Achieve More…by Trying Easier.

June 30, 2009

If you have a chance to read the paperback Mind Gym by Gary Mack, go for it. Mack fits a mind-blowing lesson about how the mind influences athletic performance – even more than physical skill – into every 4-page mini-chapter. The book is written for athletes, but the lessons are relevant for business. I think the chapter called “Try Easier” serves up a perfect lesson for marketing and selling to women.

To Illustrate: In “Try Easier”, Mack tells the story of a track coach who “instructed his runners to run 800 meters as fast as they could. Later, the coach had them run the same distance, at only 90 percent of top speed. What surprised the runners, is that their times were better when they ran at 90 percent, than when they went all out.”. Mack explains…. “giving 90 percent effort, runners expend a lot of muscular energy but they relax the antagonist muscles that hinder maximum performance.” He continues….”When Ken Griffey Jr steps up to the plate, he doesn’t grind his bat handle into sawdust….the source of his power isn’t brute strength, but rather leverage, flexibility, and range of motion.”

And so it is in selling and marketing to women. I see many salespeople (men and women) get too wound up when planning how to market and sell to women….they wonder if they have to redesign every marketing material and paint them pink, if they should replace all sales scripts with probing questions that ask women about their “feelings”, if they should hold “spa days” instead of the annual golf tournament….what is the ‘right’ way, Cristi? they ask, with pained looks on their faces. By “trying harder”, they run the risk of “trying too hard” and alienating women, similar to what Dell computers did recently, which ended in a pretty big disaster and a fast redo of their strategy. So, although details are important, if you’re “trying too hard”, you might want to consider winning the race by “trying easier”.

An example: My friend Jennifer recently returned from a salmon fishing trip with her dad and two brothers. Each year, the boys go to an exclusive lodge off the west coast of BC for 4 days of fishing with a private guide, and to socialize with other fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. Jen was thrilled about a four-day bonding experience of being ‘one of the boys’. Jenn knew she could play at their level, and she did, catching the biggest Coho salmon of the week! At the end of every guest week, the lodge hosts an awards dinner for “Biggest Catch”. After watching the other guests (all guys) receive their trophies and $100 lodge gift store certificates, Jen was picturing the spot on her mantle for her “Biggest Coho” trophy, and the new fishing supplies she would buy with her gift certificate. However, when her name was called, and she bounded to the front of the room to get her trophy, the lodge manager announced into the microphone (in these exact words) “Well, because of the gender issue, we didn’t know what to get you. So…we got you this serving platter”. Not wanting to make a scene, Jen smiled through her gritted her teeth and sat back down to her brother’s joke….“Well sis, that platter is for you to serve the menfolk the fish you caught”. In this case, the lodge made the critical mistake of “trying too hard” to accommodate women, and made her into an “issue”, instead of making her feel welcome and equal.

Some readers may think the fishing lodge intended to insult its female guest by giving her a serving platter, but I doubt it. This is a case of the lodge ‘trying too hard’ to paint it pink. instead of accommodating, they actually alienated their female client.

Now You: Are you so focussed on ‘winning’ in the women’s market, that you forget to relax, breathe, and listen to what women really want? Are you trying “too hard” and alienating women by going overboard, or are you simply evaluating what you can adjust, to ensure you have considered women’s needs? Do you see the women’s market as a “gender issue” or a segment that holds huge opportunity?

PS – the fishing industry might want to put a more effort into understanding what women want…according to the American Sportfishing Association, 25% of anglers are women, and women are one of the key markets driving the increase in industry sales.