Ask Sharon: Proper Business Etiquette Can Boost Sales

June 17, 2005
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Differences Between Men And Women

Dear Sharon,
Bull's-eye! In your most recent column ("Ask Sharon," May 16), you supplied great responses to questions that held the mirror for us to see ourselves and - voila! - we see ourselves in an acceptable fashion that fosters change. What a powerful trainer you are!

Last year, I was privileged to run many residential sales calls when we had more leads than salespeople who could handle them. It was revealing, to say the least. I recall the days of old, in the 1970s, when "one-leggers" (translation: a customer meeting in which only the husband or wife is present) were considered a waste of time.

And guess what? Thanks to our attitudes, they were a waste of time. Had we had the right attitude that one-leggers could be just as productive, and often more so, we would have saved ourselves a lot of grief.

As I made those sales calls, I found that one-legger calls to the ladies were, by far, the most productive calls. These ladies asked questions, listened to my responses, and decided that what I was offering was their best choice. And, they signed the order then and there.

When I made calls on only the gentlemen, they were reluctant to make a decision without discussing it with their ladies. When both were there, the men seldom, if ever, made the decision.

One-leggers to women should be every salesperson's most desired call. Frankly, if it were appropriate - which, of course, it is not - I would rather ask, "Will your husband be away?" Then I could get a lot more HVAC sales closed immediately. Seldom does the lady not make a decision when all her questions are answered and she is satisfied that you will meet her requirements.

Once convinced, she is ready to waste no time and get on with the replacement of her heating and cooling equipment. And she seldom wants to quibble about the price. Generally, she recognizes that value is worth every penny that she is being asked to spend.

Men feel compelled to try to negotiate the price. Women seldom do. My opinion of ladies is:

1. When they call us, they want us to do their work, they want only us, and they have complete confidence in us, or they would not have called.

2. All they want us to do is to make their problem go away. They called because they have a problem and they want us, only us, to solve it so that it is not a problem anymore.

3. All I have to do to get the order is show them concern, ability, and satisfy their questions with enthusiasm, intelligence, and courtesy - and I leave with a down payment.

How is this possible? Does not the Golden Rule still apply to people? Am I not simply to meet their needs, as I would wish them to meet mine? Quality is remembered long after the thrill of a low price is forgotten.

- Aaron York Sr.

Dear Aaron,
Wow! I probably should attach a label to the top of your letter, "Warning: Read at Your Own Risk - Sacred Cows in Danger." Thank you so much for contrasting your personal selling experience and insights from the 1970s to today's reality.

Should Salespeople Get A Grip?

Dear Sharon,
Is it proper for a man to offer to shake a woman's hand these days? My wife insists that a man should never offer to shake a woman's hand. She works in law enforcement, and she says you do not shake hands with a woman because it invades her personal space.

- Brad

Dear Brad,
I can surely imagine in law enforcement there would be plenty of times that you would be out of your mind to even think about extending your hand to a woman, or a man for that matter. But that rule definitely does not apply to the day-to-day business world of air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration.

It is not only appropriate, it's good business etiquette to shake hands with a woman as well as a man. Old etiquette dictated that you waited until a woman extended her hand and then, and only then, did you extend your hand. And, then you could only shake her little fingertips. Most women today would think that was just plain weird.

Contemporary etiquette allows for either the man or the woman to extend a hand first. So, extend your hand normally, not as a weapon. Shake her full hand firmly. No limp "rag handshakes" and no bone-crushers, please.

A limp handshake signals that you lack confidence or, worse, you don't think much of her. Since a man's upper body strength is typically some 40 percent greater than a woman's, it just makes good sense to practice your grip.

Avoid the double-hand handshake, often referred to as the "politician's handshake." They grasp your hand with their right hand and then cup it with their left hand. As my dear grandmother used to say, "That's way too familiar"- and she was right about that.

I'm often asked, when dealing with a couple, whether one should shake the woman's hand and, if so, whose hand to shake first - his or hers?

Extend your hand and shake whomever reaches for your hand. If you don't offer to shake her hand, whether you intended it or not, you have told her loud and clear, "You don't count for much." And that can't be good for business, ever!

Sharon Roberts is a consultant who specializes in selling to women and couples. Please send your questions or comments to Sharon@r2assoc.com. She will answer your questions and comments in her "Ask Sharon" report each month in The News.

Publication date: 06/20/2005

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