Selling To Women – Give Her An Out

I recently received a lovely invitation to attend a dinner and seminar on retirement planning from a local financial firm.    I was very interested in both the seminar and the dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.    So did I reply “yes” to the invitation?

No – I did not.


The company has a form to fill out when you RSVP, and there was a question in that form that stopped me cold and ultimately caused me to abandon the RSVP process and not attend the event.   What was the question?

financial seminar RSVP form

financial seminar RSVP form

Can you guess which question was a gigantic stop sign?

“If you found the speaker and the materials helpful at our event would you be open to meeting with one of our retirement professionals?”

Now, this seems like a perfectly reasonable question, N’est-ce pas?   And I have the choice to answer “no.”    And this company is hoping that if I check “yes” I will be pre-conditioned to say “yes” to a follow-up meeting, which is, after all, the whole point of the event.

Don’t make women feel trapped

Like many women, I am too polite to check “no.”     And yet, without having attended the event, I have no idea whether I’d be open to meeting with someone.  I have no idea who this company is or what my reaction to them and their presentation will be.

They are asking me for a commitment before I am ready.   And that makes me feel trapped.

The ONLY box I would feel comfortable checking would be MAYBE.

The discomfort and pressure I felt over answering this question literally derailed the whole sales process.  I was not comfortable answering the question, and that discomfort (and distrust) has spilled over to the company.

Give her an out

It sounds counter-intuitive to give your prospects an out.  We’re taught closing techniques like, “Would you like to meet Tuesday at 10 am, or Thursday at 2pm?”  We are giving them a choice, but just not the choice to say, “no.”

In his new book Adversaries into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion,  Bob Burg shares a technique called “Give them a back door.”

He advocates giving prospects an out, noting:

“They don’t necessarily want to say no.  They just want to know they can say no.”   

This is a brilliant insight.   Anything that causes prospects to feel pressure erodes their comfort and their trust in the sales person.

Bob Burg suggests using phrases like, “You may or may not be interested”, “Is this a good time to speak or have I caught you at a really awful time?”, and “This isn’t for everyone.”

On the surface you would think these phrases would decrease sales, but it’s just the opposite.  These phrases are designed to make people feel more comfortable, less pressure, and, in my opinion, will dramatically increase trust.  As Bob points out:

“You are not giving them the out so they will take it. Your goal is to make them feel comfortable enough not to feel the need to take it.”

Why this is so important when selling to women

In my research, “gotcha questions” almost always backfire with women. Questions like,

“If I could show you how you could save $200 a month would you buy this product today?”

You are asking her to make a commitment before she is ready.  You are painting her into a corner.  Women are especially sensitive to anything that feels like they are being forced into something.  Perhaps it has to do with being physically weaker than men.   It also has to do with women’s upbringing to be “polite.”   They don’t want to come right out and say, “no.”

According to Burg:

“When faced with a potential conflict, people often feel pressured to respond or behave a certain way.  This puts them on the defensive and creates an adversarial frame.”

“If you give people an out, this is a way of letting a person feel comfortable with you and the situation by providing them with an emotional escape route.”

One of the biggest differences between selling to men and selling to women is that women put “trust” at the absolute top of the list of factors when working with someone.   (For men, trust is also important, but credentials/expertise usually tops their list.)

This is one of the most powerful techniques I have seen for creating trust in your female prospects.    Look at your sales process.  Are you asking Gotcha questions?  Are you asking her for a commitment before she’s ready?  (like the question in the above RSVP form?)

Remember, as Bob Burg says,  giving her an out is about making her feel  comfortable enough NOT to say, “no.”  In other words, comfortable enough to say, “yes.”

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