The other day I conducted a sales presentation for the Ohio River Valley Women’s Business Council. An audience member asked me if I thought gender played a role in relationship building with prospects and clients. My response? Yes, most of the time.
Why do I think that? In my opinion, women are natural community builders. It’s how we’re raised, what we watch the other women in our community do and frankly, how we are wired. If you think about your community, it's mostly the women that go to the PTA meetings, they plan the parties, connect with neighbors, and deal with doctors, dentists, veterinarians and the like.
Women are interested in learning about other people and helping them solve problems. They are good listeners—and conversation starters. Think about any joke you’ve ever heard about women and it probably involves talking. Women are great conversationalists.
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So, does that skill or quality translate to a business setting? Does this belief really hold up under scrutiny? I thought so. However, now I’m not so sure. After my presentation an audience member told me that she disagreed with me on this topic. Here’s her observations that she shared with me:
Men are taught how to network and carry on a business conversation very early on. They know how to talk about issues that are timely, relevant and interesting. In her experience, women talk about inane, irrelevant, ‘female’ topics. And these same women don’t know when to shift the conversation to business. Men, however, know exactly when, and how, to do this.
Fascinating! I’d never looked at it that way. It is true that men have been taught how to network, build business relationships and sell for much longer than women. They’ve been taught a process. I’m not a big fan of the glad-handing type of networking and selling. I really like the genuine relationship-building process. My interest turned to whether we could take the good things that men do, the good things that women do, and put them together. What is it about men and women that works in a business setting?
Listening, sharing, problem solving, conviction; for me, these are the core aspects of successful sales.
This is a characteristic from the female side. Women listen well. They show genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Listening is a key component of successful sales. You have to be able to hear what the prospect is, and isn’t, saying. You have to be sure you aren’t hearing what you want to hear. Active listening is the way.
Being able to talk with your prospect in a give-and-take conversation, about items that are of interest to the prospect is a gift. This is something men do very well. I believe this characteristic was taught to men over a very long time. It’s the day on the golf course, the lunch at the steakhouse, the ability to move between business topics and non-business topics. Sharing is a very important part of building the relationship. Prospects want to do business with people they trust. Being able to communicate about things of interest to the prospect shows them that you care about what they are interested in.
I think both sexes have great skills in this area. Men almost immediately formulate a solution to a problem when it is presented to them. Just ask any wife who tries to vent to her husband. How many women say, "I don’t want you to solve the problem; I want you to just listen to me." I believe that men instantly go to the solution. Maybe they’re wired that way, or maybe their taught this skill. However they acquire the skill, it is a great asset.
Women are also good at problem solving. They just do it differently. Women listen intently and then present possible solutions. I think this skill is a natural offshoot of the listening skills women possess.
Prospects aren’t looking for the next latest and greatest idea. They are looking for solutions to problems. Possessing finely-tuned problem-solving skills is paramount to sales success.
You could also call this confidence. It is critical to sales success for many reasons. Having the ability to communicate with prospects of all types takes confidence and conviction. Communicating a solution to a problem takes conviction that you really have a solution. Networking and relationship building takes confidence.
This is something I think women could learn from men. Men are raised to be confident, bold, competitive. Many women on the other hand struggle with this. They either don’t want to appear to be aggressive or they don’t think they’ll be believed. Many times that shows, and it translates as not believing in the product or service. The message gets mixed up.
The great thing about possible gender differences is what we can learn from those differences. At the end of the day, the goal is to be the best salesperson around. Developing the best characteristics of each gender will get you there, and keep you there for the long haul.