Still Missing The Point When Marketing To Women

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In the coming 20 years, about $13 trillion will be headed in the direction of baby boomers in the form of an inheritance. This isnt news to anyone in the financial services industry. What might be news is that experts agree that 90% of that money will at one time or another be handled solely by women.

This notwithstanding, the industry continues to get it wrong when it comes to serving women clients, professionals interviewed by National Underwriter say.

Investment advisor Candace Bahr co-founded the nonprofit Womens Institute for Financial Education, San Diego, Calif., as a result of having experienced this firsthand.

“Many insurance companies, mutual fund firms, think that by doing a seminar and selling a product at the end they are doing a service to clients,” she says.

“They do a pretty pink invitation. They get women to come out with their friends, then they never hear from them again because women need to hear things several times to explore them and feel they are having some sort of relationship before they decide to buy.”

Vanessa Freytag, president of W-Insight Inc., Cincinnati, agrees that relationship-building is key. An integral part of that is deciphering the woman clients level of knowledge and her desired level of involvement.

“Theres an assumption that she knows little or nothing and (the advisor says) just let us take care of this for you,” Freytag says. “But women are looking for a partnership. Taking charge of finances doesnt mean turning them over altogether.”

Relationship-building is a recurring theme among experts in terms of attracting and retaining women clients.

Nancy Dailey, sociologist and author of “When Baby Boom Women Retire,” says that relationship-building hasnt taken hold in the industry because executives create the corporate culture, not advisors. And, executives continue to perceive women as a niche market.

“Its why they keep chasing their tails and nothings happening,” she says. “They dont see the huge transfer of wealth into the hands of women as a transformation of the economic condition.”

This isnt to say that companies havent taken steps to reach the womens market. Theyve just taken the wrong steps, Dailey suggests.

“There was a lot of activity [to attract women clients] happening in the late 90s and in 2000,” she says. Many companies hired more women advisors, but then trained them to sell according to the status quo, and not in a way thats more amenable to the female sensibility, Dailey says.

Women are told to prospect their women friends, and there is significant pressure to close a sale, she says. This is a system neither women advisors nor clients are comfortable with, Dailey says.

When this strategy fails, prospects “get in this abandonment cycle and say to themselves, if you disappoint me one more time, forget it,” she says.

Inevitably, many women advisors were unsuccessful. They left their positions, prompting executives to conclude the womens market is too nebulous to target effectively.

“From a financial standpoint I understand why this has happened,” Dailey says. “Companies are looking to cut costs, but theyre not looking to the long term.”

Freytag agrees that the current system for training advisors working with women needs to be changed. It should begin with understanding that a woman client is going to ask more questions than a man.

“Theres a misunderstanding that asking questions means she doesnt know anything,” Freytag says. “Women just naturally ask more questions.”

Sometimes questions lead an advisor to think the woman client is unsure about a purchase. But, thats often an erroneous assumption, she says.

“Women will ask questions until the ink is drying on the page,” Freytag says.

Also, advisors should depict the benefits of a product through storytelling, she says.

“Tell how it helped one of their other clients, rather than just say, heres the benefit,” Freytag says. “Women like you to paint the picture for them. Thats a technique not heavily used today.”

Using these techniques may take slightly longer to make a sale, but its worth it to the company in the long run, she says. The unfortunate mistake many companies make is measuring an advisors success based on the length of time it takes to make a sale.

Freytag says allowing more time in the initial sales process is worth it when working with women. They are more likely to consolidate their relationships, so the firms and advisors that get it right in the beginning have much to gain.

“Whether (firms) like it or not,” she says, “she has the wealth and will have more tomorrow.”


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.