can get down to business. Your business won’t be much of a business if millennials won’t buy from you.

The following are five things to stop thinking about twentysomethings—also known as your next buyer.

1. They’re like we were when we were that age.

Wrong. Whatever age you are now, if you’re not a millennial, you grew up in an entirely different time and place. Their world is technology dependent and their time is real time; it’s unlike anything we imagined at that age.

So how do you handle this from a sales perspective? First, you have to resist the temptation to blend millennials in with the rest of your market; their vast numbers don’t make them any less unique. It makes them uniquely powerful. You want them segmented appropriately in your customer relationship management, and you want your sales team prepared with tools and tactics that will work with this group—approaches that aren’t going to be the tried and true.

2. They have better things to talk about than my business.

Far from true! This is a group that writes reviews, and reads reviews diligently before considering next steps in the purchase process. They value peer approval, so they influence each other tremendously. Trust me, they’re talking about you. Make sure your online reputation passes the test; if they don’t take it for granted, you shouldn’t either.

3. They’re young and impulsive.

That’s half true. But if you think they don’t weigh their purchase decisions because they’re youthful, you’re wrong. Generally speaking, regardless of age, time spent shopping for cars has dropped—from 17.5 hours in 2011 to 15.5 hours in 2014. But millennials consistently shop more than average by two hours. They’re on third-party sites more than any other market segment. And they’re not sitting down to do it; they’re researching on the go, whenever they want. They might even use two devices at once to compare their options. Your listings have to be easily navigable on mobile devices, so create directions to your dealership and anything else they’re likely to look for while doing their homework.

4. They’re not ready to commit.

False. I believe millennials earned the reputation for being disloyal because they judge fast and act even faster—if you don’t shoot straight with them in the sales process, they’re gone. But if you work with them the right way, they’re likely to stay loyal to your business. Accept and embrace the fact that this generation demands transparency, and give it to them. After all, they’re doing their homework—they’ll know the instant anything doesn’t match up.

5. They have poor social skills.

This is a common misconception, probably due to how millennials seem to be head down, buried in their phones. Don’t be fooled—they do detach themselves; it’s just that you fit into their lives in one way and one way only—through their phones and tablets. The numbers prove it: More than half of them would have a negative impression of a brand after a bad mobile experience, compared to only a third of all age groups. Give them a positive experience and you’ll be in good standing.

Millennials are here in big numbers, they’re buying, and they’re buying well. This is not a market segment to be wrong about. Do it right, and you’ve got a booming generation of buyers at your disposal—buyers you understand, connect with, and communicate to—even if your competitors can’t.

Sean Stapleton is the vice president of sales and marketing for VinSolutions, a Cox Automotive company. Sean is a highly regarded sales leader, a published author in many top automotive trade magazines, and a respected speaker. He’s been in the automotive software industry for 15 years and has cofounded multiple automotive software companies.

Sean Stapleton

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