The Dreaded Question

Dear Sharon,
Can you help with that touchy up-front question, the one about setting the appointment when all the decision makers can be there? It doesn't matter how I ask the question or how nice I am, women always take it wrong.

- Scott

Dear Scott,
Please stop asking this insulting question. As you and your bottom line have discovered, there is no right way to ask an insulting question. I mean, really, no woman is fooled by this awful question. This is what they hear: "I don't want to talk to you. I much prefer to talk to a man. Please tell me you have one."

This is your first opportunity to make a great impression, to begin establishing trust and credibility. So please don't blow it.

Schedule the appointment for her convenience. When you explain what you will be doing, the purpose, and how much time will be needed, she will let you know if she wants or needs to include anyone else. She can handle the appointment with or without her husband.


Many salesmen tell me it's a waste of time to go on a sales call when only the wife will be there, explaining she will not make a decision without the husband. Of course she can, she will, and she did. Their dismissive attitude was offensive, and the women said, "No sale." What self-respecting woman will put up with that?

Remember, it's 2005, not 1955, and it simply may not fit their work and family schedules to sit down together with you. Or, perhaps this is simply how they make decisions: She meets with potential contractors and then, either independently or together with her husband, she will decide which contractor provides the best value.

Be the trusted consultant she's looking for and listen to her concerns and expectations, while clearly and completely answering all her questions. Women usually have a story to tell you, and it's a good idea to listen carefully. Inside her story is everything you need to know.

For some women, it's easier to express what they don't want to happen. For example, "I don't want the temperature in the dining room to plunge 15 degrees before the thing kicks in again." Another may say, "I want the dining room temperature to stay constant like the living room." Let her see your sincere concern to understand exactly what she wants and needs.

Of course, this relationship must be married to great products. They do not want one without the other.

A Lesson Learned

Dear Sharon,
I really got a kick out of your article "Women's Role in Purchasing Decisions" (The News, Jan. 24).

I want to tell you about an experience I had with my wife. I've been in the HVAC industry for about 30 years, selling for about 25 years.

As a newlywed 20 years ago, my wife and I went shopping for furniture. The decisions were all up to my wife. I was along for the ride. At the first store, we found a living room set we liked. The salesman sat down with us to finalize the details ... fabrics, colors, etc. I thought everything was going along fine when my wife said, "We need to think about it."

I'm not one for shopping and this was what we wanted so I asked why. She just wanted to think about it. So we left.

When we got into the car she told me there was no way in the world that we would buy anything from that salesman. He seemed fine to me. She went on to tell me that the whole time he only looked at me. And, of course, being male I didn't notice. I got an earful.

Anyway, after this incident I began to pay much more attention to the "Lady of the House" on my sales calls. As a result, I found my closing rate increased and I got less resistance when asking for the order.

When I set up sales calls today, I have no problem talking only with the "Lady of the House." After all, she's usually the one who is home when we do the installation and she doesn't want knuckleheads in her home who aren't going to respect her and her home.

- Dave

Dear Dave,
I think we're in a time warp - talking to the man and ignoring his wife. It's still happening - and it's a colossal epidemic!

It's as likely to happen with a twenty- or thirty-something salesperson as not, and geography makes no difference whatsoever. So are salespeople deliberately rude or just plain clueless? I don't believe for a minute that any salesperson - man or woman - gets up in the morning with the intention to aggravate or alienate potential customers. But, they do it unwittingly.

So while their husbands are being hypnotized by all that attention and eye contact, their wives are having a wholly different experience. She knows she rates as an afterthought at best.

How does she know that?

As the salesman is winding down his sales pitch, and just before he finishes talking, he shoots a quick glance in her direction. He will have the sense he gave them equal eye contact. He didn't. And the unmistakable message to her is, "Lady, you are a zero."

It's these kinds of gaffes, unwitting or not, that women find so degrading. And it can't be good for business!

Sharon Roberts is a consultant who specializes in selling to women and couples, customer service, and conflict management. Please send your questions or comments to She will answer your questions each month in The News.

Publication date: 03/21/2005