There I was, standing in a sea of black suitcases at a local department store. My current wheelie bag was in dire need of replacement. As a long-time road warrior, I knew this bag would be my constant companion, so I approached the task with the same care and thought that other people might put into choosing a new SUV.

My husband stood by my side looking at the bags with me, when a salesperson approached. The salesperson ignored me and made a beeline for my husband, looked directly at him and asked if he needed help finding a new bag. My husband gestured to me, saying, “It’s for her.” The salesperson looked surprised and took a moment to recalibrate his pitch. I just smiled and sighed. It was a classic case of incorrect assumptions: in this case, the assumption that I was not the decision maker for this purchase. Based on my research with women consumers – as well as a lifetime of personal experience – incorrect assumptions happen with women all the time, even when they’re shopping alone. (i.e., “Tell your husband he needs to buy this necklace for you!”).
Many women have the experience of being ignored, overlooked or underestimated when shopping, particularly with a male partner or friend. These experiences can and do happen with both male and female salespeople, and they can derail a sale.

This article is the first in a series of selling “sins” to avoid when working with women as customers, clients and decision-makers. We’re beginning with sin #1: making assumptions. Most salespeople have great intentions and strive to connect with their customers.  The issue is that incorrect assumptions can result in uncomfortable conversations that make it harder for a salesperson to earn a customer’s trust; at worst, they can stop a sale in its tracks.  The good news is that they are avoidable.  Here are some of the most common assumptions to avoid with women:

  • Don’t assume she is not the decision maker. Women drive the majority of consumer household-spending decisions with their buying power and influence. In the U.S., 40% of households with kids under 18 now include a mother who is either the primary or only breadwinner, according to Pew Research.

  • Don’t assume she is married. The Millennial generation is getting married later than any generation in history (at upwards of 30 years old for college-educated women) and divorce is widespread among older age groups.

  • Don’t assume that if she is married, she has the same last name as her husband. Many women keep their maiden names upon marriage – a trend that’s on the rise.

  • Don’t assume she cannot afford something by her age or the way she is dressed. Young women aren’t waiting until marriage to buy big-ticket items. And we all know that the “athleisure” trend has taken casual to a whole new level.

  • Don’t assume anything about her motherhood status. I’ve interviewed women who were mistaken for their children’s nannies or grandmothers by salespeople. And those are the women who actually have children: a record number of adult women (nearly half, according to U.S. Census figures) do not, and that’s a demographic trend occurring on a global scale.

The best way to avoid assumptions? Give equal eye contact to couples and groups, and ask broad-based discovery questions to everyone that allow customers to answer for themselves.  Once they do, you can tailor the sales conversation far more effectively.

Article originally published on Forbes.com

Photo © Bigstock
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Women drive between 70 - 80% of all consumer household spending, and Bridget Brennan researches and analyzes why they buy the things they do. As CEO of consulting firm Female Factor, Bridget is one of the world’s leading authorities on marketing and selling to women. She is the author of the book, “Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers,” (Crown Business), which was called “essential reading” by the Wall Street Journal. In 2016, Bridget was named a “Woman to Watch in Retail Disruption” by think tank Remodista. Bridget is a frequent contributor for Forbes.com, speaks globally on the subject of women’s consumer spending and is a guest lecturer at business schools. She is based in Chicago. Write her at bridget@thefemalefactor.com, or visit www.thefemalefactor.com.