The "big story" today is how to market and sell to the female consumer -- a pretty important topic since many companies are recognizing that women are their primary customers. But many of the books now flooding the market on that topic devote most of their attention to differences between men and women.

As a consumer group, women do have much in common, and much of their decision making process is different than a man's. But as anyone who has sold to more than one woman knows, they are far from a homogeneous group. In the first two articles of this series we focused primarily on what we learned about women as a group, and what they expect when shopping for flooring. But our research also revealed significant variables that make each customer unique and, in some cases, challenge popular beliefs about women shoppers.

For example, many marketers assume that all women like to decorate their homes. There is certainly some truth to that. In fact the popularity of home decorating magazines and cable TV shows continues to grow while the popularity of other niche programs comes and goes. Still, in our research we encountered quite a few women who feel they have no ability to decorate and have no real interest in doing so. As many as 25% of female homeowners find decorating a chore and do not enjoy it.

Women are also thought to have a strong attachment to her home. If, however, she plans to move in the near future or views her current home as temporary for any reason, she often feels less emotionally involved with it. Sometimes she just doesn't like the house so her attitude toward furnishing it is different from the person who has just bought her dream home.

Some women can visualize what a new floor will look like when it's installed, but most admit they only wish this were true. In fact, areas where they often look for help involve creativity and visualizing. Interestingly, this is the area many salespeople told us they are less confident in themselves.

While women generally like to do their homework before buying, their schedule does not enable them to devote as much time as they would like to research. The internet has certainly made it easier to access information; but consumers still told us they are often confused by what they read about flooring. Their perception is that flooring is complicated and since they are not frequent purchasers they have trouble keeping up with the latest information and trends. They want to know more but find it difficult to get information they can understand.

The more adventurous and creative consumer might try installing flooring herself or engage her husband's talents, but most believe floor covering is too difficult for a DIY installation. Even those who do their own painting or wallpapering prefer to hire a professional when it comes to flooring.

A customer's expectations of a salesperson vary depending on how comfortable she is with her abilities. There are some who will call on a salesperson for more guidance. This could be a customer who lacks confident in her ability to decorate and visualize the completed job. There are also those who lack the time or inclination to educate themselves or people who view flooring as a complicated project.

How do you know what a customer expects from you? It's easier than you might think. Ask her about her project, her timeframe, if she's done any research, and her comfort level with buying flooring. Even better, ask her how she prefers to work with you. Explain that not all customers need the same thing so you always ask a few questions up front to determine how you can best help her.

One thing is for certain: Women like to talk, especially about themselves and their families. With this information in hand, you can adapt your selling style to meet your customer's buying style. And that's a win for both of you. Lnft


The Sales Person's

Role Varies

Of course no one likes a pushy salesperson but there are different personas that can be adopted to suit the needs of a specific customer. Consider these four models for a sales person assisting a women shopping for floor covering:

Expert:The consumer has limited experience and/or confidence; often she has little real interest in decorating or her home; she perceives the sales person as the expert and defers to his/her judgment. Will say things like: "You tell me. You're the expert." or I'm not very good at this." The challenge with this customer: she tends to blame the sales person if she does not like the installed floor; she is also a customer who will second guess herself and cancel an order after thinking it over. On the positive side, however, if you help her choose something she likes, she will come back to you again and again.

Educator: This consumer views the sales person as a resource and considers the information gathered from him as part of her education process. She may not be ready to buy the first time you meet her so it is best to share information and create a good overall impression so she will return when she is ready to buy. Trying to force a decision with this customer before she is ready will send her running to the closest exit.

Influencer: The sales person can influence this customer with credible information that balances what she already knows. But what she is really looking for is confirmation that her research is on target. Trying to persuade her that she should make a different choice will generally not be appreciated. Choose your words carefully if you believe she is headed down the wrong road as she is easily offended if she feels challenged. Speak to her as an educated consumer, and she will respect your opinion.

Guide: This customer comes in with her selection made; all she needs is someone to write the order. She has probably already viewed a sample at home or might have swatches and paint chips in hand. She is confident in her choice and not likely to seek the salesperson's opinion - what she needs is someone to guide her through the order and installation process.