IIn 2005 seven partners and senior stafers at Deloitte

(including the male coauthor of this article) prepared for a meeting with a prospective client, a large hospital undergoing an exciting transformation. Aware that a multimillion-dollar piece of business would be won or lost on the basis of their pitch, the key presenters pored over their slide deck, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. They reviewed everything they knew about the hospital and rehearsed their case for why Deloitte was the ideal choice. Their proposal would emphasize Deloitte’s view of projects as collaborations; the team would walk in the client’s shoes.

During the meeting, the partners covered all their talking points. They came away certain that they had addressed every concern outlined in the client’s request for proposal and hopeful that Deloitte would win the project. But they also felt that something had seemed of during the presentation. The consultants and client representatives never quite got on the same wavelength. What could explain the lack of rapport in the room? One aspect of this high-stakes meeting was diferent from the partners’ usual experience:

Half the client attendees were women. The consultants had known this would be the case ahead of time, but it hadn’t occurred to them to alter their pitch in any way because of that. In the end, the hospital did not choose Deloitte for the job.

Stories like this were becoming increasingly frequent, so we decided to look closely at what was going on. In response to an internal survey, 70% of our senior managers told us they perceived that selling to women was different from selling to men. This was interesting. We knew that women, as a group, experienced work in a professional services firm diferently, and we had a women’s initiative (known as WIN) whose mission was to drive marketplace growth and create a culture where highly talented women would choose to work. Could the same initiative shed light on the growing population of female buyers and infuencers, and perhaps reveal selling approaches that would work better for them?

Today women occupy about half of all managerial and professional positions in the United States, including 37% of management jobs and 60% of accounting and auditing roles, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also make up 41% of employees with authority to make purchasing decisions.

Recognizing that the majority of our partners and managers, including those who were female, had honed their skills selling to men, and that a rapidly growing percentage of our potential clients were women, we realized it was time to reexamine our assumptions about how to explore opportunities and close deals.

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