Tips on effectively selling to women.

Men and women are different; not only in the physical sense, but in the way they socialize, react, shop, communicate and make decisions. OK, so this is not news. But what you may not realize is that women make or influence 80-85 percent of all consumer purchases in this country, including cars, sports equipment, life insurance and plumbing and heating equipment.

As a businessperson providing services to homeowners, this is a significant piece of information for you and your company.

“If very serious misunderstandings occur in personal relationships where men and women know each other well, it should come as no surprise that significant misunderstandings occur between salesmen and women who hardly know each other at all,” says Sharon Roberts, sales consultant and author of “Selling to Women and Couples: Secrets of Selling in the New Millennium.” She presented her insights to members of Quality Service Contractors at its Power Meeting XX in Scottsdale, Ariz. in March.

Other facts you may not know about women are:

  • 80 percent of all checks written in the United States are signed by women.

  • 47 percent of all stockholders are women.

  • 40 percent of households with assets more than $600,000 are headed by women.

  • By 2005, about 70 million women will work, comprising 55 percent of the workforce.

  • Also by 2005, 50 percent of all businesses will be owned by women, and 4.7 million will be self-employed.
By changing the way you sell to women, you can increase your sales by 30 percent, Roberts says.

What's Different About It?

Women approach sales situations warily because most of their experiences have been negative, Roberts notes. Ask your wife, daughter, mother, girlfriend or significant other about her experiences buying a car - bet it wasn't a pleasant experience. Women react very strongly to such negative behavior. I took my brother-in-law along when I bought my last car, and it was an excruciating ordeal. I didn't like the way I was treated, and I haven't been back. Not even for the free car washes!

While men may respect women in certain circumstances, many do not respect them as decision makers, even though women make most of the buying decisions today. How often do women call your business to report a plumbing problem or schedule maintenance service?

And what about that awful question, “Are you the head of the household?” Do you ask men the same question? If she's making the phone call or the office visit, you can safely assume she's got input into the decision. It's 2004, not 1954.

“Women are used to salesmen treating them in a condescending or patronizing manner,” she says. “They are listening to what the salesman says, while taking in tone of voice, body language and facial expression. Women keep their guard up until they determine they can trust the salesman.”

And trust is the critical element here: Women enter a buying/selling situation with the intent of establishing a long-term relationship, not a one-time deal, Roberts explains. That is especially true in service situations, such as with the car mechanic, plumber or heating technician.

Women also ask a lot of questions during the information-gathering stage; they need to have all the facts before them to make a good decision, an informed decision. “Often salesmen seem to be focused on making a quick sale rather than asking questions so they can provide meaningful information,” she says. “Salesmen will be successful if they become knowledgeable, interested consultants who ask questions to gain detailed insight to learn exactly what the woman's needs are.”

Don't anticipate what a woman wants or needs; really listen to her as she explains her situation, keep good eye contact and don't interrupt. Use an honest, direct approach.

Roberts says that many salesmen believe the only way to sell to women is to talk about feelings or relationships, but not about how the product works, lower operating costs, warranties, maintenance, safety features, environmental issues and financing options. Women do care about how something looks and the comfort factor, but warranty and maintenance information is just as important to them. When explaining how equipment works or the benefits of certain features, use language she will understand, not technical jargon.

When it comes time to talk price, most women don't like to negotiate. Maybe at the garage sale down the street or the local antiques fair, but not when purchasing a major appliance or repair service. Give her your best price; the same one you would give to a man. (This is where flat rate pricing comes in handy.)

Women are interested in long-term relationships with companies, so they notice whether your place of business is neat and clean, as well as your servicemen who come to their door. They appreciate when you let them know what type of vehicle your technician will be driving, what the tech looks like and what he'll be wearing. They appreciate your efforts to keep their houses clean by putting down runners, putting booties over their work shoes, and cleaning up after themselves.

“These 'little' things speak volumes about you and your business,” she says. “Businesses that treat women the way they like to be treated will flourish even in difficult economic times. Women are loyal customers.” They also want to know about any conveniences you have, such as 24-hour service, 800 numbers, credit cards and financing.

