ICFM Magazine, January 2005
Could your sales message be designed to appeal to fewer than one-third of your potential customers? The answer is yes, if you think your typical potential customer is a man.
Futurist Faith Popcorn calls it "the dominant economic force in the country." There are 190 million of them in the United States.
They have $4.4 trillion in buying power. They purchase 81 percent of all products and services, and they influence most of the rest of purchases. They are responsible for 85 percent of the checks written. Forty-seven percent of them are stockholders. Forty percent of households with assets of more than $600,000 are headed by them.
And, they make 67 percent of funeral arrangements. Who are they? Women. Clearly, to be effective, your funeral home or cemetery's sales and marketing efforts need to consider how and why women make purchasing decisions.
How women buy
There are five basic factors to keep in mind when selling to women:
1. Women create relationships. Before women want to learn about your products and services, they want to get to know you. Don't just start talking—listen first. Women need to feel comfortable with you before they buy. Women want to create an authentic, personable interaction with you.
2. Women want a pleasurable experience. They are looking for an organization they can connect to and with whom they can have a pleasurable experience. The next time you walk into Nordstrom's, notice the person playing the beautiful piano; notice the coffee cart and warm wood everywhere. Women want a shopping experience to be pleasurable.
3. Women often buy from the periphery. Starbucks is a perfect example of how to take advantage of this. Notice how their stores have CDs on the counter. The coffee company knows women like music but won't usually take the time to go to a music store to buy it.
4. Women care about your company's reputation and motivation. They will pay up to 20 percent more for a product if they feel that you and your business are trying to make the world or the community a better place.
5. Women want you to help them simplify their lives. Most women are doing the work of four people. They are (or were) a wife, a mother, perhaps a grandmother and often a business person as well. No wonder so many women are stressed out! Make it easy to do business with you.
Women can see right through a standard sales pitch. In general, they respond to a Dale Carnegie rule that says, "People want to know how much you care before they care about how much you know." In selling preneed or at-need products and services, it is paramount that you listen to their story as you would with a good friend. I am recommending that you sincerely make a new friend, not just a customer.
The average man, on the other hand, doesn't want to talk about his feelings. Men in general don't talk about their feelings—especially not to a salesperson. Men just want to take care of business. Most women want to feel like they have a relationship, while most men want efficiency.
Getting it right
Sweat the details. Pay close attention to the entire experience your customer has with your firm. Work at making her experience, which often occurs at a very difficult time, as comfortable as possible. Is your parking lot free of potholes, ice or oil stains? Are your windows clean? Is the front door clean? Do you offer to carry the urn or her husband's personal items to her car? Is the bathroom cleaned regularly? Believe it or not, I've visited many funeral homes where the bathrooms are downright dirty.
Offer her a beverage and present it in a clean glass or beautiful tea cup with a saucer on a silver tray. Men may be fine with Styrofoam, but women will appreciate the china. These are the types of everyday details that are important to women.
Sell to their peripheral vision. Information about all of your products and services should be readily available. You may want to consider installing a literature rack near the ladies' room.
Do you sell acknowledgement cards? What about books on grieving? By offering these peripheral products, you also make your customers' lives easier. Why should they go to amazon.com or Borders to buy a book on grieving when you are the expert? Why not offer a line of tasteful acknowledgement cards so they don't have to go out and buy them somewhere else?
Get outside the funeral home and meet people where they work, play and volunteer. Be more than just "bricks and mortar." Sponsor "lunch break" talks on preplanning the funeral either for your potential customers or their parents at some of the larger companies in your area. Sponsor a walk to raise money for breast cancer research. Consider partnering with local gyms, spas and family practices to offer grief counseling and end-of-life planning. This also lets them know you care about the community.
Offer convenience and guidance. Women want convenience and a simpler life. Why do you think pre-washed lettuce in a bag has become such a popular product? It's certainly not because it's cheaper—women will pay more for convenience.
Women also want to do things well and make a difference in the lives of those they care about. Your job is to offer help and guidance so that making decisions about end-of-life matters is as simple and uncomplicated as possible.
If you help a woman through an at-need or preneed process and she comes out feeling as though she made the right decisions, if you help a woman through the arrangements for a loved one's funeral and you make the terrible experience easier for her, she'll sing your praise the rest of your life.
Do you sit down with your customers and go over a timeline of the funeral and describe the options that can be included? Do you offer a selection of songs that can be downloaded from the Internet and played at the service? Do you offer meaningful options such as dove releases? Have you partnered with people who might have boat, air or land scattering services? Most important, have you offered to coordinate all the details for them?
Find your own voice. This is not solely about catering to women; it's also about finding what you are passionate about. If it's planning life celebrations, then make that your area of expertise. If you identify what motivates you and what your focus is, women will be attracted to your business, and you will have a better chance of appearing on their radar.
Keep those loyal customers
How do you keep these customers once you get them? How's your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system? Set up a system to remember them with a birthday card every year. Send a condolence note on the anniversary of their loved one's death. Send a box of chocolates on Valentine's Day with a handwritten note. Send a Thanksgiving card. (Everyone sends Christmas cards—try something different.) Try to make her day, but be consistent and be sincere. Women can smell a fake from a mile away.
Does all this sound like a lot of trouble? Remember, women make up two-thirds of your market. And when you gain a happy female customer, there are a couple of bonuses:
• Because women are more inclined to long-term relationships, enhanced loyalty means every sales and marketing dollar invested in female customer acquisition results in a higher retention rate.
• Because word-of-mouth is more prevalent among women, they are more likely to refer others to businesses that impress them favorably—in essence, free marketing of the most powerful kind.
In summary, the next time you work with a female customer; take the time to get to know who she is. Think about her shopping experience with you and whether you are making the experience as pleasurable as possible. Get involved in the community so she knows you are trying to make the world a better place.
Most important, make the whole process of dealing with you and your funeral home or cemetery simple and easy. If you can make it effortless for her, you've truly done a great job.
Companies that overlook the magnitude of women's rapidly growing buying clout will find themselves fast losing ground to competitors who recognize the new force in an old phrase: the power of the purse.