Men: How to Negotiate with Female Clients

Last Updated Aug 9, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

"He said, she said" is not a game you want to play when multi-million dollar contracts are on the table. I asked two noted experts in marketing to women to explain where women and men talk past each other in high-pressure, high-stakes meetings.

Marti Barletta, CEO of the TrendSight Group, advises top executives at financial services and consulting firms that are selling big contracts to women decisionmakers. Sasha Galbraith, a partner with Galbraith Management Consultants, is a former Wells Fargo executive who now consults with multinational corporations. They agree that top executives of both genders can sometimes overlook nuances in gender communication styles. But when you work with each gender's preferences, you capture a competitive advantage that can seal the deal.

In my last post, I shared their ideas on how women can better sell to male clients. Now, here are four key tactics men can adopt to better understand female clients' communication and decisionmaking styles:
1. Women crave comprehensive information. They want to understand the underlying rationale, research and implications of the top options. "Women want a grasp of the specifics," Barletta says. When presenting, say, the top three recommendations, include an addendum that provides the backstory for each.

2. Women will ask about underlying factors that men have, for the sake of brevity, summarized. For example, women may ask about implications for marketing, communications, and staff morale -- all factors that men have rolled up into their top-line recommendations. Be prepared to explain those implications.

When a candidate for a project or contract meets qualifications on the essentials, women will continue to examine details for the most important differentiators that will tip the decision. It may appear to men that women are overlooking the core criteria -- can the contractor accomplish the work? Has the contractor got smart, motivated people to assign to the project? -- when in fact, women have already tacitly agreed that the core criteria are met. Seemingly small details often capture the deal, because women are looking for the perfect solution, not merely a good solution, Barletta says.

3. Nodding is not what it seems. Understandably enough, men assume that when women nod their heads, they are agreeing. In fact, many women nod to indicate that they are listening and to encourage the speaker to continue. Barletta says that clarifying the meaning of nodding -- is it listening, or is it assent? -- can be a big a-ha moment for male financial advisers. "They'll say, 'Yeah, she nodded the whole time I was talking with her -- and then she said no!"

4. Recognize and respect the greater context. "Women are inspirationally motivated," Galbraith says. " If the organization is not moving in a direction they want to have it move, whether it's for the greater good or to bring the best product to market, women will disengage." Put specific recommendations in the context of how all stakeholders will benefit. That may not change the actual recommendation, but it conveys that everyone will benefit if your pitch prevails.