02/05/2015 11:54 am ET Updated Apr 06, 2015

Marketing to Women... Who Buy Tires

As an expert on marketing to women, I find myself having a lot of conversations in my head to evaluate my own shopping experiences. A recent tire buying experience was no exception.

I was out buying one tire (the short version of a long story is that the car was in an accident and one tire was replaced so I wanted to ensure the two tires, running on the same axle, were the same). But before I purchased a new tire, I wanted to be sure that my "two tires on one axle theory" was in fact correct.

So, I looked online and found the address of our local Firestone dealer. I decided to squeeze in a visit between two appointments.

When I arrived, the person who was available to serve me was a woman. I was both pleased and surprised to see a woman selling tires in what is a male-dominated industry. My senses were heightened and I became more mindful of the sales interaction and how I felt being helped by a woman.

The sales associate greeted me immediately and was very friendly. I explained my situation to her and she suggested we take at look at the tires. She walked around the car and said the tires looked great, almost new, and not to worry about replacing any of them. So, I started to quiz her. For a start, the car had just been serviced at Toyota and so I knew the remaining three tires had 5-6/12" tread depth remaining, so even though they might look new, they are not. I also quizzed her about my axle theory. She said not to waste a perfectly good tire by replacing it.

I left feeling unsure about her responses and so I drove to American Tire, which is just a block away. The man at the counter - also friendly - said he would finish the paperwork for the previous client and then serve me. So I waited. He chatted a bit to reassure me he hadn't forgotten me. Then we took a walk to the car.

The experience was quite different. For a start, he measured the tread with a tire gauge and told me the tires had 5-6/12" of tread depth left. He was assertive and confident in the way he talked about tires, when to replace tires, where to put the new vs. old tires, etc. I asked whether to replace the second tire and he said it was best to have two tires on one axle the same - better still, to have all four the same. He drew me a diagram to show me how he would rotate the tires. I promised to return the following week to buy a tire.

As I drove off, I reflected upon the experience and organized my thoughts as follows:

1. We know that women influence about 85 percent of all purchase choices, and the auto industry is no exception. In addition, we know women buy 65 percent of all tires, and 70 percent of women will buy tires when told they need them [see my earlier blog on marketing cars to women].
2. There is absolutely no reason why women can't work in sales roles in traditionally male industries such as tires.
3. Research shows that first impressions influence our perceptions as to whether a sales person has expertise and is likeable. Organizations therefore need to be mindful of how the customer is greeted, whether eye contact is made, whether [s]he is made to feel valuable to the business, whether [s]he is listened to, etc. [I discussed this in more detail in an earlier blog on selling to women].
4. A lot of research focuses on trust in selling, but the research is conducted in B2B environments where trust is built over time. In a B2C environment, such as tires, there is no time to build trust - trust needs to be established quickly.
5. Research is conflicted as to whether women are held to a higher standard or, instead, are simply subjected to more criticism. Personally, I don't believe I held the sales associate at Firestone to a higher standard, but I am a critical consumer anyway because of my background in marketing and so I do acknowledge I was acutely aware of our interaction.
6. A recent study suggested that women feel they have to work twice as hard as men who do equivalent jobs.

To me, the gender of the person in sales or service roles is irrelevant, but trusting the person's expertise is paramount. Anyone selling me tires, man or woman, needs to reassure me that (s)he has sufficient expertise dealing with tires. Had the woman serving me at Firestone used a tire gauge to check the tread on my tires, instead of eyeballing it, I would have listened to her advice.

Instead, my doubt about her expertise led me to seek a second opinion from her competitor, who won not only my trust, but also my business. My new tire now mounted, I'm back on the road and satisfied I made the right turn.