by Bob Miodonski
Of Contractor's Staff
ST. LOUIS — Despite what may be their stereotype, women customers do not gossip; they advertise, consultant Sharon Roberts told contractors Sept. 16 at Penton Media's HVAC Comfortech here.
"Women love to talk about their buying experience," she said. " They will talk about how they were treated as much as the product or the service. Men like to talk about what they bought."
The difference in selling to men and selling to women or couples was the subject of Roberts' workshop. The problem that some contractors have in selling to women does not stem from a lack of respect, she said.
"I find a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding of what women want," she told contractors. "As a woman, I think you have been fed a lot of conflicting signals.
" No one gets up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to aggravate some women today,' but we do it without thinking about it."
One common mistake that contractors make with a woman customer is their belief that the husband has to be present during a sales call. Pointing out that a woman does not have to be married to buy HVAC or plumbing, Roberts advised contractors not to ask a customer if she has the authority to make a purchase.
"If you don't think she has the authority to say 'yes,' you know she has the authority to say, 'no," Roberts said. "Take her seriously.
"Women are the chief purchasing officer. Women decide who is on the short list up to 90% of the time in HVAC purchases."
A better approach would be for a contractor to describe to the customer the scope of the work that he wants to do, such as checking the ductwork, or to ask her about the square footage of her home.
"At that point, she might say, 'If we're doing that much work, I want to include my husband in this decision,'" Roberts said. "If she doesn't say that, then proceed with the sales call as if she has the authority to make the decision. She can be your advocate."
Another danger is the contractor who overwhelms a female customer with technical details about the equipment or installation. Women may be interested in different types of information, Roberts said.
"Do women really care about the technical aspects of heating and air conditioning? When it comes to the warranty and safety, yes," she said. "Women may not need to hear all the details of your sales presentation. The big question she has is, 'Am I comfortable with you?' If you can relate to her situation, she may realize that she can work with you."
That's not to say, however, that contractors should assume that women customers will be unprepared. Roberts said that women like to use the Internet to do their homework because the computer doesn't know if it's a man or woman seeking information.
Contractors should practice making reasonable responses to difficult questions that come up during a sales call. They should not think in terms of "objections" that women customers might have to the purchase, but rephrase them as "concerns."
"Customers don't put together a list of objections; they put together a list of concerns," she said. "As a consultant, you can help her with those concerns."
In an effort to prevent a woman customer from doing comparison shopping with other contracting firms, a contractor should give her a list of his satisfied customers and a highlighter at the beginning of the sales call. This will allow the customer to scan the list for names of people she knows. ( Contractors should get their customers' permission first and not include phone numbers or addresses on the list.)
A contractor also should hand out his business cards to both the man and the woman during the sales call.
"What we're trying to do is establish connections," Roberts said.
She provided other helpful tips when selling to women, including:
- Keep eye contact above the neck;
- Be careful with humor until the customer gets to know you;
- Do not take cell phone calls during the sales appointment;
- Forget the high-pressure sales pitch — men don't like it and women hate it; and
- Listen to what women say.
"Not listening is the worst form of condescension," Roberts said.