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Sales Opportunity: Gender Awareness - Part 3

Furniture World Magazine


Part 3: Optimize the sales process to address the needs of the men, women and children who visit your store.

Sales & Management Skills by Margarett DeGange, M.Ed.

´╗┐In the past two issues of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine this series on gender awareness discussed how your business will vault 10 steps ahead if you take gender differences seriously. All you need to do is adjust your approach to meet the requirements, needs and wants of male and female customers. Part 1 looked at differences in the way men and women research purchases and what they expect, in general, from their shopping experiences. Part 2 presented tips furniture retailers can use to sell more by creating sales initiatives. These articles are archived on the www.furninfo.com website. This month we will continue with a discussion of how to address the problem solving concerns of men and women. The series ends with simple script for greeting a customer and opening up dialogue.

How Men and Women Solve Problems

Many customers enter your store because they are trying to solve a problem. Problems include situations such as needing more space in a child’s room, combining two very different styles in a family room, or setting up a home office for peak productivity. A good sales person can navigate his or her way through the sales process in a way that makes the buyer know that the problem has been solved brilliantly.

Aside from shopping to solve problems, many customers run into problems during the sales process or even after the sale. The way we handle these issues determines whether or not we can realize the lifelong value of a customer.
Men and women both want to solve problems. Male and female salespeople as well as male and female shoppers want to see a good result. The way we go about getting a good result differs based on gender, and it is vital that we adjust our gender style to satisfy the expectations of those we deal with in any given situation.

When a problem occurs, men tend to continually look towards the result. Sometimes they have a definite idea of what that is, and sometimes not, but they stay focused on outcomes and not so much on the process of getting there. Men also typically want to be in control of solving the problem, or at least assert their capabilities towards contributing to a solution.

Because they are more intuitive than men in terms of picking up on communication cues and styles, women are apt to come across more problems while shopping than men do. If they sense a sales clerk, sales person, or business owner is insensitive in any way, the sale can easily be lost.

Women, although certainly concerned with a good outcome, actually focus more on the process involved, on the communication that takes place, and the methods used to solve a dilemma. They are focused on how polite, caring, and respectful the interactions are throughout the process of solving an issue. The process is just as important as the goal for women, and you can lose a customer permanently if you are not also concerned with these interactions.

Women tend to want to talk through issues and share their feelings related to the issue, even if these feelings seemingly are unrelated. They want to explore the possibilities for solutions, too. They want others to see the big picture.

Men prefer to get right to the end result, and may even trample on feelings during an exchange, not to intentionally hurt or harm, but to get more quickly to the finish.

Here are some points to consider when solving problems with men and women:

  • With women, allow them to voice their entire concern. If they had a product that was defective and you can easily replace it, but they want to talk about how someone on the phone was rude, allow them to share the entire experience from their point of view. Remember, with women it is not about “stuff” but about trust. Even if someone was rude, you can regain their trust by showing that this matters to you and that the matter will be properly addressed.
  • With men, get right to the point, don’t beat around the bush or make excuses, and take full responsibility for the issue. If the problem cannot be solved in a way the customer required, ask him to give you input on a good way to solve it, since he wants to be part of the solution.

The Children of Your Shoppers

I do not consider children shopping with parents to be a problem, but I discuss it here because not knowing how to handle children in a showroom can be a source of discomfort and difficulty for both parents who want to shop, and sales professionals who want to visit with clients without distraction.

Most children are well-behaved, but there are times when parents loose sight of the fact that the building they are in is actually somebody’s place of business. Children may run around without supervision, or even damage furnishings or disturb other shoppers, which of course is not fair to others.

This is an extremely delicate situation. As business owners and sales people, we may want to correct someone else’s child, and think it is our right, but this can put us on thin ice with parents. Parents can get pretty sensitive about someone else telling their child what to do, and it can actually cause you to lose a sale. Still, you don’t want to be held hostage either.

Usurping authority over a parent by speaking directly to the child is never a good idea, as it undermines the parent’s authority. Parents, and especially mothers, seem to be much more sensitive on this issue than men are. Women tend to feel embarrassed that their children are not behaving well, and they can become quickly defensive, and even angry as a way to hide their embarrassment.

What You Can Do

There is no easy answer, and each case is different, but I have two suggestions for getting control over the situation. The first is to speak kindly and gently to the parent and say something that gets them focused back on the children long enough for them to take control.

You could say something like, “Do the children enjoy shopping with you, How old are they and what are there names?”, or “introduce me to your children”. This could actually cause the parent to gather up the children to introduce them to you. Children—even unruly ones— love attention, just like big people do. By respectfully looking them in the eye and with a friendly smile and a sincere compliment, you could actually help them to calm down. Children want to be SEEN.

The second idea is a common one that is used quite often, but not in the best way possible, and that is to set up a play area for children. If many of your shoppers have children, it is of high importance that you provide a well-put together room for them to play in, one that is almost magical, and one where even “big” kids will want to snoop around!

