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This past week or so, the topic of saleswomen vs. salesmen has come up a few times, and then a friend forwarded this Wall Street Journal piece to me yesterday...

titled "Car Dealers Recruit Saleswomen at the Mall." (reg. required) So, I thought I'd take it as a sign and share my perspective:
Last week a resort real estate marketer told me that of his small sales team, it is the one woman who has been able to sell the most in this tough second-home market. His question: could his salesmen be trained to sell more like the woman, or does he just have to try to hire more women? My answer: Yes, men should be able to learn to sell more like women. It will definitely be a big change, but it can be done.
The car dealerships in the Wall Street Journal article, on the other hand, took the oppposite approach: hiring already sales-oriented women and training them on the ins and outs of cars. According to the writer, Jennifer Saranow, surveys have shown that many women would prefer to buy a car from another woman. She also quotes a CNW Marketing Research Inc. study that found women influenced 81% of new-vehicle purchases last year, compared with 65% a decade earlier.
Here's what saleswomen probably intuit better than salesmen for these big ticket purchases: They have to allow for a longer purchasing process, and not go for a hard sell. They may have to handle or make a number of follow-up calls, and they may have to forward research to the prospect to help her make a final decision.
Saleswomen are comfortable not knowing every single detail about the product, but realize it is perfectly acceptable to hunt down the answer for the customer if need be. Over the entire process, it is more about their connection with the car-buyer, and addressing her (perhaps non-linear) concerns.
On the other hand, salesmen feel very confident in knowing the features and details of the product, but need to be trained to be relational in their process. These guys should not be overly focused on meeting their quotas or rushing the sale with "get it now, or it will be gone" comments -- because women are not likely to respond positively to that sort of rush.
Rather, referring back to Deborah Tannen's book, You Just Don't Understand, would be a great first training step. (I know -- you may be getting sick of me mentioning her work, but believe me - it boils down to the psychology of male-female communication styles! Plus, it is enlightening to read in any case.) How do you, the salesperson, engage with the female buyer to build on this "relational" style? Maybe you initially talk about everything BUT the car or condominium - and start to get clues about her lifestyle in that way.
And, for a great example of this relational style from a non-sales industry: I heard an interview with a geriatric specialist/physician on NPR this morning. He talked about the time he spent with his patients, and that he didn't come right out and ask "are you exercising?" or "are you depressed?"
Rather, he learned much more via his conversational approach, because he purposely was taking more time. What patients said when he asked, "how's Poochie liking her walks?" or "what have you been reading?" turned up great insights that he could circle back to. (So, for example: the patient isn't getting Poochie out for walks very often these why would that be?)
Moral of the story: Saleswomen don't have some secret that salesmen will never know, they may just be more naturally wired to allow for a longer, relationship-based purchasing process. I have great faith that this can be learned, by the men - and women - who have used a more traditional sales-y approach for far too long.

Continue reading "Do Women Sell Better to Women?" ... Read the full article

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.