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Well Said!

Men and Women Communicate Differently, But …

A contrarian's perspective on gender-specific approaches to sales.

By Mike O'Horo

A lot has been written about the differences in how men and women communicate when pursuing business. In particular, how either gender should relate to the other when they’re the seller and the other is the buyer.

Once, someone asked: “How do you advise a male lawyer interview or assess the needs of a female general counsel?”

The questioner acknowledged there is no one best way to communicate for all business interactions and there are many exceptions. But she cited an example of a male litigator telling a female prospect his fees upfront and why he was worth them.

A Red Herring

I didn’t take the bait. Gender is a red herring here.

The male litigator described is simply a clumsy pitchman with no selling skill or even baseline awareness of how to conduct himself. That’s true whether he’s speaking with a woman or man. (Talking price before eliciting your prospect’s perception of value, expressed in dollars, is just stupid.)

Gender-Specific Approaches to Sales

I’m very much a contrarian on the topic of gender-specific approaches.

Concerning oneself with gender is antithetical to professional sales interactions for one simple reason: It makes it about the seller, which is self-defeating.

If you’re in front of someone, engaged in a needs assessment as part of a disciplined sales investigation, your interviewee has already decided that your gender is a positive, or neutral, or she wouldn’t have granted you an audience.

You’re there because she perceived that your agenda is relevant to issues she’s obligated to care about. (Side note: If you’re being seen only at the request of a higher-up, you’re already wasting your time.)

It’s Easy: Don’t Let It Be About You

Let me also push back on this assumption: “I know there is no one best way to communicate for all business interactions.”

Actually, there is a simple, reliable framework: Don’t allow it to be about your firm, your product, your service or you. Prospects don’t care about any of those things.

Just like you and me, they care about:

  • Being visibly successful in their job.
  • Anticipating, eliminating and mitigating risks to their success.
  • Exploiting opportunities.
  • Fulfilling personal goals.
  • Eliminating or reducing headaches and causes of stress.

Remain Relevant, Remain Welcome

If you’re talking about anything other than business issues that are relevant and meaningful to this person, in this role, at this company, in this industry, under current conditions, you’ll never expose reliable demand and motivate the prospect to drive the sale forward based on self-interest.

As for women and men communicating differently? Of course they do.

However, the best protection against whatever risks might be embedded in gender differences is to avoid trying to interpret anything the other person says. Because you have a different lens, you’ll likely be wrong. Instead, ask clarifying questions to render anything vague or abstract more explicit. (See “Referrals: The Sales Investigation Meeting.”)

Here are a couple of posts specific to gender considerations: “Before Investing in Gender-Specific BD Training” and Playing the Gender Card in Sales.”

Categories: Business Development, Rainmaking, Well Said!
Originally published August 20, 2018
Last updated December 17, 2019
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Mike O’Horo Mike O'Horo

Known as “The Coach” throughout his long career, Mike O’Horo was a giant among his peers in legal marketing and business development. He trained more than 7,000 lawyers, simplifying powerful sales processes by which they generated $1.5 billion in new business. A serial innovator, earlier he developed RainmakerVT, a virtual BD training tool, and the sales training program ResultsPath. He wrote his column, “Well Said!,” on sales and business development truths for lawyers. Mike passed away in February 2022.

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