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Chapter One: Customizing for Consumer Gender
Consumers in the United States are more demanding, knowledgeable, worldly, and difficult to please than ever. People of all ages, of both genders, of different races, ethnicity, and religions, in non-traditional occupations and roles are buying products and services they have never bought before. There are hundreds of emerging trends among and between customers that will challenge the sales professional of the future as never before.
The tendency of men and women to change, merge, and separate as consumers is the number one trend, ripe for the attention of smart sales professionals. Changing demographics in the United States related to women and men, their occupations and careers and their roles and responsibilities at home and at work, have dramatically altered the customer base for a broad variety of products and services. Many buyers of traditionally "male" products in the U.S. marketplace are now women, while more and more men are buying what were once considered "female" products and services.
For example, male engineers and computer nerds aren't the only people buying modems and laptops. Housewives, househusbands, interior designers, architects, retail store owners, and home-based business owners are all getting in line and online. Men are buying household appliances, groceries, and their own clothes. They are purchasing plastic surgery, facials, and manicures. They're buying single-parent houses and the Oriental rugs and artwork to go with them. Meanwhile, women are buying office buildings, stocks, and cigars. They are playing golf and joining country clubs. They are purchasing business travel and disability insurance.
A large number of business equipment customers are now at home instead of in high-rises -- either telecommuting or conducting home-based businesses. These are people who need fax machines, phones, modems, and computers. (Will the old Fuller Brush salesperson be replaced by the door-to-door business equipment sales pro?) Many of these home-based businesses are female-owned, and their main contact with the world of commerce is through their computer.
Small and large businesses are trying to catch up or stay ahead of all the changes in the marketplace: changes in products, in services, in target markets, and in customers. A print shop owner was stunned to see his customer base move from 100 percent male purchasers to more than 80 percent female purchasers in less than three years. He was not prepared for this change and didn't have the needed sales skills. He is still trying to adapt.
In contrast, BMW leaped ahead of its competitors by taking advantage of changing trends. The market for BMWs is no longer white men between thirty-five and fifty. It is women as well, both young and old. This change was anticipated and orchestrated. BMW was ready for the leap in the percentage of female buyers because it foresaw the changes in male and female roles, interests, and lifestyles.
A new monthly publication, Connect Time, is distributed through local newspapers. The news magazine format which is focused on people, is colorful, warm, and friendly. The stated goal is to put a human face on technology. In our opinion, the magazine is aimed at the female population of recreational computer users, but its editor says the target market is people intimidated by the Internet who would like a more comfortable relationship with it. The editor said that more men suffer from Internet phobia than women. Talk about a niche market!
Gender -- the Big Difference Between Customers
All these dramatic changes point strongly to the need for distinct approaches to marketing, advertising, and selling to the two genders. We all know that men and women are different -- in the way we look and think, in the way we talk and behave, in the way we use computers and grills, in our TV preferences, in our favorite vacation spots, and even in our food choices. We can usually laugh about some of our most common differences even if they also seem to fit a stereotype. For example, many men refuse to ask for directions; women often cry at the drop of a hat.
Because men and women are different as shoppers and buyers, and because they are different types of communicators, they want to be treated differently by salespeople. One size never fits all, nor does one sales approach work equally well with men and women. For example, I (Judy) see tremendous differences in the way my husband and I shop. Although neither of us necessarily epitomizes the average man and woman, our specific gender differences are probably representative of the majority in certain aspects of the purchasing process.
For example, Mike enjoys buying a car in one day. He puts aside the entire afternoon to negotiate the deal. He has done all the research ahead of time, without benefit of any relationship with a salesperson or any test drive in the desired model. He generally knows what he wants and goes to buy it. He enjoys the gamesmanship of the bargaining process. It is a competitive challenge to negotiate with the salesperson and to get a great deal. He is focused on the task at hand and enjoys the traditional haggling process.
In contrast, I see the car-buying process as potentially a month-long adventure. I like to look at all kinds of cars, to drive a variety of models, to think and talk about and savor the shopping, culminating in a final decision after lengthy conversations with friends and family.
We usually approach the whole process of buying differently, regardless of what product or service we are purchasing. Some of these differences may have to do with personality and experience, but in most cases they stem from the fact that he's a man and I'm a woman.
