Although they represent half of the population, women are the primary decision-makers in most American households. According to the Yankelovich Monitor, women make 85% of all consumer purchases, including new homes, computers, vacations, healthcare, and food. Although many households have both partners working, women spend 80% of the combined income.

So, ignoring women customers can be detrimental to your bottom line. But before you try to target them, here are 10 essential tips to always keep in mind:

1) Be honest

Making your product pink or pretty isn't going to win over the ladies, says Lisa Johnson, CEO of Reach Group Consulting . Unless it has something to do with their bodies and biology, don't try using that line.

2) Be on message

What's important to women in a product? Quality, consistency, design, how it saves time, among other traits. But the most essential: how will it benefit them?

3) Reflect your audience

Greg Alexander, CEO of strategic sales advisory firm Sales Benchmark Index , recommends that if you are selling mostly to women, you should have a predominately female sales force.

"When you understand the demographic of the buyer, then to the extent that you can match that in the seller, your chances go up. So if your buyers are 70% women, then 70% of your sales force should be women."

4) No pressure

Push too aggressively for the sale, and you'll turn off your female audience, warn the experts. Women clients want to feel like the sales relationship is collaborative.

"When I was at Nordstrom, I would show women no less than four pairs of shoes; men only 2," says G.A. Bartick, president of OutSell Consulting and co-author of Silver Bulleting Selling: Six Critical Steps to Opening More Relationships and Closing More Sales (Wiley). "When I give men too many choices, they freak out. But women feel empowered. They want to feel like they are not being forced and that they are making a positive buying decision."

5) Word of mouth counts

Even today, when most consumers do their research online, getting someone to recommend your company is a sure-fire way of standing out from the competition.

Get fans of your company to talk you up. Make them feel an integral part of the company, says Johnson, who is also author of Mind Your X's and Y's: Satisfying the 10 Cravings of a New Generation of Consumers (Free Press).

"The dynamic has changed. A brand is co-owned by the people who work for it and those who buy it. Find the most influential people who affect your brand, invite them as insiders, even release everything through them. Power is now being the center of the Web. So the more connected you are, the more influential you are."

6) Mine your female contacts

Take advantage of the readily available pool around you -- your female friends and relatives -- to further hone your message or product. They won't be shy about giving you the score.

When Mills College thought about establishing an MBA program seven years ago, it contacted its active alums for feedback. The responses they received, in part, shaped how they crafted the curriculum, says Nancy Thornborrow, dean of the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College .

7) Leverage your fans

Still not sure if you're making the right impression?

Invite your 10 best clients to send in feedback, advises Thomas P. Marshall, a certified Guerilla Marketing Coach and founder of G Marketing Inc. ( "Get them in a casual environment and they'll tell you what they are thinking. I encourage all my clients to do that."

Before fashion designer Anya Ponorovskaya creates a new collection, she makes samples and has customers at her Manhattan store try them on and tell her what they think of the new design.

"Listen to your customers," she says. "You can have a great idea, but your customer can help you tweak something that's selling well and turn it into something that will blow out of the store. It took my lowering the hem of one dress by one inch to have it move that much faster."

8) Don't be afraid to use technology

Women are more tech savvy than you give them credit for. In fact, all the experts I talked to say women do more research on a product or a service before purchasing it than men do.

For one Sales Benchmark client, that led him to hire a largely female work force after he brought his sales force in-house in an effort to cut costs.

"Today, a sales person doesn't need to travel since most of the sales are done virtually," explains Alexander, who is also co-author of Topgrading for Sales: World-class Methods to Interview, Hire and Coach Top Sales Representatives (Portfolio Hardcover). "That made it more attractive to women. Before, 90% of his outside force was men. Now that it's inside, it's 90% women. Women invested in technology skills to make themselves more attractive. As a result, he cut selling costs in half but it had no impact on sales."

9) Provide rich content

Because women do so much research online, make sure your Web site offers information that is useful and informative. But don't simply throw up raw data like spec information. Post testimonials and reviews, advises Marshall. Offer online customer service that is quick and responsive.

10) Find like-minded partners

To further increase awareness about the new business school, Mills College affiliated itself with programs and organizations that shared similar aims and values in increasing the number of women in business. Mills has worked closely with the Financial Women's Association and the Forte Foundation to host events like the Linda Pitts Custard Conference. It also sponsored the San Francisco Business Times' "Top Women in Business" issue.
Lan Nguyen is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for the New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Worth magazine and Star magazine.

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