Monday, February 22, 2010

Relating to the Female Customer

I am a woman. I am an intelligent, independent, strong woman. I am also a pregnant woman. Perhaps most importantly, I am a customer. A question you should be asking yourself is, how do you relate to me? With a new baby on the way, I have spent a great deal of the last few months speaking with a variety of salespeople. From bathroom remodels to maid services, I have been overwhelmed by the differences from one salesperson to another. Aware as I am that different techniques work best with different customers, I also find myself desperately wanting to help these individuals improve their sales techniques so that they don't turn off customers the way many have done with me.

Listen To Me
The first thing a salesperson should be taught is to listen to their customers. Use the time I am speaking to listen to the words I am saying, not to decide what your next line should be. Sound simple enough? It's surprisingly rare to find a salesperson who is willing to take five minutes to listen to a customers needs and desires. For example, my husband and are searching for a new automobile. Though most people like leather interiors, I am adamantly anti-leather and have stated as much to each car dealer we have encountered, yet on many occasions we have been shown a vehicle with leather seats. I may not wear hemp jewelry or tie-dyed shirts, but I have been vegetarian for over 15 years and the idea of sitting on a dead animal is not appealing to me in any way, shape, or form. When I tell a salesperson that I am not interested in leather, I expect to be kept away from leather.

Personalize, But Don't Over Personalize
Relating to the customer is one thing, but getting overly involved in their lives is something else entirely. I am very clearly pregnant, which always invites a number of polite questions. It does not, however, invite belly rubs (please don't) and it most certainly does not invite the salesperson to tell his or her own stories about miscarriage and other frightening aspects of pregnancy. One furniture salesperson asked who our doctor was, then spent the following 10 minutes telling us that we were wrong to have chosen our particular hospital. We walked out and made that particular purchase online.

Drop the Commitment Issues
I have been waiting for two weeks for painters to show up. I should have known when they arrived 15 minutes late to give the estimate that the job would not be started on time, but I made my choice based solely on price; a mistake I will not make again. If you, as a salesperson or service provider, have made a commitment to your client, do everything in your power to follow through or at least have a very valid excuse for not showing. Emergencies arise, any reasonable person should understand that, but if said emergency has arisen, relate that to your clients and make a new commitment that you'll be able to keep.

The Little Lady Technique
One item that I must absolutely mention is something I like to call "The Little Lady Technique." This is most often used by car dealers, but can be employed by any gentleman who is performing a service that is not typically considered "female friendly." The assumption is that the "little lady" doesn't know much about cars/plumbing/HVAC systems, therefore the salesperson in question can speak as though he is explaining quantum physics to a six year old. I may not look like it, but I was raised by a very handy father who insisted that I know how to perform duties from laying carpet to installing electrical outlets. Perhaps it works with some women, but when a salesperson assumes that I know nothing about whatever item is being peddled, be it goods or services, I extract my business immediately.

The fact is, a one size fits all approach CAN work with customers, but not in the same way most salespersons have been taught. By making assumptions about customers based on appearances or other superficial factors, salespersons could be throwing away business. Conversely, by obeying some simple sales rules, a lifetime sales relationship can be forged.

Deidra Lookingbill is Director of Marketing for Molloy Business Development Group as well as a working mother and conscientious consumer. You can reach Deidra Lookingbill at