Other couples often notice gender differences when shopping for clothes. Occasionally Patti's husband, Pete, will go with her to the mall. He goes only when he thinks the trip will be short and Patti wants his opinion on a particular special item: a suit, dress, or bathing suit, perhaps. Pete heads straight for the rack where Patti's size is, pulls out the item in the color she says she wants, and proclaims, "Here it is. This is just what you wanted, and I like it. Try it on." "Let's go" is the unspoken follow-up.
Inevitably, even if the dress or suit fits perfectly and is in the right price range, Patti wants to look around a little more, try on a few more things, and check out a couple more stores. Pete consistently feels confused and duped. He thought they came to buy something, not to look around. Patti intends to buy something, but not quite so quickly or easily.
This stream of gender difference is endless -- not for each of us or all of us or all the time, but for many of us most of the time, in a broad variety of settings and contexts. All these differences in thinking, perception, and behavior translate into specific differences in men and women as consumers and as your customers.
About Women and Marketing details research about gender-different responses to products, services, and advertising. Knowing this type of information can help sales professionals understand and enhance their approach to the opposite sex. For the most part the following examples hold true:
* Women use computers. Men love them. Women think of them as similar to an appliance. Men think of them as similar to a friend.
* When planning a wedding, men are mostly interested in the food and drink; women, in the church, the music, the dresses, and rings.
* Women and men both like beer, but women's tastes in beer are often different from men. They also object to the total male focus in beer advertising.
* Men may take three months to pick out a new car. But unlike women, who get the rap for being slow decision-makers when shopping for cars, men spend that three months reading and researching on their own, often not even visiting a dealership until they have decided exactly what they want and what they are going to pay.
* Men don't like shopping for holiday gifts. They see it as a task to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. They want quick solutions. Women generally enjoy shopping more, are better bargain hunters, and take more time to look for and pick out what they think is just the right gift.
* Men use senior discounts to a higher degree than women.
* Women are generally more concerned with health care in general, and choosing the right physician, in particular, than are men.
* All other things being equal, women are more likely to buy a product from a company that clearly demonstrates a corporate conscience than one that doesn't. Anita Roddick's Body Shop is a good example (although there has been some recent doubt about just how "green" she really is). She does no animal testing of products and uses primarily renewable natural materials. She subsidizes day care and runs child development centers for her employees in the United Kingdom. Her products may or may not be any better than those of comparable companies, but her global community outlook and her caretaking mentality appeal to her female customers.
* Women are interested in learning golfspeak even before they learn to play golf so they can listen and talk intelligently with male colleagues about their golf game.
* In making buying decisions about computers, women rely more heavily on service, price, and the vendor's reputation and experience than men do.
* Men are more interested in antibacterial agents in soap. Women are more interested in moisturizing and fragrance. As men are becoming more concerned about skin care, they are more interested in the moisturizers but still don't go for floral smells, light or not. A new unisex soap is in the works.
* Women are playing and watching sports in much greater numbers than ever before.
Clearly, understanding the gender differences in focus, interests, and behavior in your industry or relevant to your specific product can be a major contribution to success in closing the deal.
Gender -- a Big Difference Between Sales Professionals
If men and women are different as customers, then they are certainly also different as salespeople. As part of the hands-on research for Gendersell, I (Judy) went shopping for a car. I knew that the communication and relationship skills of the salesperson would be even more important in my final decision than the specific car I was buying. I could connect psychologically with the people. I wouldn't connect with the car, at least not with the same intensity.
What I had hoped would be an enjoyable experience turned into the all-too-familiar automotive odyssey -- a circus of bungling gamesmanship. But I observed some definite gender differences in the way salespeople behave and communicate.
I chose two different makes and two different models to investigate, two different dealerships, and two different salespeople with whom to work. Both Joe and Dorothy behaved in somewhat expected and stereotypic sex-role ways. Dorothy talked too much about her personal life and didn't talk enough about the car. She gave the wrong prices and was overly apologetic. She was clearly sincere but not a strong influencer or an assertive seller. Joe asked and talked too little about my needs and wants, listened too little to what I said, and pushed too much to sell what he had instead of what I wanted. He seemed to be playing a familiar, scripted game and was annoyed because I didn't know or didn't play by the rules.
