Playing the Gender Card

Practice PipelinePlaying the Gender Card

I’ve always wondered about the degree to which gender influences our networking and prospecting. Does flirting help us get business? Can it backfire? I’ve recently discovered Joanna Krotz, the co-author of the “Microsoft Small Business Kit” and operator of Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher. She wrote an article on gender issues in business development. Here are some of her takeaways on the advantages (and risks) inherent in playing the gender card.

If you do decide to take the risk, can harnessing sex advantages to pitch business really help you close a deal?

Los Angeles psychotherapist Nancy Irwin says professional flirting certainly can land you a deal, but you need sensitive antennae for timing, personality and circumstances to map your prospect’s personal boundaries.

Keep your eye on nailing the sale

As the lines between professional and personal blur, it’s easy to lose sight of the goal. Remember that you’re not just trying to gain the client’s attention. You want to secure the business, but without selling yourself short or getting into something you don’t want to do.

John Nelson, a veteran sales coach with Sandler Training in Aurora, Colorado, says that women, in particular, often lose the distinction between prospect and purchaser.

“Sex will always play a part in women’s sales to men,” says Nelson. “Each woman I’ve coached has had to negotiate her own path, but there is one similarity that has always come through: Their sex is a double-edged sword.”

According to Nelson, the male-female dynamic plays out this way: First, women generally get appointments with male prospects quickly. “Women are naturally better at bonding and rapport” while “men’s egos make it easier for a saleswoman to start the sales process.”

But “it’s more difficult for a man to say no to a woman than to another man,” he says. As a result, “most of the women I’ve coached have too many prospects that will never buy.” The men don’t want to say no but they aren’t going to say yes, either. “They offer stalls and ‘think-it-overs’ instead of a decision,” says Nelson. The saleswoman ends up wasting her time on prospects that remain in the pipeline instead of looking for new opportunities.

Bottom line: For men or women, sex can get you in the game, but you need old-time talent, persuasion skills and negotiation to seal the sale.

Don’t turn up the sexual volume indiscriminately

What may be fun and flirtatious for some will be sexually offensive to others. That often depends on your client’s age and cultural mindset.

“If your audience is a married baby boomer or traditionalist, he may personally appreciate feminine wiles but perceive such behavior as unprofessional, which would, obviously, work against you,” advises Sherri Elliott, founder of Gen InsYght, an HR consultancy based in Plano, Texas, specializing in generational consulting.

“On the other hand, a less traditional Gen Xer or Millennial may not mind. You have to take the time to read who you’re talking to before you decide to turn on the sexual charm.”

Bottom line: If you’re using your gender advantage, take account of timing, local traditions and real-time circumstances.

Do stay up to speed about how men are changing

Men also are reinventing the business relationship. And younger men are not joining old-boy networks.

Steven Muntean, age 25 and CEO of BlackBox GPS in Boca Raton, Florida, a mobile tracking solutions provider, says, “In my personal business experiences, I have come to the conclusion that absolutely, yes, your sex can help you close the deal.”

Being young, accomplished and male, says Muntean, are advantages he’s learned to leverage. “Male and female prospects and customers enjoy being around young, successful men,” he says. For male senior executives and business owners, “median age 50,” Muntean believes “young, successful males rekindle pasts and help bring back fun memories.” For female senior executives and business owners, “I feel like they want to help young males become successful.”

Bottom line: Deepen your business connections by being personal, familiar and true to your gender–as you experience it.


That’s what Joanna has to say on the topic. What are your thoughts?


4 responses to “Playing the Gender Card

  1. Interesting post, David. The fact is that attraction is part of the human experience and it figures into everything we do, including business. But I think Joanna’s article raises a different question: is it ethical to intentionally use flirtation to influence a business opportunity? I think she’s right, sometimes it’s acceptable, but I have been in more than one situation where it backfired (either for me, or for the other person).

  2. “Sex will always play a part in women’s sales to men,” says Nelson. I strongly disagree, and I am a woman. (My name is ambiguous.) I do notice gender, but it is just noticing. When people flirt with me or personally complement me in my business dealings with them (from my early 20’s until now), I assume the product or service being sold needs to be well investigated. I worry why someone is attempting to blow smoke on a transaction.

  3. I agree, K.C. Nelson’s sweeping generalization doesn’t resonate for me either. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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