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Gender Communication Differences in Sales

Training a sales force is a fundamental area of business leadership and management. Sales is greatly impacted by the gender differences—after all, sales is all about communication with men and women.

When we think about the fundamental brain differences between men and women, we can also see those differences manifested in their speech patterns during sales. Men often communicate in sales situations by being data-and-product-directed: they may interrupt, they use less emotion, they stay more on topic and don’t get personal (of course there are exceptions to this), and they tend to make declarative statements about a product.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be more wired to cross-connect and build relationships when they sell; therefore, their speech tends to be geared toward being inclusive and more relational; they ask more questions, they try to get to know the person on a personal level, and they use tag endings (“It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”) that compel the other person to communicate back.

Often managers will ask, “So, who is better in sales, men or women?” Neither is better biologically—they are different!

If you as a leader are responsible for a sales force, here are a number of communication differences you will want to look at closely as you add brain-based gender differences to your assessment of the talents you are managing. Use these to help your sales team alter their techniques to fit the women or men they are selling to.

• Men tend to speak in louder voices than women do. They also tend to use loudness to emphasize points. If you see it in the males in your sales force, make sure it fits the product and customer.

• Given that men tend to interrupt more than women, they (and similar women) often need help, especially if they are going to sell to women, in listening better—and not interrupting too often.

• Women talk more about themselves, revealing more about their lives than men do. Is this a good fit for your product? It might well be. But it might not be, especially if the woman is going to sell to a man who really doesn’t care a lot about the person he is buying from.

• Men more directly accuse—”You didn’t fill that order.” Women are more likely to ask, “Why didn’t you fill that order?” Generally, both kinds of communication can be useful in different situations. If you see someone in your sales force overemphasizing either way of communicating, you may need to mentor them toward a middle ground.

• Women tend to include more pleasant endings, such as “Have a nice day.” They use lots of questions, and they use upward inflections, making statements into questions through inflection. “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” Men tend to ask fewer questions to stimulate conversation with customers than women do. Men tend to end sentences in more abrupt ways, including their phone conversations. Men also tend to avoid upward inflections. Be very clear on when and where and with whom each of these strategies works.

Your sales force may need your men to “peer mentor” your women, and vice versa. Given that selling takes place with both women and men, all the skills are needed.

Ultimately, in general, if a man is selling to a woman, he may need to stretch his emotional abilities to try to build a relationship, not just get to the bottom line of the sale.

Similarly, in general, if a woman is selling to a man, she may need to be cognizant that men often don’t like talking a lot about their personal lives or beating around the bush. Often, they just want you to get to the bottom line using as few words as possible.

Try This Sidebar: Selling to Men

Aware that a lot of selling/marketing research about gender addresses how to market and sell to women (see, for example, the books The Power of the Purse and Selling to Women), speaker and trainer Karen Purves completed a long-term research project to see how brain-based gender differences affect sales to men. She then developed a 12-point program that combined this gender/brain research with field research.

Karen shared three of her communication insights and tools with us:

First, I found that it is most effective to ask a man what he thinks about something, or what he thinks is a good next step. This is as opposed to “What do you want to do next?” When I’ve helped sales forces apply this in the field, I often get back follow-up comments like, “This really works: it takes pressure off the guy, increases his comfort, and increases his likelihood to buy from me.”

Second, when men sometimes act impulsively in business buying decisions, salespeople should use this to their advantage. Soft close early if he’s ready. It saves time, effort and money. The idea here isn’t that all men are impulsive—the success idea here is to check to see if this man is ready to buy with very little information or time invested.

Third, competition really works when selling to men (not all, but many). Whether it is through quotas or competing bids, almost every industry has or can include competitive elements. When you convey information about competition, most men prefer you to state the information in facts and figures, as opposed to stories.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher Jossey Bass from LEADERSHIP AND THE SEXES. Copyright (c) 2008 by Michael Gurian with Barbara Annis. This book is available at all bookstores, online booksellers and from the Jossey Bass web site at www.josseybass.com.

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