In this story, Joe's sales techniques don't necessarily represent those of all male salespeople, just as Dorothy's don't reflect those of all female salespeople. Still, they each behaved in ways that are generally characteristic of their particular gender. Dorothy's conversation about herself and the personal aspects of her current life situation are communication approaches found more commonly in women than in men. In general, women are less direct in their communication and prefer and often produce a more soft sell approach to sales.
Joe exhibits characteristics of many men, both in and out of sales. He is playing by certain rules that he expects the customer to play by as well. He is not as interested in the relationship as he is in the deal. His focus is on playing the selling game according to the prescribed ritual, not on establishing a long-term relationship with the consumer as a present and future customer. He is thinking about the here and now, and making it happen. Dorothy is thinking about the longer term relationship.
Are there salesmen who are more relationship oriented than saleswomen are? Are there saleswomen who are very direct and more interested than Dorothy in talking about their product? Of course there are. But our survey research shows that customers perceive the same general gender differences in salespeople that I noticed while working with Joe and Dorothy.
Customers want it all, from both male and female sales professionals. They want caring. They want depth and breadth of knowledge. They want to be understood. They want a friendly, genuinely interested approach. They want intelligence and good looks. They want assertiveness but not aggressiveness. They want confidence but not cockiness. They want expertise and experience with the product or service.
Women customers may want a different ratio of friendliness to product knowledge than their male counterparts; male customers may care more about the product than they do about the salesperson's approach. For the learning salesperson, improving your ability to read customers and influence or persuade them based on their gender is an advanced skill that will ultimately ensure more and better sales to a particularly diverse customer base.
What Gender Is Your Product or Service?
If the gender of the sales professional interacting with the gender of the customer isn't enough to add complexity to the already intricate sales situation, there are theorists who assert that products have a clear gender, too. Pamela Alreck's article in the Journal of Product and Brand Management points out that there are basic masculine and feminine products: those associated with use by one sex or the other (for example, panty hose, after-shave lotion, makeup, and jockstraps). But, she notes, many products purchased and used by both sexes are imbued with a masculine or feminine image in design, advertising, promotion, and distribution. For example, sporting goods, barbecues, garden tools, movies, books, and cars can be promoted as gendered products and made to fit either the masculine or feminine role.
A barbecue could be positioned as "a giant power king of a barbecue" for the guy who likes to grill a half side of venison, or it can be positioned as a big but lightweight barbecue that can cook a whole meal at a time. Alreck cautions that women will accept masculine-gendered brands, but men almost totally reject feminine-gendered brands. (For example, women will buy male-gendered bikes, but almost all men would reject female-gendered bikes.)
While men have traditionally been averse to feminine-gendered brands or items, only recently have women begun to reject male-gendered items. They are demanding equipment, sports clothing, and even business and sports magazines that are constructed as well as gendered specifically for women. One Inc. magazine reader commented that she wished articles were constructed so that readers didn't have to be wearing a jock strap to understand them.
While the idea that products and services are in fact gendered may be a new concept to you, it is common knowledge to the consumers responding to the Sales Preference Survey. These same consumers/respondents also seemed to think that most of the time a salesperson who is of the same gender as his or her product or service sells it the best.
If a woman in sales can use a "male" approach to sell a male product and if a man in sales can use a "female" approach to sell a female product, they will both boost their success rate. And this ability is the foundation of becoming a Gendersell expert.
Copyright © 1999 by Performance Improvement Pros
Introduction: It's Time to Raise the Bar for Sales Skills
Selling is an art. Done well, it may be one of the most complex and satisfying forms of mutual influence that takes place in the world of business. Done poorly, it can be a manipulative, gamey, dispiriting contest between apparent adversaries. In the late twentieth century, sales books and training have emphasized building relationships, solving problems, and consultation as desired approaches. This more educational mode advances the professionalism of sales and caters to the increasing demands of consumers for service, information, and courtesy.
The sales professionals of the next century, however, need to further refine and upgrade their skills by selling one-to-one. What does that mean? It means tailoring the sales and service approach to the uniqueness of each individual so that the customer experiences a custom fit. It means understanding the contribution that specific factors such as gender have on customers' needs for information and their wants for a comfortable sales process.
Times have changed. The old ways no longer work. Salespeople who don't adapt to an increasingly diverse, complex, and worldly population, and who continue to "prey" on customers in traditional game-playing fashion, may find themselves the victims of tomorrow.
