Friday, February 19, 2010

Do professional women go to market differently?

By Mira Leonard, Partner with Creative Growth Group

In our work with professional service providers, we often get asked to present to affinity groups, some of which are professional women’s groups. One of the first comments we hear from women is that when it comes to client development the process for them is different. Is it, really? This piqued my curiosity and as a result I observed and talked to several successful professional women about it. Here’s what I discovered.

When it comes to growing their practices, professional women go to market NO differently than any other segment of professional service providers. In fact, I’d argue that we are in a better position to be successful in client development because of our natural skills – all we need to draw those skills out are strong support and a little bit of chutzpah (I learned that word during an interview process, a long time ago).

Let me elaborate on what I mean by natural skills. While this might be an overgeneralization, I’d say women tend to have better intuition, are more sensitive and have better multitasking and time management skills. All of these are important attributes when it comes to client development.

In my experience, the ability to intuitively relate and genuinely connect with people is one of the most important skills necessary in client development, regardless of gender. Still, female professionals may have the advantage here. People work with other people they like and trust, and that’s exactly where sensitivity comes to play. Professional women have it, which makes them natural at developing relationships. They are more readily able to “sit on the same side of the table” (figuratively) with their prospects, can quickly identify points of affinity with those they’ve just met, regardless of age, gender, etc., each of which are important first steps in any client development approach. Intuition, also known as a gut feeling, is the ability to weigh a situation and quickly and accurately decide on the most appropriate way to handle it. An extremely helpful attribute when it comes to client development, intuition is the inside voice that guides people during conversations, helps them uncover client opportunities and make the judgment calls on when and how to pursue those opportunities. If we can assume that the age old lore about “woman’s intuition” holds some truth, then we’ve identified another female business development advantage. I was talking with a client the other day who was wondering how to approach a prospect who hadn’t responded to a proposal. He had offered multiple solutions to a problem after a first meeting with that prospect. Did he offer too much too quickly? Here’s where the instinctually sharp intuition of a woman would have helped handle this differently. A female professional may have readily sensed whether enough trust had yet been built before sending a proposal. Both sensitivity and intuition play integral role in developing relationships and clients. Moreover, technical skills aside, these attributes make professional service providers better advisors. In all of these, women have the upper hand.

Most professional women, like myself, have multiple titles and tasks to juggle. We are wives, moms, leaders of community organizations and of course, directors and partners, which forces us to be very good at time and project management. This also gives us multiple venues for client development. According to Monica Bell, Chief Marketing Officer of the engineering firm HDR CHU2A, the ability to multitask coupled with a strong support system, one that women can trust and rely on, are the secrets to success for professional women. Observing female clients and friends who have risen to professional success, I’d have to agree with her. Many of our clients are often asking us for an efficiency system to help them coordinate their client work, client development efforts and management of the firm. Aside from encouraging them to think "how else?", "what else?", "who else?" and "where else?" they can get support and leverage, we also ask that they don’t segment their lives into silos but think about brining it all together. Is that need to integrate seemingly disparate aspects of our lives different for different genders? I’d say no. The days of “Mad Men” are long gone. Professional men are just as busy and involved with family and community today as women are and share the same time deficiency challenges. So, when it comes to time management and availability necessary to pursue client development, we are no more advantaged or disadvantaged than our male counterparts.

Earlier, I mentioned that professional women could use a dose of chutzpah to succeed in client development. Chutzpah is the confidence to stand up, speak up and take on a leadership role during the client development process and afterwards. The nature of professional services calls for strong advisors, who offer solutions and can defend their opinions. If professional women can’t demonstrate respectful but direct chutzpah during a prospective client encounter then they might have a challenge growing their practices. Once again, I would have to say that’s no different for women than it is for men. Regardless of gender, confidence comes with experience and client and leadership validation. In order to get to that point professionals, both male and female, have to step up and take chances.

The bottom line is that professional women, like their male colleagues go to market by developing relationships and in many regards are in a better position to be successful at it because of their baked-in traits. Before I open this to comments, I’d be remiss not to mention a couple of examples. Hedy Rubinger, a mother of four and a Partner at Arnall Golden Gregory has been extremely successful in building her practice and managing it all. Jackie Montag is another example of the quintessential successful professional woman: she is a woman who uses her natural capabilities to build a practice, run a family and lead numerous community boards. I am happy to say, the list can go on and on…

Agree or disagree? Drop me a note and let me know your thoughts

About the Author

Mira Leonard is a Partner with Creative Growth Group, Inc. where she is famous for helping to grow Creative Growth and manage its own business development efforts in addition to serving as a client development strategist and coach for our professional services clients.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Thank you Mira for an insightful post. I will share this with other women who struggle with their role in business development. We sometimes feel "dwarfed" by men who are successful in this area, so we are reluctant to demonstrate our intuitive skills. Here's to more chutzpah!