When Belinda Hopp walks into a home, women often welcome her, telling the sales manager for Renewal by Andersen in Minnesota's Twin Cities, “I'm so glad they sent a woman. It makes me so much more comfortable.”
Hopp appreciates that sentiment, because a customer's comfort level is important. “It doesn't matter what process you use. First, someone has to be comfortable with you.” That's especially true, Hopp notes, for customers who feel more vulnerable, such as single women and widows.
Actually, everyone seems more cautious since 9/11, says Cheryl Moore, president and owner of P&G Specialties in Indianapolis. “But a [saleswoman] coming to the home brings a sense of relief to a woman and seems no threat to a man.”
Winning Trust Creating a positive attitude toward the salesperson is just one step in making the sale, however. Salespeople must win a homeowner's trust before they can ask for the job. Fortunately, basement designer Diane Powers of Alure Home Improvements, in Hicksville, N.Y., has found that women trust her more than they do salesmen. “First of all, the industry does not have a good reputation. Then, women feel that if they have no husband or partner, they're more likely to be taken advantage of by a man than a woman.”
Even if they're not afraid of being bamboozled in some way, wives often tend to be the quieter spouse and thus get less attention from salesmen. That's a big mistake that Hopp doesn't make. “In most cases, I think the woman is really in charge of the budget,” she says. “You'd better be able to speak to the woman because she'll be just as instrumental as he is in making decisions.”
No High Heels Although it's crucial to say the right things, salespeople must also listen, and that's where women excel, says Renee DeLorenzo, training manager for Garden State Brickface in Roselle, N.J., and Renewal by Andersen in Cranford, N.J. “Women listen more and are more empathetic.”
Once salespeople have earned a homeowner's trust, the next hurdle is proving that they know what they're talking about — and that's where women face a hurdle. “Men seem to have a harder time believing that I'm capable,” Powers says. “They test me to see if I know what I'm talking about.” Customers, in fact, have advised her to demonstrate her technical knowledge to prospects right away rather than do the traditional warm-up.
Women in sales also need to think more about how they're dressed. “It's all about how you present yourself,” Hopp says. “I don't wear heels on sales calls so that men won't wonder, ‘Will she know which end of the hammer to use?'” Learning to overcome that dubious attitude rather than be offended by it is important, she points out. “I don't mind having to work harder to prove myself,” she adds. “If I didn't, I might stagnate.”