Making The Buying Decision

The female decision process is different than that of men, but that doesn't make it wrong. Our brains process information differently, that's all. Women take a “big picture” approach, weighing facts as well as personal aspects, Roberts explains. Men make decisions on facts and separate themselves from the personal. Women take longer to make a decision because of the number of items to take into account, which frustrates men because they view these personal aspects as silly.

Don't make that mistake as a salesman, or you'll lose the sale for sure. Women do their homework; they shop around to make the best decision. They also like to include others in the decision, maybe a husband or other family members that will be directly affected by the decision. They highly value other points of view.

Women may work through the decision process out loud; men silently mull over the facts. Just listen while she goes through her process, and ask appropriate questions.

They also use a “nonsequential” approach in seeking information, Roberts says. “Women tend to approach the problem at hand from several directions while applying information from a variety of sources. By contrast, men tend to approach the problem in one area while applying a very sequenced approach to arrive at a decision.”

If you think a woman is scatterbrained because of her approach to decision making and try to “focus” her on the problem, that's a “death knell” to the sales process, she says. “The woman is working through the decision process in a way that is very normal to her; ironically, she may be fighting the urge to snap her fingers and tell the salesman to 'keep up.'”

When they've considered all the information, and the feelings of the other people involved, then they will make a decision.

Some men say that this process takes too long; it wastes too much of their time that could be better spent elsewhere. If you share this view, be prepared to write off 50 percent or more of your potential market, Roberts says.

The Women's Network

When four or five women are standing around talking, most men assume they are “gossiping.” Not so, Roberts states. Most likely they are networking about their buying experiences.

Women do like to share personal experiences, but they also relate buying experiences. That car dealership I don't like? I've told everyone I know looking to buy a car not to go to that dealership.

“When a woman finds a business that treats her well, she will share that information will all her friends and family,” Roberts explains. “When she is treated badly, she will definitely share this information also. This is referred to as the 'women's hidden network'.”

Men might be amazed about how much women talk about their buying experiences; it is a “top priority” discussion topic. In fact, they don't usually buy on the first call unless they have a recommendation from a friend. “They frequently discuss the buying experience from getting bids, going to showrooms, interviewing potential contractors, to installation and follow-up,” she says. “How they are treated will be a significant part of the discussion.”

And women highly value recommendations from friends and family, especially when calling a plumber, a mechanical service tech, or any other service person that would be entering her house.

“The woman's network is a powerful communication force that can send your sales crashing or skyrocketing,” she adds. “What is the network saying about you or your company?”

Selling To Couples

When selling to couples, remember that women have an influential role in the various stages of the buying/selling process, Roberts notes. Many times they are the information gatherers, locating and selecting potential candidates to buy products and services from. It is critical to treat women with respect during the “screening” phase, even if she and her husband or significant other will be making the buying decision together. Offend her, and your company won't even be considered for the job.

  • Do not ask questions such as “Are you the head of the household?” or “Will your husband be there?” This is a tell-tale clue that you do not consider her to be a decision maker. “Most women view these questions as a clear sign of condescension,” Roberts says. “This is a serious mistake that often stops the chance of a sale immediately. You will be yet another salesman who treated her as if she didn't have a brain.”

  • Even if she tells you she is just gathering information and that her husband will be making the decision, don't underestimate her influence. Her husband may make the ultimate decision, but it will be based on information she gives him.

  • In a face-to-face meeting with the couple: hand both of them a business card at the same time; make eye contact with her; talk to her about all the issues, not just the incidentals such as color; and make confirming statements to her just as you do for him.

  • The woman may not say much during the meeting. If that is the case, it's usually because she understands the awkward position her husband would be in if he was perceived not “in control” of the meeting. That does not mean she's disengaged from the decision process.

    >li>Nonverbal signals that she is uncomfortable: tightly clenched hands, ring twirling, hand wringing, hand rubbing back of neck, locked ankles. When you see any of these warning signals, take stock of what you are doing. You may be inadvertently ignoring her.

  • Of course, she may be uncomfortable with something her husband has said. She may have steady, unwavering eye contact with him, then slightly turn away from him. This is a good time to “look for more literature” and give them a few minutes alone, Roberts says.