Gendersell is an advanced, timely, and forward-looking approach to the sales process. The coined verb denotes "using communication techniques typical of the other gender in order to increase potential for influence in sales situations."
Sales is an influence situation. As an interpersonal process, it is subject to the same psychosocial principles that apply to all kinds of influence circumstances. People are more apt to like, be comfortable with, and be influenced by people they see as similar to themselves. The greater the perceived similarity -- at least along lines that have relevance to the sale -- the greater the potential influence. For example, if a customer is a Macintosh user who is buying software, she'll be more readily influenced by a salesperson who is also a Mac user than one who is a PC person. If she is buying a refrigerator, the Mac similarity will count for less.
Salespeople for years have used the approach of observing their customer's surroundings and commenting on the family picture, the mounted boar head, the golf trophies, or framed awards. Often they have attempted to tie in to some sameness. "I'm a golfer, too," or "My daughters are probably just about the same age as yours," recognizing the power of similarities.
The Gendersell approach takes the influence process to a higher level. Certainly we encourage you as a salesperson -- whether you're selling products or services, one-to-one or business-to-business; whether you're selling wholesale or retail; whether you're selling financial services, flowers, or concepts -- to comment on apparent similarities between you and your customer. However, we recommend even more strongly that you think and communicate in a way similar to them, to sell to them as they want to be sold to, to understand them more thoroughly than ever before, to be the most flexible, adaptable, insightful salesperson your customers have ever met -- particularly with the customers who are very different from you: those of the opposite sex.
Along with other commentators on male-female differences and similarities, we believe that gender is the biggest difference found across ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. Bridging the gap between the male salesperson and the female customer, or vice versa, takes more thought, more work, and more adaptation than most transactions.
Certainly all men and all women are not the same. There are similarities between the genders as well as differences. As we write about men, in general, and women, in general, some readers may find that not all of our observations apply to them. They may feel stereotyped when we say that women care more about relationships than men or that men care more about money than women. We're speaking in generalities (based on a vast amount of research), referring to most men and women under various circumstances, rather than the stereotype of all men and women at all times. We focus on the differences between men and women in this book because the differences, not the similarities, are often the obstacles to success.
Our premise is that salespeople who are attuned to the increasing diversity in markets, who are adept at tailoring their approach to the differences in customers, and who are skilled in delivering messages unique to each customer will attain the most success now and in the next century.
Lee Robert is a director of sales and marketing at Corporate Education and Consulting. I (Judy) am a consultant on gender and communication in the workplace. While we pursued our speaking engagements and training workshops, working with men and women in sales in a variety of different fields, we found that sales professionals often don't know how to customize their approach to the uniqueness (gender or otherwise) of their clients. Many have learned a step-by-step process that their company teaches, and they stick with it most of the time with most of the customers; it may even be the same process they learned years ago as a new salesperson. Or they may have their own preference for sales style, based on their experience, and they follow that style most of the time with most of their customers.
We also found, however, that many of our audience members wanted information specifically about selling to the opposite sex, particularly in industries that were nontraditional for one sex or the other: selling tracks or golf club memberships to women or household appliances and cooking classes to men.
We also learned in our conversations with sales professionals that no one had experienced sales training that focused on selling to the opposite sex. Most of the people we interviewed said they wanted specifics about communication and influence techniques tailored to their opposite gender. Questions ranged from "Is it okay to be slightly flirtatious in a sales situation with a man if that clearly works to keep his attention?" to "I can't seem to find that fine line between being too firm and focused when I'm selling to women and being friendly and accessible. This is business, after all, not a social relationship." Other concerns were also expressed: "I can't tell if the man is just testing me or if he's really serious about the sale. I don't know when to stop wasting my time." Or "I often get frustrated with how slowly women make decisions. Then I get pushy, but that never works and I don't know what else to do."
We found that there was little written about the topic of selling and marketing differently to the opposite sex. An amazing number of books, new and old, were written by men for men in sales, about selling to male customers. Few were written by women or even mentioned gender or women. We concluded that most of what has been taught in sales was based on men selling to men and excluded women selling to men, men selling to women, and women selling to women.
