Building emotional connections in the automotive buyer journey

Buying a car tends to be considered as more of a rational purchase, which means it’s the head that rules the heart. The customer wants to secure the best deal possible, in what is normally a significant financial commitment. But emotional factors have a much bigger influence than many people think – or perhaps, more than they’d like to admit.


Purchasing a car, especially if it’s a first car or an upgrade on the car it’s replacing, can mark a significant milestone in a person’s life. It can evoke strong feelings of excitement and self-fulfilment, on a par with buying an engagement ring or a first house. Salespeople can add to that excitement, so it’s important for you to engage with the buyer’s emotions and build a bond with them throughout their purchasing journey.

This blog takes a look at some of the science behind ‘emotion’ within car sales, and what you can do to connect with your customers better than ever before.

Driving desire

Across all types of retail, emotion plays a major role in influencing people’s purchasing. A Harvard professor in the United States has suggested that 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious, which means that rational thought is generally taking a back seat.

Cars stand out as a particularly emotive purchase because so many people simply enjoy driving, especially in a car that they own and that they’re proud of. Nielsen research has found that among existing car owners in Europe, emotion is just as important as financial considerations when it comes to buying a new car, and is a higher priority than utility or social status.

When a customer walks into a dealership, often they have already made up their mind as to what they are buying – so it’s likely they’re looking to you as a salesperson to evoke the feelings of enjoyment they’re seeking. They’re also looking for affirmation that they’re doing the right thing. While confidence is cited by Martec research as the most common emotion car buyers feel, fear and discomfort are second and third on the list.

That’s why it’s essential for salespeople to build up trust with a customer, to dispel their fears and instil some confidence in their purchasing. A salesperson who doesn’t put in the time and effort needed to form an emotional bond, and takes a much colder and transactional approach to the buyer journey, will find it much harder to gain that trust. It’s not enough to tell a buyer they’re doing the right thing – they need to feel they’re doing the right thing.

Connecting with buyers

So, how can you go about building these emotional connections? Firstly, it’s important to recognize that every customer is different, so not all emotional triggers will have the same impact. Nevertheless, there are four common behaviours that all prospective buyers will value in a salesperson:

  • Responsiveness: customers need to feel that you’re there for them when they need you. That means being approachable and easily contactable, whether face-to-face at the dealership, by phone or through digital means. And it means showing patience in dealing with all their questions – no matter how trivial some may seem.
  • Transparency: cars are a major purchase and the process of doing so can be complex. Being honest and up-front about all information, at every step of the journey, can help counter some of the wariness customers may have about ‘stereotypical’ car salespeople.
  • Flexibility: customers are always prepared to up sticks and shop elsewhere if they don’t feel they’re getting a good deal, or even if they’re having to work hard to drive a bargain. A proactive approach to discounts and extras can demonstrate that you’re on their side and willing to negotiate.
  • Reliability: a big part of trust is being a person of your word, and never letting a customer down through broken promises, for example on delivery delays or overlooked spec requests. That’s why it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the other way round.

Of course, all this advice should be taken in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has totally transformed how car salespeople interact with customers. A move towards more digitized and less physical contact makes building that bond harder, but it’s by no means impossible. A clear, user-friendly website (that works just as well on a mobile), comprehensive online content, social media engagement, and high-quality video that gives customers a true perspective of a car, all have vital roles to play.

That way, you can go beyond putting the right customers in the right cars, and become the sales person who they recommend to friends and family – and come back to for their next purchase.

For more tips on how you can use video in your sales processes, take a look at our How2CitNOW video series on YouTube.