If you can devote an entire room (or area of a room) to this purpose, that’s outstanding. It is not enough to have a little space with a few books and low interest toys, with white walls that feel boring. You have to go full out, and electronics is the name of the game here. You should absolutely make the investment for a space that will keep kids thoroughly engaged. Having multiple game systems and multiple controls is a good idea. Furnish it with comfy, colorful couches and chairs. Make the space exciting! Hire someone to do special paint effects on the walls. Put the Disney channel on a large mounted TV screen, or have a selection of kid-friendly DVD’s.

In the space, also include some great interactive toys, like a Little Tykes kitchen or a Lego table (or both). Choose toys that are safe and that seriously appeal to both boys and girls of many ages. If the space is totally cool, kids will flock to it. If it is a pitifully boring and “babyish” space, they’ll choose to do somersaults on your showroom sofas instead.

The kid’s space should be very clean, and you should make sure it gets a good cleaning daily. Keep it neat, too. You might consider hiring a young person to be in your store on busy family days, someone who could be called on to monitor the room when kids are present. Choose someone “cool” who likes kids, likes to clean up, and who knows how to keep control while still letting the kids feel they have a little bit of control, too.

A super cool kid’s room will impress moms and dads to the max (which can mean maximum sales). It helps you to quickly gain trust and show you care, which starts things out on good footing.

General Script for Opening Up Dialogue

Now you have some good information about how men and women shop and buy. You also now have an understanding of the importance of creating a marketing and sales process geared towards women and then tweaked to men once they are in the store. At this point, I want to leave you with something concrete that you can use TODAY.

Here is a simple script for greeting a customer and opening up dialogue. It is a basic guideline of how you can initially approach a customer visiting your showroom:

The Greeting: Greet the customer in a nonchalant, not too assertive way within a few seconds of her coming into the store. Don’t greet her the second she enters since she needs to make the mental transition from the outside environment— and the task of “getting there”—to the inside environment and the possibility of meandering about.

Say hello, and make a sincere greeting, then go from there in a gentle, authentic, conversational manner, as if you were talking with a friend. Here is a simple example script:

Sales-pro: Hi, come on in (Then leave a few seconds of space).

Sales-pro: How are you doing today?

Shopper: Good thank you.

Sales-pro: That’s good to hear. Are you getting some time for yourself to do a little browsing?

Shopper: Yes, actually I only have a few minutes until I have to get back to work.

Sales-pro: Well I’m glad you could stop by. What brings you in?

Shopper: Oh, I’m thinking about replacing some pieces in the family room so I thought I’d get some ideas.

Sales-pro: Well that’s always fun—getting a peek at the different styles and possibly getting to pick something totally new. Do you have a general idea of what you might be looking for?

Shopper: Not at all, so I really just want to look if you don’t mind.

Sales-pro: I can totally understand that. We have a lot to look at (chuckle). If you prefer, I can leave you to breeze around and I’ll be nearby if you have any thoughts or questions, and I’ll check back with you in a few minutes to see if I can offer some additional help.

Check on her after a few minutes with an open ended question to gain access into HER thoughts and to get a sense of where she is in the process. You CANNOT be of help to her or SELL her anything unless you know where she is emotionally! A good open-ended question might be:

Sales-pro: What are your thoughts as you're thinking about your home and all of the styles out there?

Continue the dialogue from there as you offer your knowledge and expertise in a skillful but sensitive way.

More on Old Dogs

To an old schooler, a script like this seems crazy, because it is not quickly getting to yes, but women do not buy that way. They get to yes another way. Slow and steady wins the yes. Women are too smart for a hard sales pitch. They do not need you to talk them into buying anything. They will tell you when and what, and if they will buy, and you will be there to guide, facilitate, and support them in the process. You have to TRUST that making a sincere connection— making a friend—is the most solid way to the sale, and to the lifelong value of each customer.

Suggested Reading:

  • “What Women Want” by Paco Underhill
  • “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehre
  • Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill
  • “Just Ask a Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy” by Mary Lou Quinlan
  • “Marketing to Women” by Mary Lou Quinlan 
  •  “Marketing to Women: How to Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market” by Marti Barletta

Margarett (Margo) DeGange, M.Ed. is a Business and Design Coach in the Home Fashions Industry. She creates and delivers custom training programs for managed businesses and their sales consultants to help them communicate better with customers and increase sales and profits. Margarett is a Writer and Professional Speaker, and the President of The DeGangi Group and The DeGangi School of Interior Decoration, with both on sight and on-line courses in Interior Decorating, Marketing, and Redesign. For almost 20 years she has helped individuals and managed business owners in the interior fashions and decorating industries to earn more while fully enjoying the process.
Two of Margo’s popular products for furniture store owners and their sales professionals are The Decorating School Crash Course Power-Ed Pack (9 design lessons on video/audio with 12 hours of content), and the matching Decorating School Crash Course Learner Files to measure learning, provide added interactivity, and motivate sales consultants to own their opportunities for growth.
Visit Margo DeGange’s website at
www.DecoratingForProfits.com for more information. Send email and questions to her at Margarett@furninfo.com.