Mars and Venus in the Boardroom

By Heather Baldwin

Picture yourself as a male sales rep giving a sales presentation to a female decision-maker. She’s nodding, smiling intermittently and saying things, such as: Uh-huh. Yes. I understand. You’re thinking: Great! She’s really interested in this! So you keep talking and talking and explaining all the minute details of your product, encouraged by both her verbal and nonverbal feedback. You walk out confident you’ve closed the sale. She walks out thinking there’s no way she could work with someone who talks so much, and tells her assistant to let your competition know they won the contract. A rare scenario? Or just another day in the lives of Mars and Venus?

Unfortunately, it’s the latter, says Kirsten Carey, president of Orange Tree Training & Speaking Group based in East Norriton, PA ( Carey, a professional speaker and trainer who specializes in gender communication issues, recommends men allow their female prospects to do most of the talking and resist the urge to discuss every wonderful detail of their product, even if that prospect is nodding and saying uh-huh. Women, says Carey, typically value the relationship more than the facts and figures of a product. If they find a rep who really listens to them and understands their concerns, they’re likely to buy from that rep. To demonstrate your interest, Carey recommends men provide nonverbal feedback such as nodding and smiling, and learn to paraphrase concerns with phrases, such as: Okay, let me make sure I understand what you’re saying. It sounds like you’re frustrated with…. You’ll be amazed at the enthusiasm a woman displays when she feels she has truly been heard, says Carey.

Two of the biggest challenges women face, she adds, are understanding the difference between being aggressive and assertive, and recognizing that aggressiveness usually exudes a negative response from an audience. “People aren’t used to seeing women be aggressive, but some women think they have to come in and be loud and pound on the desk because men can get away with it,” she explains.

The same goes for closing. For the most part, hard, forceful closes don’t work for women because society doesn’t expect or want women to be hard and forceful. A man selling cars can say: What do I need to do to get you to buy this car today? The same approach by a woman might not go over as successfully. Finally, women need to keep in mind that men don’t provide the same kinds of verbal and nonverbal feedback that women do. Don’t assume a man who isn’t nodding and saying uh-huh isn’t listening and interested, she says. If you really need the feedback, Carey suggests you pepper your presentation with questions such as: Is everything clear so far? Or: What questions do you have so far?

Mars and Venus might be separated by millions of miles, but in the end they’re both planets, and understanding how each communicates can have a huge impact on your sales.