The Great Gender Debate

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Even though she slipped quietly into the room, every person stopped what she was doing to look. Her sales people wouldn't admit it, they were awe-struck by her presence. Sales meetings were fast paced, action packed, full of information and everyone participated. After all, every one on the team was handpicked.

October 01, 2005

 

Even though she slipped quietly into the room, every person stopped what she was doing to look. Her sales people wouldn't admit it, they were awe-struck by her presence. Sales meetings were fast paced, action packed, full of information and everyone participated. After all, every one on the team was handpicked. They each represented the best in the industry.

There was only one thing that made this sales group different than most other sales teams — it was entirely female. There wasn't a man in the room and she preferred it that way. Her team produced results.

Seem strange? It shouldn't because it's slowly becoming the norm. And with good reason — women are the best salespeople. Sure, I might be out on a limb with this one, but it's true. Women have a definite advantage over men.

Blame it on Mike

What do Dell's Law, computers and customers all have in common?

Need a hint? Any answer should describe what customer's want, why they want it and how they've changed.

Early in his career, Michael Dell, now chairman of Dell Computer Corporation, observed that customers were evolving and behaving much differently than they did in the previous decade. Dell's observations — known as Dell's Law — described how customers have changed. In fact, Dell built his entire company on this observation. What Dell noticed then is still true today:

  • People want choices.
  • People want quality.
  • People want trustworthy brands.
  • People want a computer that exactly matches their needs.
  • And people want all of this — and they want it fast.

Substitute "home" for "computer" and he could sound like the president of a home building company. Dell's Law might describe what customers want, but that's just the beginning of the story.

Ideas about business have changed too. As a matter of fact, I can sum up business change in two words — customer satisfaction. Think about it. How important is satisfaction today compared to 10 years ago? If I had to guess your answer, it would probably be, "a bunch." Heck, what used to be important — land, design and marketing — is now nothing more than "table stakes" to play the game. Satisfaction seems to be the code word for home building. And that's not all.

Selling is different, too. Today, a sale requires more than a collection of fancy techniques and managed phrases. Today's sale also requires that both parties — the seller and the buyer — be fulfilled and satisfied. If you listen to experts, you'd realize that even the experts have gone so far as to redefine selling as an "extended collaboration." If you believe the experts, you'd also have to admit that the selling techniques they describe are different than those still popular in our industry.

My point?

Ideas about business have been redefined. Ideas about customers have been redefined. And the skills needed for success have been redefined too. Taking these ideas into consideration, there are "new rules" to define selling success in today's marketplace:

  • Selling is dynamic. It is also defined by the skills to manage multiple commitments.
  • Selling is collaborative. It also requires working to create "win/win" situations.
  • Selling is about personal relationships. It also transcends trust and rapport.
  • Selling is about customer satisfaction. It also requires a customer-focused process.
  • Selling is strategic. It also requires "on your feet" thinking and implementation.

If you didn't notice, selling today revolves around the customer, not the salesperson. With that being the case, let's talk about why women have an advantage over men.

Why Women?

There does appear to be a higher standard for women — both in life and in business. This higher standard doesn't cause women to be better salespeople, but it does appear to make their other skills more effective. Here's a look at selling in today's world and what women have that some men appear to be lacking:

Fact: Selling today is dynamic and requires the ability to manage multiple commitments.

Think about everyday life. It's rush here, rush there, do this and don't forget that. If you think about it, women appear to be much more practiced than men at this skill. Many women manage the clamor of the conflicting commitments — children, school, after hours events, budgets, "to do" lists and family social events — and they do it 24 hours a day. It's not that women are better at managing conflicting commitments, but they do seem to have more practice.

Fact: Selling today is about collaborating and creating "win/win" situations.

Wendy Keller, author of Secrets of Successful Negotiating for Women, says it best, "What woman wasn't six years old once and didn't quickly realize that 'win-win' was the best way to play Barbies?" Collaborating has become a natural part of women's lives. Most women naturally understand that if they're going to win, then they need to help their customer win. This everyday habit is also projected into many women's business lives.

Men, on the other hand, learned something entirely different. From an early age they learned that it was all about winning. And guess what? We're still playing "King of the Mountain." Sometimes it's good; but sometimes, with respect to customers, it's bad.

Fact: Selling today is about personal relationships. It transcends trust and rapport.

Women cherish relationships. I guess that's no secret, but it's more than that. Women practice what they value. They practice their relationships as mothers, daughters, friends, wives, parents and businesspeople. And they start practicing from the time they were little girls. More than anything, all of their relationships are very personal.

For a man, having a relationship means having a couple of buddies over to watch Monday Night Football. Our idea of a relationship is chips, beer and sports. And in business, "What are you looking for in a new home?" is as personal as we want to get.

Fact: Selling today is about customer satisfaction and requires a "customer focused" process.

Women are shoppers. If anything at all, they realize how it is to be treated by a bad salesperson and what it's like to work with a good one. And they've had this experience thousands of times. They know what satisfies them and what doesn't. This "sixth sense" is deeply ingrained and carries over into their business lives. They know that "one size only fits one."

Men are shoppers, too; but, they shop for the chips and beer for the Monday Night Football I mentioned before. Sure, men recognize a bad salesperson. When a man is confronted with a bad salesperson, he whispers an expletive about the salesperson's personality to the woman that has accompanied him and leaves the purchasing control to the woman.

Fact: Selling today is strategic and requires "on your feet" thinking and implementing.

Men see selling or negotiating as a competitive game or puzzle. Women see selling or negotiating as a collaborative process.

Women tend to ask themselves, "How do I work with this person to eventually reach my goals?" Men ask themselves something completely different. They end up wondering, "How do I unravel this puzzle so I can make a sale?" You be the judge. Which is more strategic and who would you rather work with?

Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of The Human Equation, says things best. He states that success comes from implementing strategy, not just having one.

Lessons to Be Learned

Before I'm completely drummed out of the Rod, Gun, Bloody Mary and Labrador Retriever Club, let me admit something — I had a point in mind when I started this article. I admit I generalized a little bit. I also admit that I went a little overboard poking fun at us guys. But you have to admit, there's a little truth to everything that I mentioned. So, what am I saying here? It's simple.

We need to step back and revaluate ourselves and our sales process. Perhaps we need to reevaluate how we're selling compared to the huge commitment we're asking our customers to make. Our industry's selling process doesn't come close to matching our customer's decision process.

What worked with customers a mere five to 10 years ago is not what works today.

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