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Putting Gender on the Agenda

February 21, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 181

Emotional intelligence is always an engaging topic in my sales training sessions as the participants revel in the quest for a better understanding of traits like behavioural style, and other subtle characteristics of the customer mindset. Because my workshops are usually mixed groups, the discussion inevitably leads to the subject of gender, and we can always count on a lively discussion about it. I guess that's because, as much as we strive for equality in today's society, it is impossible to deny that the psychological make-up of males and females is different - not better or worse, just different. Even within the tight boundaries of our modern stance on equal opportunity, it must be acknowledged that the differences in how we communicate, and particularly in business how we buy and sell, are substantial. Although often shrouded in mystery and clouded by issues of sensitivity, the differences must be appreciated - and they must be accommodated. Let's start with some background...

From the Suffragette period of more than a hundred years ago, through the feminist movements of the seventies and eighties, culminating in the sophisticated and appropriate affirmative action policies of today, we have seen steady and deserving progress in women's quest for recognition in the workforce. Although the glass ceiling is still a sad reality in some cultures, and some sectors of the business world, it's heartening to see that worthwhile gains continue to be made. But, while the progress is to be applauded, there seems to be a downside to this as well.

Perhaps this concerted effort to promote a proper and balanced attitude towards equal opportunity in the workplace has spilled into areas where it was never intended. It has certainly had a profound effect on social standards, particularly in areas like courtship and romance, where so often a well-intentioned act of chivalry by the man is interpreted as a challenge to her independence by the woman. It seems that the days of the gallant male opening car doors and arriving on the doorstep with roses in hand may be lost forever. It would be enough to make Sir Walter Raleigh despair.

Regrettably this may have impeded, even set back, our willingness to accept and deal with the gender difference in some quarters. We now seem reluctant to front the subject for fear of offending. Have we managed to confuse 'equal opportunity' with 'sameness'? Could this be another case of over zealous political correctness?

We know there are definite physical, biological and neurological differences. Yes, even our basic brain functions are different, so we should be prepared to accept that in the buying and selling process, our fundamentally different approach to communication does set us worlds apart. Yet, even in the face of an accumulation of scientific evidence to support years of anecdotal observation, most business books and training references play down, even ignore, this vital topic. It seems that, while gender is considered an essential demographic element in the wider marketing sense, when we get to the specifics of face-to-face selling and negotiating, it is often either overlooked completely, or dismissed off-hand as being nothing more than a myth - a perpetration of the prehistoric 'Man the Hunter - Woman the Gatherer' belief.

Yet, many of those preconceptions have survived the passage of time. Some are actually quite disheartening, and simply must not be ignored. Despite the more enlightened outlook of today, we still see examples of it, where the female is granted little or no respect for technical competence, or the male is denied any credit for having the necessary compassion. It happens particularly in the selling environment, with salespeople prone to prejudging their customers purely on the basis of gender. The worst example - and perhaps the most frequent - is the situation where a salesman who is selling to a couple acts dismissively towards the woman, addressing the majority of the attention towards the other male, particularly if the conversation is related to anything technical or mechanical.

Although it may be prompted by nothing other than the comfort of talking man-to-man, it is almost certainly interpreted by the woman as demeaning. Curiously, it doesn't seem to happen so much the other way round. A saleswoman seems more likely to engage both man and woman equally, although with women now assuming a higher profile in buying roles, we are seeing some signs of intolerance from the female buyer as she resents the often pushy and condescending approach of many salesmen. Across the negotiating table, sublime sexual tension can even play a part. We must be careful that this doesn't generate any undeserved prejudice or unearned favour. Yes, we need to be constantly aware of the powerful hidden forces that can come into play in mixed company.

Any attempt here to unravel the mysteries of those deep psychological differences between the male and the female of our species would certainly be outside the scope of this article, but it is appropriate to take a look at the more observable everyday patterns of buying and selling behaviour. The shopping environment of a supermarket is a great example. This can give us some real insight into how differently men and women might approach a commercial buying and selling situation.

The Shopping Mindset - Men usually see commodity shopping as a necessity, even a nuisance, whereas the majority of women view it as something of an adventure - an enjoyable experience. This is most noticeable in a supermarket. Compared with men, who are in and out of the shop as quickly as possible, women will often peruse the entire store. Men will pluck the items they need from the shelf, toss them in the shopping trolley, tick them off on their list, and head straight for the next aisle.

