In the romantic comedy What Women Want (2000), Mel Gibson plays the role of a sexist ad executive whose life is transformed when, following an accident, he acquires the ability to hear womens thoughts. For this character, its quite a shocker to discover that the fairer sex has little tolerance for his chauvinistic behavior. Finally, he begins to get a clear picture of what women are really all about.
In sales situations, it is clear that certain men could use a few of Gibsons fictitious powers. Every woman has her own retail-related horror story; most often involving car dealerships. No matter how affluent, together, intelligent, or informed the female buyer may be, at one time or another, some well-meaning salesman has unwittingly ignored her in favor of dealing with her male companion. Its enough to make even the most materialistic woman consider public transit.
So what, then, do women want out of a salesperson-client relationship? They want what everyone wants out of any interaction: a little respect.
“One of the things I see often is that the salesperson will greet the couple, and then speak only to the man until it comes time to buy furniture,” illustrated Evie Wexler, co-owner, vice president and secretary at The Little Guys (www.thelittleguys.com). “Then they will turn to the woman and say, Oh, you know this cabinet comes in different finishes.”
Erik Thorup, director of marketing at speaker manufacturer Jamo U.S. Inc. (www.jamo.com), which worked with an all-female industrial design team (Smedegaard & Weiss of Denmark) for his new product line, points to a common misconception about female consumers of audiovisual systems: “They dont know a thing about itwrong, wrong, wrong. As it turns out, women are often more knowledgeable and better prepared than men when they enter an A/V store,” he noted. “They have done their homework, so to speak, in terms of research on the Internet, buyers guides and A/V magazines.”
Wexler advises that women should be included in the correspondence that the dealership or custom installation firm sends to her household. “Very often, a man and a woman will come into the store, buy a system and the woman will write the check,” she illustrated. “But when the salesperson sets them up in the computer, they enter the mans name only. So now every time a piece of mail from the store arrives at their door, the woman looks at itand its just a fleeting thoughtbut they think: those people dont care about me.”
Wexler concedes that businesses dont cut women out of the process intentionally, but they should be aware of the implications. “Men dont always understand this, because they have never had to deal with it.” In the past, women werent expected to be part of the process. “For so many years, salespeople have just related to men because men supposedly earned the money,” Wexler said.
“As with any decision, you need to have both decision makers there,” said Marilyn Sanford, CEDIA board member and CEO of La Scala Integrated Media (www.lascala.ca) in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Its a misnomer to think that women are not part of the decision process, because they are.”
Because women are conditioned to be wary of the car dealership, its up to A/V dealers to create a more inviting environment in which customers may shop. “Salespeople need to address the women as well, because they do understand the technologyat least as much as their husbands and boyfriends do,” Wexler said. “However, they are intimidated of coming into a store where it is mostly male, because if they have ever been to a car dealer, they have an idea of how they might be dealt with. We try to ease that intimidation and get them to relax by asking them questions, and by answering any questions they may have. We want them to be comfortable with the experience.”
Part of this is achieved through maintaining a clean, classy environment. “It is our experience that the retail locations interior and layout is rather important. It is pivotal that there is a good atmosphere in the store, and that one manages to create something that slightly resembles a domestic environment,” Thorup suggested. “To have 12 different speakers on display, along with 12 different receivers and an inferno of cables and remote controls is not the way to go.”
Displaying several set-ups that are demo-ready is a much better route, according to Thorup. “Many of the basics of good retailing apply here: keep the sales floor clean and well organized, and dont have wires hanging out of the wall. Keep the message simple. Dont let 20-some in-store advertisements and colorful displays cloud your message,” he said.
When selling the actual systems, Thorup suggests that salespeople focus on the big picture. “It seems that women care less about individual product features; they focus more on the whole package or system, and the functionality and ease of use that it offers,” he observed. “To address that, the retailer and/or installer probably wants to present no more than a few package options, but it is very important that everything in the package is seamlessly integrated and functional.”
From Thorups vantagepoint, practicality reigns supreme. “When an affluent couple is out to buy a state-of-the-art whole-house audio system, we often see that it is the woman who thinks everything through and foresees any practical concerns, maybe because she seems less blinded by the specs and features than her spouse,” he noted. “To her, you sell products by illustrating the practical benefits of the system.”
“A lot of people think that women wont use these systems, and that it is a male thing,” said Erik Knez, sales manager at Artistic Systems (www.artisticsystems.net), a custom installation company based in Telluride, Colorado. “What I find is that women end up using it more for day-to-day functions than men will.”
These systems will only be considered, however, if they appear to be easy to use. “I think every one is looking for simplicity, but women are more vocal about it,” Sanford said. “They will very quickly say, I am fed up with the bevy of remote controls! They want simplicity, and they want to enjoy their entertainment systems without any anxiety about how to operate them.”
Women are also notorious advocates of tastefully marrying form with function, leading manufacturers to incorporate what is offered referred to as the W.A.F. (Wife Acceptance Factor) into their products. While todays systems may blend in better with home dcor, dealers and manufacturers beware. Most self-respecting women abhor the term “W.A.F.”
“Whenever I hear a manufacturer say that, I cringe,” Wexler said. “How about the family acceptance factor? This system is going to fit into their familys lifestyle, and this is the reason that people are buying home theatersfor the family. Its just like if you were buying a car for the family; maybe the man is more interested in the gadgets, but its a family car and everyone is involved. Its the same thing with home theater. Its a family purchase.”
One of the biggest challenges facing high-end electronics dealers today is finding and hiring female sales professionals. “We are dying to get female salespeople, but they dont seem to be coming into the industry,” Wexler noted. “This is a traditionally male job; perhaps this is something that women havent considered yet.”
Which may be natural from the sales perspective, as well as the consumers, Sanford suggests. In general, gear is a guy thing. “There isnt a plethora of women that come to our business, but the first contact is usually a male contact,” she observed. “We can talk about marketing and selling to women, and they are definitely a part of the decision-making process. You have to acknowledge that the guy is not going to make the decision without the gals vote, but she is usually not the one that is putting the energy into this, he is.”
Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) works from her office in Vancouver, B.C.