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women sellingDo women face greater challenges in building the kinds of business relationships that lead to sales? I have been looking at the issue of women and the skill of marketing and selling themselves. Sales, particularly for personal services, are, of course, based on relationships. In many sectors there are more male than female prospective clients. So women must often build business relationships with men. What issues can make that tougher, or at least different, for women?

In preparing to write an article and design a workshop, I have done a series of interviews with women attorneys about how they “sell” their services to others, particularly men. I have found that some things (like being comfortable with self-promotion) have not changed over the last few decades for women. Other things have changed – or appear to be easier for younger generations of women. One is building business relationships through social events.

For us women Baby Boomers, asking a prospective male client (as opposed to a client we know well) to dinner, drinks or other social event simply does not feel comfortable. We are concerned it will also be uncomfortable for the prospective male client. How might it look? We do not want the prospect, or anyone who sees us, to think the meeting is anything other than a professional one. The risk of “sexual innuendo” means we are more likely to invite a male prospect to breakfast or lunch. Or we invite other people so it is not “just the two of us.” A colleague of mine made sure she brought a stack of papers and put them visibly on the table to make it clear this was a business meeting.

Younger women (especially Millennials) appear to be more comfortable inviting a male prospect of their own generation to one-on-one social engagements. Millennials grew up with play dates and group dating. They grew up competing with both men and women. They grew up seeing women in high positions and have had women bosses. Gender relations are more straightforward for the youngest generation in the professional world. One young woman I interviewed admitted, however, that she would not feel comfortable inviting a “guy in his 50’s or 60’s” to dinner or drinks. As long as prospective clients of the older generations are around, the “innuendo” issue will apparently remain.

How have you or other women you know handled building business relationships through social events? Do you think it is easier for younger women?