Let’s face it. Sales is not an industry for everyone, and certainly not the faint of heart. Some women shy away from sales because they are scared to give up a salary for a commissioned income. I get it. Giving up a sure thing and placing all of your trust in your own ability to get business is a scary thought. I know. I made that decision and took the plunge.
In 2019, I resigned from my corporate job to start my own business. Taking that giant step to walk away from my employer and start my own business was a giant leap of faith - faith in myself and my ability to get business.
I understood that owning my own business meant that I was 100% in sales. In my first year, I made less money than I had made in decades, but that was okay. I was financially and emotionally prepared for an income drop the first year. I saw it as an opportunity to invest in my future. By year two, my prospecting and networking efforts paid off. I landed two large contracts that confirmed to me that I made the right decision to go out on my own. Each day is a new opportunity to serve others doing what I’m passionate about.
For some, “sales” is a four-letter word. Visions of the dishonest used car salesman come to mind. Thoughts of making cold calls, failing to meet quotas, making presentations and hearing “no” may trigger unpleasant feelings of anxiety and dread. For others, it evokes feelings of success, of achievement, of personal value that come from achieving their goals.
According to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, women are underrepresented in B2B sales in most industries, including wholesale and manufacturing (27%) and financial services (30%).
Although women are underrepresented, women actually outperform men in sales. Women-led teams, which tend to be more gender-diverse than men-led teams, have a 94% win and quota attainment rate — three percentage points higher than men-led teams, according to Xactly, a sales comp platform.
A sales career can provide some of the most desirable work-life benefits, most of which are ever coveted by the working mother. These include:
Sales is a pay for performance model that has no income limits. Your income is only limited by your efforts. Gone are the days of being a top salaried performer and getting the maximum 5% increase. With sales, you decide what you want to make each month. Need some extra cash? Close more sales. It’s exhilarating and empowering.
Most sales jobs are inherently flexible. Salespeople don’t always work 9 to 5. Many routinely toggle between engaging with clients and performing other tasks. In most sales organizations as long as you meet the sales goals, your schedule is yours to set. This provides a great sense of freedom, allowing you to structure your day without a manager breathing down your neck.
Sales is highly visible in most companies. When you succeed, everyone in the company knows it. This visibility leads to advancement opportunities within and outside of your company. Every company needs sales reps to increase revenue. If you don’t like or believe in what you are selling, you can find a position that you love somewhere else.
When was the last time you heard a news story about a company letting go of their sales force? Never. All organizations view their salesforce as their biggest asset. Sales rarely faces the budget cuts that other departments face during economic downturns. As long as you are delivering consistent and reliable results, most companies will do anything to keep you on their team.
These are just a few of the benefits of being in sales. Sales provides you with a challenging work environment where no two days are alike. It’s never boring, and allows you to continuously learn new skills that allow you to move between companies, industries and job opportunities with ease.
Based on the research I did to prepare for writing this article I believe that women possess three unique strengths that contribute to their success in sales. These unique strengths are listening skills, emotional intelligence and collaboration.
The skill of listening is the holy grail of sales skills. According to Forbes, 74% of customers are more likely to buy if they feel they’ve been heard. By listening and focusing on their needs, they make the buyer feel important. As a result, it makes the buyer emotionally attached to them because they showed interest in them and their challenges.
Women have a genetic predisposition for improved listening capabilities, in fact. Heschl’s gyrus, the portion of the brain that is associated with listening, is more voluminous in women, as compared to men.
Talking less and listening more is the best way to identify a client’s pain points and offer a solution that meets their needs.
EI in sales is the ability to connect well with buyers on a more personal level. It includes understanding when to talk, when to listen, when to ask for more details and when to back off, when to ask for commitment and when to let the buyer think things through. It includes using empathy to understand the client’s point of view.
Research conducted by the Korn Ferry Hay Group speaks to gender differences in terms of EI. The group found that women outperform men in 11 of 12 emotional intelligence competencies. Understanding and managing client emotions facilitates relationship-building and creates loyal clients.
Today’s most effective sales reps collaborate with their clients, their colleagues and their internal partners.
With clients, they collaborate to brainstorm possible solutions to the client’s problems, building a stronger relationship. They share their expertise with the client and provide value as a result. This sets them apart from the competition.
With colleagues, they collaborate through sharing their sales wins and best practices that led to their success. They share their challenges and discuss possible solutions.
With their internal partners, they collaborate to create a great client experience.
Collaboration creates positive energy that attracts clients, colleagues and internal partners who are willing to invest in your success.
Have I sold you on a career in sales yet? If so, here are three things you need to do to ensure your success in sales:
Identify someone who is committed to helping you grow and succeed in your sales role. Ideally, this person needs to be in sales or be a sales leader who can guide your success. Meet with your mentor at least twice a month to share your wins and challenges. Ask for their feedback, both positive and constructive. Get comfortable with getting constructive feedback because that’s how you grow. Ask for your mentor’s advice on how to get into a sales role.
Sales expert Jill Konrath Konrath says that mentors don't have to be women the mentee knows in person -- or even knows at all. "You can have virtual mentors that don't even know they're mentoring you," she said. Mentees can follow their virtual mentors' careers and social media profiles, and look up to them as "role models for what's possible."
There are so many sales experts out there who offer free resources. Set aside a few hours each week to hone your sales skills through books, webinars and podcasts. Here are some of my favorites:
- Fanatical Prospecting, Jeb Blount
- People Buy You, Jeb Blount
- AGILE Selling, Jill Konrath
- Sell More in Less Time, Jill Konrath
- Virtual Selling, Mike Shultz, Dave Shaby, Andy Springer
- Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success, Colleen Stanley
- Little Black Book of Connections, Jeffrey Gitomer
- Women in Sales hosted by Lori Richardson
- The Other Side of Sales by Ashleigh Early
- Sell or Die hosted by Jeffrey and Jen Gitomer
- Sales Gravy hosted by Jeb Blount
- Predictable Prospecting hosted by Marylou Tyler
At most companies, sales is dominated by men. Don’t try to be like men. Bring your whole self as a woman to your relationships with clients. Trust your instincts and listen to your intuition. "One of the things women do really wonderfully is bring a level of intimacy to a relationship with a customer that’s incredibly effective," says Debra Walton. "Top saleswomen achievers at Thomson Reuters bring their whole self to the client relationship, and that level of intimacy differentiates them.”
Sales as a profession isn't always hospitable to women. But, could women also be holding themselves back?
"Research has proven that men will apply for a job that they have 70 to 80% of the skills for, and women won't apply for that job unless they have 100%," said Trish Bertuzzi, president and chief strategist at The Bridge Group. "Come on. Go for it."
Bertuzzi also had more strong words for how women in sales should perform their jobs. "Lean in, speak out, have a voice in your organization, and never use the word 'sorry.'" (This statement earned her a round of applause).
Now, more than ever, is a great time to get into sales. Be bold. Embrace your strengths and earn what you are worth!