Do you think IT companies are doing good job marketing to women? It’s a pretty straight-forward question that I recently asked my male and female industry colleagues on and and with IDC predicting IT marketing spend to increase by 8% this year, one that’s important for marketers to ask themselves. The answers were not surprising – 79% said no they weren’t, with 19% saying they did a so-so job. After 15 years in tech PR and marketing, I’ve seen how most campaigns are more male skewed and how few companies focus their efforts at women-owned businesses in particular.

This seems to follow with the conventional wisdom that tech is male-dominated industry. And while that still may be true within technology companies, the customers that tech companies want to sell to are increasingly women. From consumer to B2B, women as a buying segment are simply worth too much for tech companies to continue to ignore.

Let’s start with some numbers. According to IDC, IT spending is expected to hit US$1.6 trillion in 2011; much of that growth will be seen in emerging markets, which are heavily SMBs. Women-owned businesses account for between 25 – 33 percent of all businesses according to the World Bank and in the U.S. alone they account for 28% of all SMBs. More importantly, the Center for Women’s Business Research found that these U.S. women-owned companies (no global numbers exist) rake in US$2.8 trillion annually.

To put that into perspective, if all these women-owned businesses where a country it would have the fifth largest GDP in the world, just behind Germany and bigger than the U.K., Italy and France. And that’s just the U.S. – imagine how big the numbers are when you through in the rest of the world, especially the mega-markets of China and India.

Clearly, there’s money to be made in this market segment, and tech companies will still be able to sell into it using the old methods. But for a tech company that wants to raise itself above the competition tweaking their marketing campaigns to show that they understand the women-owned business customer will let them ‘own’ this segment.

To do this, they must take women-owned businesses seriously and that means changing the fundamentals of how they market their products and services to this ever growing important and influential market.

Over the years, tech marketing has moved from bits and bytes to a challenge/solution approach. This has worked well; but like anything, once everyone is doing it, it loses some of its effectiveness. This approach does not address the different ways in which women perceive brands and make purchasing decisions.

All business owners, whether male or female, are looking for the same things when deciding to buy technology: higher ROI, to improve efficiency and effectiveness while reducing costs, etc. But how the different sexes arrive at those decisions is a critical difference.

Women, as a rule, prefer to make relationships and build communities where they can share and receive information. They are influenced by other women more so than men are by other men. Women identify with brands through experience, this means IT companies in particular who want to better target the WOMB market need to become more attuned to creating meaningful brand experiences instead of the same old advertising and shotgun-approach conferences and marketing events.

Big companies spend a lot of money to get customers into a room and have them listen to speaker after speaker talk about their pain points and how the company solved them. Sometimes they are mega events like an Oracelworld, more often they are smaller but still involve several hundred people. This works well for male audiences. But for women, several smaller more personal touch events would be more effective and cost the same in terms of marketing spend.

I believe this experiential approach is the next phase in marketing. When looking at how companies market to women, the consumer world has done a much better job than IT and B2B companies. Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and the other CPG makers understand that their audience is women because that’s where the purchasing power is in most families, so they create campaigns that speak to this audience well, from advertising to online. Automakers, recognizing the shift in the 90’s that women were not only buying more cars but having an equal say in the family car purchase decision, have also adapted their marketing efforts to better speak to women customers.

But as our informal poll showed, tech companies still consider men to be the main purchase decision makers in business, an outlook that is no longer supported by the numbers. The customer base for tech companies has shifted and the savviest companies will embrace this shift sooner rather than later.

Remember, all business decision makers are consumers first. For tech companies that make both consumer and business products, this is an excellent way to start that brand experience with women. I think a great example of this is Nokia’s App Girl series.

Mainly running in the UK, the campaign focuses on showing women consumers apps that are cool and relevant for them via online video. The apps are not exclusive to Nokia phones and the videos are fun and not hard sell. But they speak to women, they help cut through the clutter and painful searching for new and helpful apps, something women in general prefer to do much less than men.

Finally, by creating an online community, Nokia is building strong brand awareness and positive brand perception with these customers, many of whom own their own businesses. Not only will these women engage in active word-of-moth and word-of-mouse brand endorsement, but when the time comes for them to buy phones for their business, they’ll think Nokia first.

In the end, it all comes down to a simple question marketers must ask – ‘How do I grab more of this valuable market segment without spending any more than I am now?’

Tech marketers need to look at their existing campaigns and see where opportunities lie to rethink how they approach women business owners as an audience.

Rethinking the size and composition of your current event spend is one way. Make your marketing events and campaigns that speak directly to women. The old method of lumping men and women customers together is no longer effective. Have more small tailored events versus fewer larger events; take a hard look at how your advertising looks and what it talks about; and think of social media and online as not just another place to tell the challenge/solution story, but as a place to build communities of brand advocates.