If you’re in business, most any business, chances are that you count women among your customer base. There are the obvious examples, such as Spanx, where women clearly are the target customers, as well as the businesses that consciously court women, like Overstock.com, because they see the opportunity for increased revenue and growth.
But what about products like insurance, computer software, hardware or home loans? It might surprise you to learn that women influence a majority of these purchases and if you’re not actively soliciting their business, you’re leaving money on the table. We call this female-friendly approach, Custom “Her” Service, and it’s not nearly as time-intensive as it sounds. In fact, it’s a smart way to earn business from your male customers too.
Throw out gender assumptions
The first time we purchased a home, my husband and I were referred to a banker by a trusted business associate. We scheduled a meeting and I compiled an expandable folder full of everything we might need.
In our home we divide work based on talent, which means my husband cooks and I handle the finances. But the lender was determined to remain tradition-bound in his approach. The first and only time he looked at me was when he offered us each a chair. From that point forward he directed all of his questions to my husband, who would then look to me for a response. I would provide the lender with an answer and he would then question my husband further. After about ten minutes of this dance we decided to leave. By refusing to see the customer sitting right in front of him, that lender lost a fat commission.
Are you treating everyone who comes into contact with your business with the same level of interest and respect, or are you making some assumptions that might be adversely affecting your sales?
Make comparison shopping easy
If you offer products or services from several brands, interactive tools or literature can help your customers make an informed decision. Even if you represent one product line or service, you should know how it stacks up against that of your competitors, and create your own comparison sheet. Best Buy has a convenient tool on its site that allows you to select similar products, such as laptops or digital cameras, to compare side-by-side. Progressive provides car insurance quotes from three of their top competitors. Yes, women are busy, but the vast majority will invest the time necessary to make the right choice. Help make that process faster and easier and you’ll walk away with the sale.
Keep in touch with relevant information (even – especially - when there’s not a direct sales opportunity)
After my lending fiasco I was referred to a mortgage broker who provides me with such wonderful service that I’m happy to pay a bit more for it. Not only does she keep in touch when rates change enough that refinancing might be in order, but she forwards me relevant articles on general financial topics, like identity theft or end of year tax tips.
Recently I responded to an email she sent about my home equity line. After discussing my situation further she suggested I call the lender directly to see if I could lock in a rate. I ended up staying with what I have, but I appreciated having a professional at my disposal with whom I could discuss ideas. Gayle makes me feel like there’s another set of eyes looking out for our interests, which is why I’ve referred at least five friends to her, and why I won’t do business with a lender directly just to save a few bucks.
For ideas that translate to a retail environment, REI offers free triathlon training and paddling seminars that build community and trust, inspiring their customers to get out and play. Where do you think these women are going to go when it’s time to outfit themselves for their next outdoor adventure.
Ask for feedback
This one is so easy and takes minimal effort, yet so few businesses take advantage of the huge opportunity to be gained just by asking their customers what they want. Comment cards under the counter or a feedback tab hidden at the bottom of your website don’t count.
Select a few times a year when you actively invite customers to tell you how you could serve them better. Email a survey about your business to your list, perhaps with an incentive attached. Solicit business-to-business success stories or host an informal gathering of customers and potential customers to float ideas about new product lines.
When asked, women are often more than happy to share their opinion. When not asked, they may share it anyway, just not with you. Be open to hearing the good, the bad and the ugly about what you provide and then thank them for the opportunity to make it better. Even if some changes can’t be implemented right away or exactly as recommended they’ll appreciate the interest and effort. From a business standpoint, you may uncover your next great marketing opportunity. Samsung came up with its DuoCam, the first two-lens digital camera and camcorder, based on the feedback of female customers who didn’t want to lug two cameras around to record “life events.” Don’t pressure yourself or your staff to come up with your next great idea. Let your custom-hers do it for you.
About Tami Anderson and Elizabeth Howland
Tami Anderson and Elizabeth Howland co-founded andHow Marketing, and have 35 years combined experience marketing to women across a variety of consumer goods and services.