Nearly 30 million single women own their own homes today, and they are buying them at twice the rate of single men. More than 57 percent of single women are homeowners with no male to rely on for fixing things around the home. Women spend 50 percent more on home improvements than men do. In addition, women decide on 91 percent of all houses purchased, 94 percent of all home furnishings and 80 percent of all home-improvement projects.
The Harvard Business Review called this the “female economy” (September 2009). Time magazine called it the “sheconomy” (Nov. 22, 2010). Whatever you call it, women are in a stronger position than ever to influence household spending. Selling to women is not the same as selling to men, but if you use the techniques that work well with women, you won’t hurt your sales to men.
Women decide whom to use for a remodeling project much differently than men. Women do more research and consult their friends, family and associates more than men do. You may make the perfect pitch to her, but you may still lose the job if you trip up in ways you may find hard to grasp. Men can be very objective about choosing a contractor while women can be more subjective, taking into account very different considerations than just the final result.
Here are seven things you may want to remember when you are trying to persuade a woman, or a couple, to use you instead of your competition:
1. The first impression is critical
When you first meet your prospect, whether it is at your showroom or at her home, she will make a quick judgment about your professionalism. Do you dress neatly? Does your showroom give a good impression of your products and/or services? If you have to blow the dust off a sample or hunt for a catalog, she’s not going to think you’re attentive to details. If she sees a dirty or unattractive vehicle arrive in her driveway, she will probably presume the same will be true of your impact on her home. If you have earned special accolades for your business, such as being WomenCertified, which is a program administered by WomanCertified.com that identifies companies that meet the higher standards of women consumers, make sure she knows it.
2. Get a grip on your handshake
Yes, your handshake will say a lot to her. She’s not looking to get her hand crushed, but she wants to feel respected. Give her a firm handshake that wouldn’t bruise a banana. Don’t give her a nothing grip or a two-finger and thumb squeeze. If you meet her along with her husband/partner, do not reach past her to shake his hand first unless you have more work than you can handle.
If you give only one card to a couple, give it to her. She will remember you gave her that additional level of respect. (Give him one, too, to make him feel important.)
3. The eyes have it
Women like eye contact. Men don’t notice. If you give them equal amounts of eye contact, she will actually think you gave him more attention. Look her in the eyes as much as you can. Again, this kind of thing registers with women. They appreciate respect from men, especially in a matter where they are often overlooked.
4. Pay attention
It often is easy to launch into a preset pitch, but when selling to women it is best to start with a question: How can I help you? What do you have in mind? What do you want to accomplish? Then, be prepared for a story. Women are likely to tell you a lot more than what they expect you to accomplish. You might hear about problems with kids, in-laws, getting things done or just what’s bugging her about how someone else got what she wants. Listen. This is not the time to jump in with your solution. Wait until she’s done. Before you begin speaking, I recommend you count to four (to yourself). Women hate to be interrupted and if you start too soon, she may think she didn’t get to finish.
5. Show her you were listening
While she is talking, give her some indication that you are paying attention. It doesn’t take much more than a nod or a simple word of encouragement like “OK” or “I see.” When she is finished (1-2-3-4), let her know you’ve been listening by giving her a summary of what you’ve gathered from her description.
“OK, let me see if I have this right: You are looking to accommodate your in-laws when they visit, so you want to explore options about adding a room and bath, but they don’t like stairs.” Pay attention to the words she chooses and repeat them back to her. If she refers to her TV room, then don’t refer to it as her family room. A closet is a pantry if she calls it that.
6. Can we agree?
Contrary to what you may think, women are not always looking for someone to tell them what the solution is. They would prefer someone help them arrive at the right decision. Together, work out the advantages and disadvantages, and they will be comfortable with the outcome. If she is involved in creating the solution, she will be more accepting of the end result. Give her a set of alternatives, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. Let her reach a good choice, even if it is not your preference.
If she balks at making a decision on the spot, don’t follow the prevailing sales wisdom that once you or she leave, the sale is lost. If she says she wants to think about it, it generally means just that. It also gives her an opportunity to discuss her decision with others; women are not resistant to asking others for help with decisions.
7. Who do you know?
Women are natural referral machines. They like to talk. Studies have shown that women use far more words in a typical day than men do. They are compelled to help each other do the best job of raising a family, creating a happy home and making life easier, so they share everything they can. Women are five times as likely to spread the word about the products and services they have purchased. That includes the ones they like and the ones they don’t like. Make them happy and they will tell friends, family and associates. Make them unhappy and they will tell everyone, even strangers.
Don’t be shy about asking her who she knows that might be interested in your services or products. She may already be thinking of someone. If you have been attentive to her and shown her respect, even if she didn’t choose to work with you, she may be willing to recommend you to someone else.
Delia Passi is founder and chief executive officer of Medelia Inc., the provider of the WomenCertified program (WomenCertified.com) . She also is the author of Winning the Toughest Customer, the Essential Guide to Selling to Women. She can be reached at 866-937-6996