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Do Words Make a Difference for Women in Sales?

Watch what you say, and do what you say. 

“I want you to know it hasn’t gone unnoticed that there are no women on our sales team.” That comment came from the CEO of a fast-growing software company. Not only were there no women, but the sales team was all white men of a certain age. He wanted to hire saleswomen, he told me, but women rarely applied for the job.

I told him that most women aren’t waiting in line for his or any other sales jobs, and he’d have to go out and find them. The problem is that while women are a good fit for sales jobs, the culture in many sales organizations doesn’t seem like a good fit for them.

Many women are reticent to sell because they believe salesmen are aggressive, pushy, don’t listen, and push their products. (Think used-car salesman.) Even in B2B companies, many salespeople are like that, and it’s gotten worse today. This aggressive behavior is amplified on social media. People send pitches in LinkedIn invitations and promote their products ad nauseam. It’s all about them. Not surprisingly, the words companies use in their ads are male-oriented—“knock the ball out of the park,” “killer presentations,” “crush the competition”—and not the kind of verbiage that resonates with most women.

Then there’s the fact that most sales leaders are men. All things being equal (and they never are), we tend to hire people who look and sound like us. So, it makes sense that sales teams tend to be predominantly male. It makes sense, but it’s also a mistake. Successful sales organizations in the 21st century need to leverage the strengths of both genders—not just because it’s the right thing to do for women in sales, but because it’s what’s best for the business.

Want more women on your sales team? Go out and find them, and while you’re at it, beware of aggressive language that could make women applicants feel uneasy or unwelcome. For more on why language matters, check out this article from Tamara Schenk at CSO Insights:

Getting More Women in Sales: Do We Have a Language Barrier?

A few years ago, when I had a sales enablement leadership role, I was asked to provide feedback on the draft of a speech our sales leader was giving to the sales force during the sales kick-off. The only concern I had was the language: Sales professionals were generally addressed with “salesmen” and the masculine preposition “he” throughout the speech.

It took me much courage to address the issue as I was working in a very male-dominated culture. However, I did. “Oh, that’s just my language,” was the message I received. “That’s exactly the problem, because this language excludes the 25% of women in our sale force.” As you can imagine, nothing changed back then. You may think that has changed by now. I wish!

(Read the rest of the article at CSO Insights.)

What other cultural changes would make sales teams more successful? Find out my take and share your ideas on LinkedIn.

Want to help your team learn the secret to asking for referrals in a way that gets results? Invite me to speak at your annual Sales Kickoff Meeting.

 

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