This article first appeared on February 9th, 2012.
I’m a woman attempting to break into a very male-dominated area – B2B electrical retailing. I’ve found that many of my potential customers are very reluctant to deal with a woman.
How can I overcome this frustrating barrier, without palming them off to my male staff all the time?
Congratulations on your new business. I applaud you for persevering and not putting it in the too hard basket.
Unfortunately, when you enter a male-dominated industry, it can take time to gain acceptance (not that you should have to).
The keys to success are being proactive, communicating clearly and having the right attitude. Loving a challenge (which you seem to do) also helps!
Here are some key points for you to think about:
- Don’t give up. If you give up too early, you will just prove them right.
- Leave no stone unturned in seeking out opportunities, and tap in to all your relevant contacts. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you.
- Network. Join industry groups in order to proactively network. I know, not everyone is comfortable with networking and it seems like hard work, but it’s worth it.
- Consider joining a women’s business network. They can be a great source of advice and mentorship. You might also be able to connect with and learn from a fellow female business owner who has successfully cracked a male-dominated industry.
- Become an expert in your field. Develop a reputation as an expert on electrical products, B2B and customer service. Build your profile online and offline (through social media, public relations or the community) and demonstrate your knowledge of the industry.
- Research your clients’ businesses and their customers. Be an active listener. Show them that you have taken the time to understand their needs.
- Based on your research, tailor your messages to the type of person you are dealing with. Anticipate the questions they might ask and have the answers ready to go. Learn the industry lingo.
- Be mindful of your body language when you meet with potential clients who are male. Speak directly and with confidence, while maintaining eye contact. Also try to avoid nodding in agreement as others are speaking (this is a common female habit).
- Personalise it. If possible, go out and meet potential customers in person.
- Know your competition, their businesses, price points and processes. Know how to positively compare yourself to your competitors.
- Have processes in place to back up the service level you promise to potential clients, then deliver on what you promise.
- Always stand up for yourself and your team.
- Don’t be afraid to say no.
- Never lose your sense of humour.