How to handle a woman: for sales reps

Ann Treneman on the marketing obsession with marital status
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The Independent Online
There is one question obsessing the world of tele-marketing and that is whether or not I am married. I know this because people from all over Britain keep ringing up and asking. First they soften me up by mentioning wonderful deals on double glazing, garage doors, a new kitchen, a time- share. Then they pop that question: "And are you married?" .

Other women tell the same story. They've just got to the point in the sales pitch where they are wondering if there really could be such a thing as a free luncheonette, when they are jolted out of their fantasy by the marital status question. The correct answer, of course, is none of your business - and tele-marketing people should take that statement literally. This, as they say in America, is a No Sale Situation.

"There really is nothing sexist about it all," says Ralph Grenier, business development manager for Henderson garage doors. "Ladies seem to think it is sexist but it's for security reasons and also because we want to see both people together." Mr Grenier says the tactful version of this question is "When is a good time to catch you together?" Paranoid types will see through that immediately, however.

Statistics show that one in three visits to couples ends in a successful sale while in a "singlesit", to use the jargon, the figure is one in 10. Many "singlesits" will think it's a miracle that there is even one sale. Sandra Birch Jones, who runs Professional Telesales in Sevenoaks, tells this tale of trying to buy a kitchen. "The company asked when my husband would be there and said they would not come round if he was not. They have this outmoded belief that men hold the purse-strings," she says. Her salespeople do not ask that question. Needless to say, she bought her kitchen elsewhere.

Joy Tinkler, one of Everest's top sales reps, says the key is to find the decision-maker. "It's something you just get a feel for," she says. "A lot of reps won't present to a woman on her own. I have no qualms about selling to a lady on her own if I realise she is the decision maker."

She tells the story about buying a car. A friend, male, went with her. The car salesman made a beeline for the chap, showing him everything in the showroom. After 45 minutes the salesman realised his mistake and rushed up to her. "I told him the car I wanted and that I wanted pounds 1,000 off the price. He said he could only do pounds 500. I said pounds 1,000 or no deal and that I also wanted a bunch of flowers for his rudeness. And I got it, too."

So the next time a stranger pops the "married" question, think of Joy Tinkler. She says the proper question, for security reasons, is: "Would you like to have somebody with you during the visit?" That's how to sell to a woman - or a man.