Coming To Terms With How Women Buy Is Key

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It has been widely acknowledged that women are an extremely important target market for financial advisors.

Women make up more than half of Americas population and approximately 45% of the countrys work force, according to a recent PBS article.

During the last few decades, women have not only joined the working world in masses, they also have taken over the financial responsibilities for their families. In fact, women make or influence 86% of all household financial decisions, according to Women and Diversity WOW! Facts 2003, Business Womens Network and Diversity Best Practices, Washington.

I like to describe these female financial decision-makers as the Chief Procurement Officer for their households. Financial advisors need to keep in mind that many women who enter their offices are financially responsible for their families as well as for themselves and their businesses.

Many advisors often forget this and fall back on the thinking they use with their male prospects. Perhaps it is American culture and history that directs our attention to the husband instead of the wife, but this seldom will end in a sale. It may seem easier to work with a male client, but women are equally as important and share much of the financial decision-making responsibilities.

There are many things that advisors need to keep in mind when approaching a female prospect. Here are a few important tips:

1. Recognize that gender matters when approaching a sale.

Women have argued for many years that they should be treated equally–this is true when it comes to how women are treated as employees but not how they are treated as customers.

Male prospects tend to seek out a highly knowledgeable salesperson who is direct and who will provide what they consider to be useful information. While a female prospect also is looking for that practical data, she differs in that she will want to build trust by forming a relationship with her salesperson.

Whether we are talking about a financial representative or the salesperson at a department store, a woman is looking for someone who she can count on to help make decisions. She wants a salesperson who will give her honest answers to important, perhaps life-altering, questions.

In addition, a woman will seek out an advisor based on the positive experiences of friends and relatives. This is an added benefit for financial advisors, because women often act as referrals. If she appreciates your services, she will tell her friends and relatives about you.

2. Understand a womans buying process.

According to marketing experts, most men have a linear shopping perspective, while womens shopping perspective is circular. For example, lets assume a man needs gray slacks with pleats and cuffs. He enters the first store in the mall and finds a pair that has cuffs but no pleats — he buys them anyway. The man is satisfied with a 90% solution.

A woman, on the other hand, will not be content until she finds a 100% solution. A woman in a similar situation who may be looking for a black cocktail dress will go from store to store until she finds the perfect dress. She may find a dress at the first store, but thinks, “What if the perfect dress is at another store?”

The majority of women expect to be a 100% satisfied customer.

A financial advisor must understand this. The process may take longer, but a completely satisfied female customer will be much more loyal and content down the road. Take the time to understand the wants and needs of female prospects before jumping in with suggestions and advice.

3. Know that when a woman says she wants to think about it, she really means that she wants to think about it.

A woman typically will not make a decision about investing without taking the time to contemplate her choices. The majority of women will want to read and educate themselves about the products that they are considering purchasing.

A woman will want to talk to friends who may be in similar situations. And, she will want to speak with relatives who may have past experience with the same products.

Remind yourself that the woman is not dismissing you if she says that she wants to think things over before making a decision–she truly wants to analyze her investment options. Perhaps the greatest disconnect between financial advisors and women is that the advisors immediately assume they are being rejected when a woman says, “Id like to think about it.”

4. Share information and experiences with female prospects.

There is a fundamental difference in the way that men and women communicate. Mens communication is of a competitive nature–who owns what, who did this or that, etc. Womens communication is focused on stories–any topic will be embellished with a relative story and all topics are discussed in a story-like manner.

Therefore, a woman will convey her experiences with a vendor, contractor or salesperson in a story-like context. Financial advisors should try to personalize communications with female prospects. The use of anecdotes and personal stories will make most women feel more comfortable in the situation.

If this yields a working relationship, a female prospect will want to share her positive experience with friends and family, which can only lead to more and more clients.

Some men may not want to share who their advisor is with friends or family because of their competitive nature, but nearly every woman will pass along the name of a helpful advisor.

Im sure youve seen women in line at the grocery store who dont know one another, but end up exchanging the names of ones painter and anothers dog groomer. The same can, and does, happen for financial advisors.

5. Treat men and women equally, especially when speaking to a couple.

It is imperative that advisors do not discount the wife when a couple is seeking investment advice.

Many advisors will find that their natural reaction is to direct information at the husband–this is the quickest way to lose a prospect. The wife will immediately reject an advisor who does not understand that she is just as responsibleif not more sofor the familys financial decisions.

Consider a wife and husband as equal partners for financial decisions and make sure to include both when offering any advice or in any of your correspondence.

Things have drastically changed since the days of the 1950s housewife. Todays women are educated professionals who are prepared to help their husbands financially support their families.

Women, just like men, need advisors to help guide them and expect the same level of courtesy and respect as clients. If you keep this and the other points in mindalways attempting to satisfy the needs of a female consumeryou will find success.

is the director of Agency Distribution and Development for the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York. She can be reached at Emily_G._Viner@glic.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, January 16, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.