Last month I had the privilege to shake hands with basketball legend, businessman and entrepreneur, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Magic was one of several featured thought leaders who presented to over 500 channel executives during our first-ever Avnet Partner Summit.
Throughout the event, we heard about the impact today’s rapidly changing marketplace is having on the way technology is consumed and purchased. This topic led me to consider Rule No. 1 in business, “Know Your Customer.”
Who is making purchase decisions in today’s changing economy?
The importance of addressing this question was reinforced by Magic, who talked about the significance of being prepared in business, and shared stories about how he has helped brands like Starbucks capitalize on opportunities in ethnically diverse urban communities. He described how important it was to tailor Starbucks’ customer experience to the community it serves, from the selection of in-store music to baked goods, and explained that urban consumers in certain communities “don’t quite know what scones are,” but instead buy sweet potato pie and pound cake.
Bringing this lesson to the technology industry, we know that purchase decisions now extend beyond the CIO, to include business leaders from marketing, finance and operations. Some of you have adjusted your sales and marketing approach in response, applying a more consultative, solutions-based model. But are you addressing the growing number of women who have assumed influential positions as entrepreneurs, board members, senior leaders and decision makers in the B2B market?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for 41 percent of employees with authority to make purchase decisions in the United States. On a global basis, the European Union has taken legislative steps to increase the representation of women in leadership positions as a way to improve economic growth and compete in the market. The business benefits from gender diverse leadership are contributing factors, with companies realizing financial gains such as higher operating margin and market capitalization1.
Avnet is an example of our increasingly diversified marketplace. Avnet continually focuses on developing its leadership teams and today we see more women represented in governing and decision-making roles at both the executive and regional levels. You can see similar shifts reflected in leading technology supplier organizations.
Do these shifts change the way you sell? Is there a difference in decision-making styles between men and women in the B2B technology market?
Consumer research has validated that men and women approach buying differently, and we’re learning this holds true in the B2B space as well. According to a recent article published by Harvard Business Review2, women tend to:
- Place higher value on meeting with the actual people they will be working with from the seller organization, rather than participating in rituals like being wined and dined by the seller’s high-ranking executives.
- Treat request for proposals (RFPs) as opportunities for exploring options, rather than as a tool to narrow down options.
- Engage in more collaboration and consensus building when making purchase decisions.
These findings were further validated by a survey of more than 600 board directors in Canada who found that women were more inquisitive than men and more likely to consider the interests of multiple stakeholders. This same survey also showed that women feel less constrained by rules, regulations and traditional ways of doing business3.
Even though research shows that it matters if your customer is female in B2B selling, companies are just starting to adjust their business strategy to turn this opportunity into a competitive advantage.
Of those companies who have taken steps to tailor the way they sell, the most popular strategies are to add more women to sales teams and adapt their approach to negotiations3.
One company that has recognized and responded to the influence women have in B2B decision-making is Deloitte Consulting. After researching and analyzing deals lost when selling to women, Deloitte identified selling behaviors that needed to change within their organization. Deloitte began a training process, sharing insights about the differences between men’s and women’s decision-making, communication and interpersonal styles.
Should you tailor your sales approach to gain a competitive advantage?
Admittedly, Google’s recent bold move in disclosing its diversity data shows we have a way to go before achieving gender balance in business, but don’t discount women’s growing role as influencers and decision makers in your sales cycle.
I am not advocating a one-size-fits-all sales approach for women versus men. Everyone is an individual with unique and personalized styles. For every generality, there are exceptions. However, it’s important to recognize that the marketplace is diversifying.
Make it a top business priority to know your customer, man or woman. Educate your teams to be attuned to differences in decision-making styles and to respond with a personalized approach to selling. Not only in regard to women, but in regard to all buyers. If you haven’t shifted to a consultative, solutions-based sales approach, do it now.
Set the tone within your own internal organization, and create a balanced business culture that values diversity and encourages differences. In turn, this will be reflected back to your customers and business partners.
Not only will these actions help you succeed in serving a diverse marketplace, they may just help you become more innovative and competitive in your business strategies.
1Source: “Women as a Valuable Asset,” McKinsey, April 2012
2Source: “How Women Decide. In B2B Selling, it Matters if Your Buyer is Female,” Harvard Business Review, September 2013
3Source: “The Rise of the Female Economy in B2B,” A.T. Kearney, 2014