To add to the data on gender differences and sales techniques, we developed the Sales Preference Survey. Distributed to more than six hundred consumers, it proved that men and women see male and female sales professionals very differently in terms of their assets and their liabilities. They see differing qualities and characteristics in male and female sales professionals as important. For example, honesty was more frequently stressed as important for men, while friendliness was mentioned for women.
Another significant finding was that respondents saw products as gendered. Consumers seemed to prefer buying a specifically gendered product from a specifically gendered salesperson. For example, jewelry was seen as female and financial services as male; houses as female but office buildings as male. Both men and women stated a preference for buying jewelry from women and financial services from men because they saw salespeople as more knowledgeable about a product that was similar to themselves in gender.
Women and men both stated a preference for working with the same-sex salesperson, although with some exceptions. We think that preference has less to do with the actual sex of the salesperson than it does with the perceived similarity or difference in the communication process used. Men and women as consumers tend to prefer their own sex as salespeople because they believe their own gender speaks the same language. But if female sales professionals can learn more "male talk" and males can learn more "female talk" using Gendersell techniques, the perception that one gender is preferable for selling a specific product or service will probably disappear.
What the sales professional can also learn from the Gendersell approach is how to be perceived as more knowledgeable about an "opposite sex" product or service -- such as a woman selling cars or a man selling art. You can learn how men and women think, communicate, and act when shopping and buying, and use that information to increase your effectiveness by altering the perceptions of your opposite-sex customer.
Some companies, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals have already seen the need for viewing the gender of the consumer as a critical factor in designing an adaptive approach to marketing, advertising, and selling. BMW figured out several years ago that it needed to sell and market differently if it wanted to sell more cars to women. To this end they designed a full-scale marketing opportunity approach, focused on promoting, advertising, and selling more adaptively. Their efforts resulted in a 7 percent increase in female clients plus an increase in the customer satisfaction level of men as well as women.
About Women, Inc., a Boston, Massachusetts, company founded by Jann Leeming, recognized the need for a different approach to selling and marketing to women. She founded a news-letter, About Women and Marketing, which is now the premier source of information about female-male similarities and differences as consumers.
MacDonald Communications, the publisher of Working Woman, Working Mother, and Ms. magazine, sponsored the first annual Marketing to Women Congress in 1997. They emphasized marketing and advertising differently to men and women as consumers of automobiles, health care, and financial services, and as online customers. Representatives from major corporations of various industries participated in this public forum about the importance of adapting to customer gender differences now and into the next century.
The Martz Agency is an advertising and public relations firm based in Phoenix, Arizona, that has begun to specialize in gender-specific advertising. According to their research, men and women respond differently to TV, print, and radio, as well as to images, color, words, and advertising style. First, they determine statistically whether the target market is mostly male, mostly female, or mixed. They then design their campaign to fit the gender of the customer most likely to purchase the product advertised, whether it is golf clubs or cars, houses or food, computers or cigars. Martz is on the leading edge of this type of advertising but will undoubtedly be quickly joined by other agencies.
Looking at success from another angle, Deloitte Consulting is concentrating on women doing a better job of selling to men. Their Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women, formally begun in 1993, has been remarkably successful in increasing the number of women recruited into the firm. Now, however, those in the highest management positions have recognized a potential barrier to these women's promotion: They have more trouble than men of equivalent backgrounds in building the kind of professional relationships with male clients that lead to further business. The company is therefore offering training that will give them more effective influencing techniques with the opposite sex.
IBM is a company that has recognized the need to market and sell differently to women. They developed a task force to study the specific needs of women business owners and found that a prime commonality was their desire for loyalty, nurturing, and caring relationships from their vendors. IBM used that data to design a marketing approach that focused on contacting women through business associations and to develop a sales approach that focused on the one-to-one connection of women to women. Their approach was so successful nationally that they are now expanding it internationally under the direction of Cherie Piebes, the Global Market Director for Women Entrepreneurs.
No amount of marketing and advertising will work, however, if the customer gets hit over the head with a "one size fits all" sales approach. The sales process has to be more targeted and customized than that marketing and advertising approach. It has to be one-to-one sales aimed specifically, but not exclusively, at the gender of the customer. The Gendersell techniques are creating a top echelon of professional salespeople who are leading the charge into the twenty-first century by selling successfully to the opposite sex.
Copyright © 1999 by Performance Improvement Pros