Let me tell you about my friend. We’ll call her Julie, although that’s not her real name. Julie and I have breakfast together once a month. We’ve known each other for years. We talk about our families, our jobs. I stop by her office every week. Occasionally, we get together after work for a drink or for dinner. Julie knows a lot about me and I know a lot about her — some things maybe our closest childhood friends don’t even know. But Julie is not a typical friend. She is a client.

You might be asking, “Why get so invested in someone if she’s just a client?” Because this is an article about selling to women. Written by a woman. Some men have been complaining for years about how they don’t understand women. They’re probably right. This article should help. And if you’re a woman, read on. You’ll probably discover some ideas you hadn’t thought of and maybe realize some things about yourself you hadn’t before.

[See: Still in the Boys' Club]

Invest your time

This discussion starts as much of our prospecting does in this business — with networking. The first and easiest point to make is that it is important to understand, engage and network with women because they are typically the CFOs of their families. But it’s not just a box you can check off on your to-do list.

I have found networking with women to be dramatically different than networking with men. The main differentiator is time. Time spent networking with women is critical. Relationship building is especially important with women. For most women, it’s important that they see you several times before they’re interested in talking business. They need to know you, who you are and what you stand for before they’re ready to talk about what you do and what you could do for them from a business standpoint.

Some women are overwhelmed by the amount of financial information that’s out there. In many cases, it can be hard to know what’s true and what’s not. Even more, it can be hard for many women to understand how the information relates to their own personal situation. It can be an uncomfortable conversation, so sometimes they just won’t have the conversation. 

As simply as you can deliver the information, the better off you will be. But if you start this conversation long after you invest the time in developing a relationship of respect, you will be much better off. Women want information, and they want to be in control of the process and their financial futures now more than ever before.

My own networking strategy revolves around a young women’s networking group I started in the Dallas area. We meet one morning a month and usually have an accomplished business woman come in and share her success stories. We talk about work/life balance, family, etc. We have also found that having evening get-togethers is important, too, because we can just get to know each other better. This is where I met my friend and client Julie and many other women who, over time, became clients.

It’s an interesting dynamic at these meetings. Everyone knows that everyone else is there to generate business for themselves, and that’s one of the most important lessons in networking with women: be clear about your intentions. But we also know that we first need to talk about “normal” life issues and spend quality time together.

 Build the right kind of relationship

Women will not buy if they don’t have a relationship. They have to have a relationship of trust in order to make a purchase. Most women go into a new relationship only trying to build a friendship and not a relationship of trust. I didn’t always understand this. You have to build a personal relationship, but the focus can’t necessarily be on building a friendship.

In the early years of my career, I struggled with this and almost gave the business up. This is where it’s important to talk about selling to women and being a woman.

If you are a woman who sells life insurance, or anything for that matter, it’s important to understand what makes you different from others you’re competing with. As women, we are taught not to brag about ourselves. We’re humble. Sales is about expressing confidence. But for us women, it’s awkward to come out and sell ourselves. Selling requires you to take on a role of authority in the relationship, and that doesn’t come naturally to women. 

A friendship is peer to peer. Relationships in financial services settings are adviser to advisee. For women, it’s not natural to want to tell people what to do — especially other women. Especially our friends. So there’s a different dynamic that you have to be aware of in order to properly do your job for your own good and for theirs. Focus on establishing a role that is based more on a mentorship relationship and the friendship will follow when the time comes.

This is another aspect of my relationship with Julie that makes it work.

Julie is a chiropractor. When I go to her office once a week for an appointment, she is the authority figure in the relationship. She’s the expert. And because she is a good businesswoman and is able to take on that role comfortably, she does quite well.

Women are conditioned to focus more on wanting to be liked than wanting to be respected. Men are different. This is one reason women in general feel uncomfortable selling. They don’t want to be pushy. But believe in what you’re doing. I believe life insurance is powerful as a financial tool. Once my business stopped being about selling a product and started being an obligation that I feel to take care of people, I began building relationships and my sales took off. Because you know who notices and appreciates that sort of attitude? You got it: women.

I think that’s the reason I’m able to talk to people. I really believe in what I do. It’s about helping to change someone’s financial position. Once you understand your moral obligation, you will be able to take the time, build the advisor/advisee relationship with women in your network and begin turning them into clients.

Back to Julie. Is she now a real friend? Absolutely. A friendship can absolutely develop out of a business relationship that starts the way ours started. But you still have to keep business first. Whether someone is your friend or business associate, they have to like you; it’s just a different kind of like. They like you because you add value to their lives with a mutual level of respect. I’m not trying to make each client my best friend, but when you focus on doing the right thing for somebody, relationships — even true friendships — and sales will be the likely results.