When it comes to selling financial products to women, it’s all about building a relationship and getting to know what’s important to your potential customer. Thinking you can make the sale in one meeting with a female prospect is the wrong approach, say advisors and other experts. However, the extra time you spend cultivating a rapport with a woman client will pay off when she refers you to others in her social circle.

Certainly, the senior female market is a huge, largely untapped market for advisors. Of the 77 million U.S. residents age 55 and over, 55 percent are women, says Nilufer Ahmed, senior research director, markets research at LIMRA in Windsor, Conn., citing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The market’s been there all along,” continues Cynthia Tidwell, president and CEO of Royal Neighbors of America in Rock Island, Ill. “So [advisors] really need to ask themselves, What am I doing in my sales, whether it’s lead generation or presentations, that is driving just male clients?”

A LIMRA study found when women buy life insurance, they are more apt to recommend a financial advisor to their friends and family — provided, of course, they are satisfied with the advisor. So how does an advisor nurture a relationship with a female client to the point when the referrals start rolling in? There are several key ways.

1. Don’t ignore the wife.
Many times, a husband and wife meet with the advisor. Yet instead of including both spouses in the discussion, an advisor sometimes direct the talk to only the husband. Not a good tactic in light of the fact that women tend to outlive men. So when the husband dies, the wife, rather than continuing with you, may seek advice elsewhere.

“A lot of times when a couple goes in to talk to a financial advisor, the advisor spends most of the time talking to the male versus the female,” says Bobbie Messmore, president of Strategic Planning Masters LLC, a financial planning company with offices in Florida and Georgia.

This leaves the woman feeling ignored by and disconnected from the advisor.

Moreover, Tidwell points to a statistic that indicates 75 percent of widows change advisors within three years of the death of their spouse.

“If advisors aren’t talking to both and aren’t forming that relationship to both, if the husband passes away, [the wife] feels no trust in that advisor,” Tidwell says.

Yet Messmore, who conducts seminars for women on their finances, finds many women are reluctant to fire their financial advisor even if they feel the advisor isn’t serving their needs.

“She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings,” she says.

In her workshops, Messmore tries to get women to understand their financial issues come first. They need to take care of themselves and their families, and not worry about the feelings of the advisor.

“If they have a financial advisor that has not done well for them, they [should] have the boldness and are empowered to make a change,” she says.

2. Build a relationship by listening.
Before buying a product, women want to develop a bond with an advisor to have that person understand their needs, wants and hopes for the future. It doesn’t mean an appointment has to turn into an episode of “Oprah.” But it does require that an advisor listen, really listen to what the female client is saying.

“You would be surprised how many times when a woman thinks she’s said something, the advisor thinks he’s heard it but they are not on the same page,” Tidwell says.

One technique Tidwell recommends is repeating, or “playing back,” what you thought the client said. For example, after listening to a female prospect, an advisor can say: “So if I understand you, here’s what’s important to you: You want to retire at 65 and you want to put aside money for the grandkids.” That way, you make sure you and she are in synch.

Tidwell also cautions that when a woman shakes her head in a yes motion as you speak, it doesn’t mean she is actually agreeing with you or is on the verge of signing a contract. It’s simply her polite way of showing she is listening to you.

“Do [advisors] understand the cues and the differences in what women are really saying without really saying it?” Tidwell asks.

3. Ditch the pitch and take the time.
The consensus seems to be that it takes longer to build a relationship with female clients; therefore, don’t expect to make that sale in one session. In general, women are turned off by a high-pressured, do-it-now sales presentation. Or as Tidwell says, “Ditch the pitch.” Rather, they want to take their time to mull over whether a product is right for them.

Telling a woman what she should do is another turnoff.

“She wants to think about a new product or something she’s only heard about once or twice,” says LIMRA’s Nilufer Ahmed.

Messmore agrees rushing a woman into a decision is not the best route to a sale. Again, it goes back to listening.

“I spend a lot of time listening to women talk about everything except their finances,” she says. “I’m getting a layout of what their family structure looks like, what their concerns are.

Sometimes I think that’s why they like working with female advisors because a female is bit more willing to let them just talk, whereas a male advisor wants to get straight to the point and straight to the deal.”

Many male advisors are getting that message and tailoring their sales techniques accordingly. Matt Golab, chief advisor with Aaron Matthews Financial Resources in Elk Grove, Calif., says when he sponsors women-only workshops, he makes sure to schedule time before the actual presentation to speak to the attendees, so he can get to know them without delving into financial particulars. They have the chance to get to know him as well.

When prospecting to women, Golab says it’s a matter of changing your expectations.

“A lot of times advisors get frustrated if their sales process goes to four, five or more meetings,” he says. “When focusing on a women’s market, slow down; it’s going to be a much longer sales cycle, but it provides a much healthier working relationship.”

Healthier in the sense of more referrals.

“It’s probably a little more work, but what you could make up for that on the referral side is huge,” Tidwell says. “Women can be the biggest advocates you have, much more so than men on the referral side.”

4. Reach out to your current clients.
Greg Hammond, president of Kelly Financial Group LLC, in Wetherfield, Conn., says most advisors already have a few widows or single women in their client base. He recommends reaching out and nurturing those relationships, because that’s where your referrals come from.

“Women are much more relationship based than men,” he says. “Typically, when someone loses a husband, she will talk to a friend who has been through the same scenario.”

During such a discussion, an advisor’s name may come up.

He also suggests holding events specifically geared for women and reaching out on the anniversary of a spouse’s passing as a means of maintaining that relationship.

“There are a number of different ways of marketing to widows or single women that can be effective that are not your typical retirement workshop or direct mail piece,” Hammond says.

5. Relate it to her life.
Simply spewing out facts and figures won’t seal the deal with a woman if you can’t place those numbers in the context of her life. For example, telling a woman she needs $1 million for her retirement years is meaningless if you don’t translate that number into how it impacts her future.

“Does that mean I can live in this house for the next 20 years? Does it mean I have to downsize, and then I can live somewhere else for 20 years?” Ahmed says. “They need that to be broken down into something far more practical. The number by itself may not do it.”

When recommending solutions, Tidwell advises narrowing down the options and telling the client that these products have worked with women in similar situations. Then give her the time to make a choice.