On the way, they will probably overtake several women who will be busy reading labels, comparing brands, and exploring price options. There is nothing wrong with the way either approaches the shopping process - we are just different, that's all. This difference is even more pronounced when we compare the decision-making process.

The Decision-Making Triggers - A woman will usually be more discerning. She will typically take more time over a purchase decision, whereas a man will ask himself a few basic questions such as whether the item will satisfy his needs. If it looks like reasonable value, he will make his selection, and move on. Women generally see this as being too impulsive and deserving of a little more consideration, leading to a tendency for them to oversell when selling to men.

Women, on the other hand, will ponder their choices, talk to other people, and do more research than the average man. Women will consider the purchase from many different angles and will make more comparisons before making the final decision. Men often see this deliberation as procrastination, and allow their impatience to show. This can have fatal consequences. Applying unreasonable pressure to a woman to make her decision too quickly can backfire. The immediate sale will probably be lost, as will any potential future business from her.

The Buying Considerations - All customers have certain buying needs which can be both logical and emotional, and capable salespeople will be well aware of the need to marry the rationale to the desire - to address both the needs and wants. Asking well-considered questions will certainly help to determine each customer's requirements, but again there are differences to observe.

Men tend to focus more on their logical needs when making a purchase because functionality is usually high on their agenda. Generally speaking, they are not comfortable asking questions. That is why they seldom ask for directions and will stubbornly refuse to seek out help, often to the point of indignation. This discomfort increases when they are shopping for a product they are unfamiliar with. If we sense this frustration, we should spend less time building rapport and talking the small talk. Instead, we need to put them at ease by concentrating on helping them find exactly what they are looking for, and demonstrating how it will address their specific, logical needs.

In most circumstances, women tend to lean towards the more emotional needs when making a decision to buy. They will focus on how the item fits into their lifestyle and how it will make them feel, often regarding what the product will mean to them as more important than what the product will do for them. They will even consider how the purchase might affect others close to them. Salesmen need to ask plenty of open questions to make women feel more comfortable in the sales process. They need to encourage women to open up and share information by asking questions relating to what they have or do now, and what has been their experience of it.

Questions like those are effective in learning exactly what she likes and dislikes... but we must pay careful attention to what she says. Women also tend to give more background information about their purchase than men, and are usually more indirect, often talking around their real needs, and circling the issue before closing in on it. Sure, we joke that mere males can really only do one thing at a time, but there is more than an element of truth in the expression, so it is critically important for men to exercise their active listening skills here. Although for salesmen, this seems like more information than is necessary, it is actually a demonstration of trust, because in the customer's mind, everything she is telling us is relevant to the purchase. It is a sign that she feels confident that we would want to know about it, and be willing to help her to buy what she really needs.

As observed earlier, we are treading on the proverbial quicksand if we try to delve any more deeply into the intriguing gender issues, but these are the obvious 'buying and selling' differences, and the ones we can absorb fairly easily into our negotiating agenda. In the mixed company of my live workshops, they certainly do ring true, and it is common to see a noticeable change in the way the men and women interact after we have covered this topic.

We must keep in mind too, that the gender difference joins the age variable at the top of our communications hierarchy, meaning that these two factors must influence all the approaches, styles, and techniques that follow. As we look to apply our interpersonal communication skills, qualifying routines, and selling techniques throughout the sales process, the fact of whether we are dealing with the same or opposite sex must therefore be a precursor.

There is no doubt that a heightened awareness of these differences will help to narrow what is often seen as a credibility gap, prompting us to apply subtle variations to our approach, particularly in the key questioning and listening disciplines. On both sides, our virtues of patience and tolerance may just require a little more nurturing. A more receptive perception on our part will certainly help us with the daunting task of selling to someone of the opposite sex, negotiating with a couple, or working with a mixed audience.

As they say in France, 'Viva la difference'!

About the Author:

In a distinguished career spanning half a century, Keith Rowe has managed the full journey from shop floor to boardroom. Along the way, he has headed the Australian sales and marketing operations for three of the world's largest Consumer Electronics manufacturers - Toshiba, Sanyo and Sharp.

Keith is not just a successful businessman. He is an accomplished speaker and trainer, specialising in interpersonal skills. His latest book - the KNACK of Negotiating - is essential reading for all those involved in commercial buying and selling. It is available in all the popular eBook formats, from Apple iTunes to Amazon Kindle.

© 2012 Keith Rowe - all rights reserved worldwide

Source: EzineArticles
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