Few home improvement companies today would make the mistake of assuming that the person once known as “the lady of the house” was a non-player in the buying process. A boatload of research bears out the idea that women both instigate and shape major decisions involving household expenditures.

For example, according to AdPearance.com, a data interpretation site, “women make or influence 85% of all consumer purchases and are responsible for buying over 50% of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products, and consumer electronics.” And what some companies find is that women often negotiate for both spouses. “The larger the dollar amount,” says Dominic Savonarola, a salesperson for Carl’s Fencing, Decking and Exteriors, in Tom’s River, N.J., “the more the wife makes the decision.”

Problem solver, decision maker

Gender selling expert Colette Carlson offers a simple explanation for this: biology. The portion of the brain responsible for problem-solving and decision-making is larger in women.

OK, but just how do gender differences play out in the sales call? First off, assume that salespeople who ignore the lady of the house are “dead in the water,” says Gary Kearns, VP of sales and marketing for Kearns Brothers, in Dearborn, Mich. Avoid that by showing all parties equal respect. “Respect is about listening, about having a conversation,” Kearns says.

Carlson suggests that salespeople “give both parties the feeling of being equal partners in the sales process” by, for instance, asking for one party’s input immediately after the other has expressed an opinion and making eye contact equally with both. She also notes that in selling, women will be far more swayed by visuals, especially video testimonials from previous customers. And, Savonarola points out, since it’s the woman who is probably going to be the one who’s there when crews arrive, she’ll want to be briefed on the company’s process — and she’ll know whether crews show up on time and clean up after the job is done.

Details, Details

The “lady of the house” is also far more interested in the particulars of the job, from design details — color, shape, texture — to how it will look when completed. “She wants the siding to match the brick on the bottom of the house perfectly,” says Tom Shallcross, sales manager at Opal Enterprises, in Naperville, Ill. “She wants the handle on the window to work with her curtains. The salesman might think: Why does it matter? Well, it matters to her.”