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Hear Them Roar (and See Them Buy): How to Capture Today’s Hottest Market

It’s clear that women business owners and executives are a powerhouse force in today's marketplace. If your company isn’t specifically marketing to professional women, consider the following statistics from the Center for Women’s Business Research:
  • There are now 10.6 million women-owned firms in the U.S., employing 19.1 million people and generating $2.5 trillion in revenues.
  • Nearly half (48%) of all privately owned U.S. businesses are now at least 50% women-owned.
  • In the U.S. women-owned firms with over $1 million in revenues grew nearly twice as fast as other, similarly sized firms in the U.S. from 1997–2000.
  • One in seven U.S. workers is employed by a woman-owned business.

Is your company reaching them? You might assume your marketing messages aimed at women in general will do the trick. But these businesswomen think differently and make purchasing decisions differently than others do. They are not swayed by traditional advertising and mass-marketing efforts. So if you're opting for a one-size-fits-all ad campaign, you're missing out on a skyrocketing and largely untapped market that's worth billions.

My “C.R.E.A.T.E.S.” strategies will help you connect with this growing, lucrative and under-tapped market of female professionals:

"C" is for Community: Women hunger for real-world, in-person communities. Why? Because the lives of women professionals are so incredibly full that, paradoxically, they feel isolated. Women must keep up with work demands, meet family needs, take care of homes and pets and find the time to eat right, exercise and stay healthy. Ask yourself: How can my company help this time-pressed businesswoman?

Weight Watchers International is a company that understands the importance of community. The company's popular meetings are widely credited with helping attendees not only lose weight, but keep it off. In a smart business move, Weight Watchers now allows companies to hold sessions on-site. This support provides an important sense of community that helps women feel they are no longer alone with their weight loss struggles.

IBM has long supported women's business organizations, including Women's Leadership Exchange, for whom it sponsors conferences and offers member technology discounts. Recently, IBM launched a terrific Website, the IBM Express Portfolio, a virtual community that provides technology solutions to small- to mid-size businesses.

"R" is for Relationships: Form a unique bond with your prospective customers.  Women who own their own businesses are far more likely than men to buy from companies and people with whom they have relationships. Nonetheless, most salespeople are taught to sell in a "typical male model." For example, insurance salespeople are often taught to look at the numbers or statistics rather than at the customer. They may not realize that women do not like to feel “sold to” as a predictable commodity instead of as individuals.

One striking exception is Northwestern Mutual. I set up an advisory council program designed to help the insurance company build strong relationships between its women representatives and potential customers. Here's how it works: each rep invites 20 to 25 high-powered women in her community to breakfast or lunch meetings designed to allow the women to discuss their biggest financial concerns. Later, the rep holds a second meeting, complete with a speaker and a lively Q & A session, in which these fears are addressed. Ultimately, the meetings develop a life of their own as the group continues to meet quarterly throughout the year. Because these women don't feel they are being sold to, most of them do end up doing business with or referring friends to the host company.

"E" is for Education: Help your customers succeed by expanding their knowledge. Going above and beyond, investing the extra time and effort to educate a woman customer shows her that your company really cares about her and her business. Companies that help women learn without "hardselling" will score points and build credibility. This is true even if the information you provide does not always directly relate to your products or services. How-to seminars, conferences, webinars, newsletters and after-hours parties are just a few ways to provide useful information.

IKEA, the budget-priced Swedish furniture chain, recently set up a "small business area" in many of its stores, with a full roll-out planned in all its North American stores in the next two years. This area features multiple room sample settings designed for a variety of different businesses, from offices to hair salons to spas and cafés. Although IKEA has always had furniture and accessories that are appropriate for businesses, they were never marketed to and presented for business owners. Putting the item together made them far more appealing to that market.

"A" is for Anticipate: Figure out what your customers will need before they ask for it.  Think about what businesswomen's lives are like, what their mindset is and what would make their lives easier. Offer her choices so she won't feel compelled to do additional research with competitive vendors.

Wyndham Hotels is a great example of a company that anticipates the needs of the harried businesswoman. Back in the mid-'90s, Wyndham carefully researched how hotels could better meet the needs of women business travelers. It then created its "Women on Their Way" program, which has grossed in excess of $300 million in revenues to date. Its hotels now feature women-friendly items including toiletries from the Golden Door Spa, complimentary domestic long-distance phone calls, in-room high-speed Internet access to frequent travelers, healthier foods in its restaurants and even an entertaining exercise DVD showing women how they can work out without sneakers in their hotel room using furniture as props.

"T" is for Trust:  Women's trust is not freely given; it needs to be earned. Don't make promises you can't keep. And if your product breaks or doesn't work, make sure they can return it with a 100% money-back guarantee, no questions asked.

Not only must you be trustworthy, you must show that you trust your customers. The American Express OPEN for Small Business division became a sponsor of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), New York City Chapter, back in 1997. OPEN agreed that whenever a NAWBO member acquired an American Express Card, part of the fee would go back to help the chapter.

"E" is for Entertainment:  Make working with you fun as well as productive.  "Work hard, play hard" is the mantra most men live by. However, most women in business work hard, and then, instead of relaxing, work even harder. That's why businesswomen are eternally grateful to any company that helps them relax or indulges their senses in some way.

A great way to accomplish this is to combine professional education and networking with spa services. For example, at Women's Leadership Exchange (WLE), we regularly hold spa retreats, complete with spa treatments, yoga and exercise classes, for our high-powered businesswomen clients. I vividly remember a Merrill Lynch workshop held during one such retreat on a private island. As we sat in our bathing suits, sipping tropical drinks, the advisors discussed investments, retirement and estate planning, lines of credit and so on. Since the meeting took place at the end of our spa retreat, relationships had already been formed with the reps in a pleasant atmosphere.

"S" is for Service and Support:  Back up your promises with a smile and immediate assistance. Businesswomen notice the details. Great service and support leads directly to customer loyalty because it lets people know that you care about them and will always treat them with respect and consideration. For women, more so than for men, service makes or breaks a business relationship. If you treat them poorly, they’ll never forget it. If you make them feel special with first-class service, you’ll earn their business and long-term brand loyalty.

At the more than 100 Apple Computer stores across the United States customers can get free technical support from a live human being at “Genius Bars.” A customer can either book a free appointment online for the same day or just drop in to chat with a “genius.” Women really appreciate the opportunity to talk to a real person instead of communicating via e-mail or voicemail.

Not for Women Only
Here's the really good news: men also react positively to the C.R.E.A.T.E.S. strategies. So by marketing to women business owners, you may well be attracting two birds with one feeder. Failing to do so may be hazardous, if not suicidal, for your brand.