Active Listening Skills are Key to Winning in the Women’s Market. Here’s Why.
by Bridget Brennan
As the old proverb says, it’s wise to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Active listening is key to both engaging with women and earning their business.
According to statistics, women are steadily becoming the breadwinners for their households. Failing to understand how to connect with them will effectually alienate them as buyers and cost you customers.
Even the most genuine of attempts to connect with women can be both ineffectual and offensive if you’re not careful to avoid common stereotypes.
Making assumptions can not only land you in hot water, but it can cost you a customer if you’re not careful. When trying to win business with women, put those active listening skills to good use by leaving outdated stereotypes at home and showing potential customers that you value what they have to say.
A mature woman sits down for an introductory phone call with a prospective financial advisor. Right off the bat, the advisor talks nonstop about his experience, his perspective on the market, and the pros and cons of specific financial products.
He talks so much she can’t interject a word, and after what feels like forever, she starts to tune him out. He has yet to ask her a single question about her goals or what she’s looking for, and he is talking about products that are irrelevant to her needs.
She cuts the call short and hangs up the phone, and he never hears from her again. He is left with the impression that she wasn’t serious about engaging an advisor. She was.
WHAT WENT WRONG STEMS FROM A LACK OF ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS
This advisor spent too much time talking about himself and not enough time listening to his customer. Little did he know, this customer had decades of investing experience. His intention was to establish his credentials, but by dominating the conversation for so long and not asking questions early enough, he conveyed that if he were her advisor, she wouldn’t be listened to or taken seriously.
Active listening is key to winning in the women’s market for any sales professional, and we’ll cover multiple strategies for demonstrating this skill [in Winning Her Business]. Each of these well-intentioned professionals had hoped to connect with his or her customers, and the customers had hoped to buy something. The sales professionals were unable to engage— and subsequently earn the business—because their ideas about how to connect with women were based on stereotypes, such as the idea that complimenting a woman on her looks is sure to win her over, or that aggressively displaying one’s expertise is more important than listening.
ACTIVE LISTENING OVER PASSIVE STEREOTYPES
To effectively engage with modern women, we need to drop the stereotypes and learn what it really takes to connect. Here are some old assumptions to avoid:
Don’t assume your customer is married, no matter her age or motherhood status. Marriage rates are lower than they’ve ever been, due to factors such as high divorce rates, the cultural acceptance of cohabitating, and the increase in diverse, nontraditional family structures.
Don’t assume that if your customer is married, she has the same last name as her spouse. Many women keep their maiden names upon marriage.
Don’t assume your married customer is not the breadwinner. As we see in the numbers mentioned in the previous chapter, women are increasingly the primary income earners for their households.
Don’t assume her partner or spouse is a man. In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in all fifty states.
Don’t assume that all married women are mothers. There are more adults than ever who do not have kids; there are also many who have them later in life. I’ve interviewed women who were mistaken for their children’s nannies or even their grandmothers.
TIPS FOR BETTER CONVERSATIONS WITH WOMEN CONSUMERS
To help you in this area even further, here are some of the conversational “watch-outs” to avoid:
When you find out a woman is childless, don’t probe for reasons why, unless the information is needed to help her make a buying decision. Otherwise, respect her privacy in this area. Some women are childless by chance, and others are childless by choice. One way to respectfully learn about your customers’ lifestyles—male or female—is to address topics such as what a typical day looks like for them, who lives in their households, or who else might use a product they’re interested in buying.
Don’t say, “I guess you’re more of a career person, right?” to a woman who doesn’t have kids, for the same reasons as above.
If you meet a woman who tells you she has one child, do not ask, “Don’t you want your child to have a brother or sister?” Regardless of your good intentions, do your best to avoid making comments that your customers could interpret as judgments about their personal lives.
Whether it’s being talked over, or never getting a chance to speak in the first place, it’s flat out frustrating not to feel heard. Who would want to do business with a company that didn’t seem to care what they thought? On the other hand, who doesn’t love it when a company asks them what they think, let alone takes what they have to say seriously?
Comment below with a time a company has either gained or lost your business thanks to their active listening skills, or lack thereof.
Bridget Brennan is the CEO of Female Factor, the world’s top consultancy firm on marketing and selling to women, and the leading professional speaker on the subject of women consumers. She is also the author of the book Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers (Crown Business, 2011).