At the Table: How to Handle the Unemployed Consumer

August 3, 2009
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Sharon Roberts

The headline I recently saw nailed it: “As More Men Lose Their Jobs Traditional Values Are Being Turned on Their Head.” And, have they ever. A full 82 percent of job losses have hit men, largely because the construction and manufacturing sectors are the hardest hit during the current economic downturn.

This is something which we in the HVACR industry are painfully aware. Fewer women have lost their jobs since they tend to be employed in education and health care, which are more stable during economic ups and downs. The upside: couples still have money to purchase HVAC equipment even if they have less of it, and thanks to the economic stimulus package, there is help on that front as well.

Now, as most of you know, I’m a happily married woman - my message to you is not, “I am woman, hear me roar.” It is, ladies and gentlemen, a great big wake- up call for anyone calling on a couple where the man may have lost his job and his wife is the one with the paycheck. These people may be under serious stress and it’s not all about dollars and cents. For those men who were the primary breadwinners, they tell me they can relate to Michael Keaton and Teri Garr who struggled through this very dilemma in the 1983 movie, “Mr. Mom.”

Many men discover that their identity was entirely wrapped up in their work, and are thrown completely off balance when their spouse or partner becomes the sole breadwinner, regardless of the size of her salary. Even if she makes enough money to provide for the family, they are operating with a reduced income. And, because of that reduced income, if they have children often he is faced with adding childcare to his daily duties, all while managing a job search. Gives stress a whole new meaning. How are you responding to a couple in this situation?

I can tell you this is a very uncomfortable topic for the audiences when I’m presenting on the topic of how to sell to women and couples. One gentleman was quite visibly rattled by the mere thought of his wife being the sole breadwinner.

He coughed and choked out, “I can’t imagine having to cope with my wife being the breadwinner. I couldn’t stand it.” His sentiments were echoed throughout the room and it was a big topic of conversation the rest of the meeting. The audience was overwhelmingly men and they were not comfortable with this notion at all.

If it makes you squirm, then you can be sure any couple you call on will pick up on your uneasiness. How do you get past this awkwardness? Face it head on, imagine that it were you. I know, you can barely stand the thought of it for an instant, but do it anyway, for your sake and for every man and woman living this for real. You can do it because you care and you are the contractor they need to meet.

UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD

First, take a lesson from a great American psychologist Carl Rogers who reminded us to treat people with “unconditional positive regard,” especially in difficult circumstances. And, being unemployed certainly qualifies as a difficult circumstance for many people. Everyone doesn’t respond the same way to the same circumstance. Some are terrified and doubt their worth. And, on the other extreme, others are in a semi-euphoric edge-of-the-cliff “terrified opportunity” state of mind. So what’s the proper approach when calling on a couple in this challenging situation?

Remind yourself, regardless of the state of mind of any man (or woman for that matter), who has lost his job - one critically important thing has not changed. And, that is that his true identity, the essence of who he is has not changed. What has changed is his circumstance. He is still the same honorable man, who among other things, values honesty and integrity and loves his family. They are both active decision-makers, whoever is employed. So smile and graciously give them both a business card, making sure to make eye contact with each of them as you hand them a card.

And, shake hands with each of them, a firm handshake (not a bone crusher) with both of them. For goodness sake, no limp handshakes for anyone, man or woman, employed or unemployed. A limp handshake can signal you don’t think much of them or much of yourself. Either way, it’s not good for business. Whose hand do you shake first? Extend your hand and shake hands with the one who extends their hand to you first.

A sincere smile and an attitude of unconditional positive regard is compelling and engaging. Tell them you’ll be happy to answer all the questions or concerns that each of them has. Then throughout the sales call make eye contact for a full eight to 10 seconds with one of them before you move to the other, rather than every two to four seconds.

And, be aware of making eye contact with her at the beginning of approximately one-half of your comments, rather than always beginning your eye contact with him. Many salespeople have a habit of beginning their comments making eye contact with him, then at the end of a thought or idea casting a second or two of eye contact her way. Enjoy the opportunity to be the brightest star in their upside-down day. And, as the wise humorist Will Rogers said, “They may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

An experience that promises to be a hit on the women’s network, and that is very good for your business: “Women do not gossip, they advertise!”

Publication date: 08/03/2009

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