Women want your advice—they’re just too busy to ask for it. A recent study by Prudential found that half of all women with an annual household income of $50,000 or more prefer to learn about financial products and services from advisors, but less than a quarter have actually met with one in the past two years. A big reason: They were too caught up with daily financial demands to think far ahead. Not surprisingly, most women—a whopping eight out of 10—said they’ll fund their retirement with Social Security benefits.
The need for your services couldn’t be more apparent, but you may have concerns about the time and energy that it often takes to win over this pool of prospects. It’s not that you’ve bought into the stereotype that most women don’t flex much economic muscle. Actually, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that about half of all wives earn as much or more than their husbands, and at least a third earn more. Your real concern may come down to the fact that many women often take longer than men to make up their minds—they like to browse and confer with family and friends before you can close the sale.
Tough, but loyal
“Women tend to be a little more emotional when it comes to buying,” says Delia Passi, former publisher of Working Woman magazine and the author of the new book, Winning the Toughest Customer: The Essential Guide to Selling to Women. “While the average man takes about two points of contact before you can close the sale with him, the average woman takes about five to seven—that’s huge.” But while it may take longer to win over a female client, in the long run she’ll be more likely to realize the importance of what you do. For example, a recent LIMRA study, Women and Life Insurance: Results from the 2004 U.S. Ownership Study, found that women are generally more receptive to life insurance than men are. They’re often referral machines, too. “A woman is more likely to refer a financial advisor 26 times in her lifetime—versus 11 times for a man,” says Passi. And, she adds, they’re more likely to stick with just one advisor.
The seven steps
At the same time, there is a way to close the sale faster—if you realize that women often communicate differently than men. In Selling to Women, Passi outlines a seven-step communication style that can help you close the sale in four meetings or fewer.
1. Find common ground. “Before you even sit down, she has made a judgment call on you,” says Passi. Is your office inviting? Is your receptionist friendly? Are you well dressed? Beyond the basics—be on time; smile; shake her hand firmly, but not hard—go with this conversation starter: Talk about family and community associations.
2. Gather information. This stage is the most critical. She has to feel as if you’re really listening. Ask about her life and work, her needs and interests. Take notes. Look her in the eye.
3. Seek to understand. “Many women will buy from you not because they understand what you are selling, but because you understand them,” writes Passi. Play back to her what she’s said. Send her a letter within 48 hours that includes three or more points that she touched on. Also include items to discuss in your next meeting. You may also follow up with a call to confirm that she received the letter and to offer to answer any other questions she might have.
4. Share your knowledge. Be confident, but also willing to admit when you don’t know something. If you can’t answer her question, tell her you’ll get back to her within 24 hours. Also, solicit her feedback. If you don’t agree with her conclusions, gently recommend a similar product that you feel would be a better fit. Know that you may not get a commitment from her then and there. Provide her materials to further her knowledge—and to let her know that you’re more than willing to give her time to decide.
5. Fill the need. Here you have to effectively answer her question, “What will this product or service do for me?” You connect benefits to needs. You also reinforce your commitment to her. “In financial services,” writes Passi, “women want a ‘partner’ in providing solutions more than they want a salesperson.” At this stage, she should feel as if you’ll be her advisor through all her changing financial needs.
6. Come to an agreement. Reassure her that your agreement meets her needs. Restate the points she made in the conversation and how the product will help her. Speak in terms of “we” instead of “you.” Ask her, “Shall we move forward?” If she says, “I need to think about it,” offer to give her additional information to help her make a decision. Also provide referrals of other women or clients who have benefited from the same service.
7. Follow through. You’ve sealed the deal, but you still have to be as conscientious as ever about following up with her. Follow through on everything you said you would do. And keep in touch: Send a card on her birthday, for the holidays or on the anniversary of a sale.
This may seem like a lot of work to convert a prospect into a client. But remember, if you show her you’re trustworthy and loyal, she won’t keep all your hard work a secret for long.