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Power Shopping

Women are doing it; new data indicates just how much.

When it comes to shopping for clothing, household items and cars, studies have shown women wield a tremendous amount of influence. But a December 1999 survey released by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO) has found that women entrepreneurs are just as dominant when making decisions about goods like telephone, cable and Internet service, as well as insurance policies.

In fact, 86 percent of women business owners use the same products at home that they purchase for their companies.

The power of women entrepreneurs as consumers has some important implications for corporate marketing to this group. "More corporations are starting to understand the impact" women entrepreneurs make on the marketplace, says Andrea Donaghy, director of marketing, individual insurance division of the Principal Financial Group. "But the difficulty is knowing how to retool processes that have worked for years. It's very difficult to know what to change to speak to this market."

NFWBO executive director Sharon Hadary hesitates to quantify how many companies get the difference, but she says more firms are becoming aware of the need. AT&T, IBM and Principal Financial Group have long recognized the economic clout women business owners hold. This knowledge has influenced both what and how they market to this group.

"When NFWBO started releasing their studies, everyone was surprised to see that [so many] women ran their own businesses and were buying their own products and services," says Donna Chancellor, corporate affairs director of AT&T. "It was a huge, untapped market."

About 10 years ago, AT&T began to re-educate its sales force, says Chancellor. The company didn't create new products; rather, it changed its selling approach to consider the distinctive way women make purchases. They don't make instant decisions, preferring instead to develop business relationships over time. And once they sign on, they're loyal customers.

IBM, on the other hand, set up its Women Business Owner Segment to specifically address the needs of women entrepreneurs in the global marketplace. "Many businesses have awakened to the realization that a fourth to a third of businesses worldwide are owned by women," says Leslie Jaap, segment executive in IBM's global small business division.

This study, which Hadary says initially began as a look at the difference between women business owners and working women, has inspired more and more corporations to ask, "What do entrepreneurial women want?"

Of course, who's better qualified to answer that burning question than you? Belonging to an officially "hot market" puts you in a unique position to demand what you want from the corporations you patronize. You should either network with organizations that have connections to these corporations or contact the companies directly. Here are a few starting points:

  • IBM's Small Business Advisory Council allows entrepreneurs to offer input on emerging technology.
  • Principal Life doesn't have "a formal process for feedback, but I would love to have women provide [some]," says Donaghy.
  • AT&T has a Web site http://www.att.com which, in addition to providing information about the company's products, allows women to network with one another and send the company information on what they need and want.

Contact Sources

National Foundation for Women Business Owners, (301) 495-4975

Principal Financial Group, (515) 362-1762, http://www.Principal.com.

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This article was originally published in the April 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Power Shopping.

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