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Can Women in Sales Overcome Unconscious Bias in High-Tech?

women in salesWomen in sales have everything they need to succeed.

Daily headlines remind us that unconscious bias exists in its most virulent form. We know bias is there, but we can’t confront it until it’s stated and proven. It’s sneakier than gender discrimination or racial prejudice of old, but just as damaging for careers, relationship-building opportunities, and account based sales teams.

A couple years ago, I wrote this post—”The Glass Ceiling Hasn’t Shattered Just Yet.” Comments were prolific. What moved me the most were the comments from immigrants and minorities, who wrote about how they experienced the same biases as women in sales.

The obstacles are even greater for women in tech sales, who work in not only a male-dominated profession but also a male-dominated industry. And it’s time to reaffirm the power of those smart saleswomen.

I’ve summarized interviews with three successful women in tech sales, and share why and how they outsell their peers.

The Not-So Technical Sue

The first is Sue, a successful field sales manager in a tech company. She wasn’t the most technical person in the world, and at first she struggled to embrace the technology at a deeper level. Then she realized she didn’t need to get into the weeds. She had access to technical experts if a client required more details. She didn’t have to understand everything about how the technology worked, just how it could solve problems for her clients.

This doesn’t mean saleswomen should neglect their homework. The more women in account based sales understand the technology they sell, the more credibility they bring into client engagements. The more they educate themselves on the industry and trends, the deeper conversations they have, and the faster their sales processes accelerate.

However, Sue learned that it takes more than technical expertise to seal the deal. It takes great relationships, which women in account based sales have in spades . And while high-tech might still be a male-dominated industry, that doesn’t mean women aren’t welcome in most companies. When I asked Sue what gives women in sales an advantage in her industry, she said clients view saleswomen as less intimidating.

“They’re tired of seeing guys walk in the door in suits, pushing their agendas with high levels of intensity to sell, sell, sell,” Sue explained. “They find it refreshing when someone comes in with new perspectives and a willingness and openness to engage them in conversation. We’re allowed to be a bit more flexible and get to know the customer.”

Amy the Bulldog

Like Sue, Amy didn’t come from a technical background. But she brought a unique capability to technology sales: domain expertise as an end user. She’d been there … as a customer of incentive compensation and a lover of performance management. So, she brought to the job a deep sense of accountability and a maddening level of loyalty towards her customers. As she put it to me, “If I give you what I have, I will have your back.”

That bulldog-like tenacity and loyalty make women in sales trusted resources for their customers.

Like most of us, Amy is very busy. Her time is worth a lot, and so is she. She wants to ensure that all business conversations are valuable to both the customer and to her, and she uses her domain competence to advocate for customers.

Amy takes the same approach when coaching salespeople. She advocates for them so customers will have a better buying experience. She coaches to the human, instead of coaching to the numbers. She even tries hard not to know what goes on with the numbers. Employees come to her because they don’t know what to do next, and she helps them through. Rather than talking about quotas and close rates, her goal is to motivate them, because that’s what makes a difference to the customer and to the company. And that personal touch is part of what makes women great sales leaders.

Ellen the Alpha

Ellen is an engineer turned vice president of channel sales. She is typically the only woman in the room, so she’s learned how to be an alpha when surrounded by men.

Before any meeting or presentation, she conducts extensive research and structures her train of thought so she can speak with confidence. She makes her case using three key points, each of which has three supporting points. The goal is to make communication simple and straightforward. Maybe she doesn’t achieve everything she wants at once, but she feels it’s better to be concise than to fail at communication. Before every meeting, she decides what she wants to achieve and focuses on that one important goal.

Simply put: She knows how to talk to men. And for women in tech sales, that’s a big advantage.

Relationships Pave the Way for Women in Sales

Women in sales like Sue, Amy, and Ellen are experts at building relationships, which is the key to successful selling in most any industry.  Women build trust and credibility upfront. We ask insightful questions, listen intently to the answers, remember details, and collaborate to find solutions.

Men also understand the importance of relationships. But it’s innate for women. Neuroscience backs up these observations. The right and left hemispheres of women’s brains have more connective tissue than men’s brains. We move easily between left and right brain functions. We see the big picture. Our brains are always on. We remember details that most men don’t, and we build phenomenal, deep, long-lasting relationships.

This doesn’t just make us great at winning over prospects. Our rich relationships also set us up to get referrals, which convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time.

Women in Sales: The Challenges That Remain

Sue says it’s still challenging to improve herself in a male-dominated sales world, and she must work smarter and harder than many of her male colleagues. There are still so few women in leadership, and finding mentors is not always easy.

But that hasn’t stopped Sue. Getting both male and female perspectives is essential for anyone in sales, so Sue has found successful female and male mentors. Some of them she asked for coaching; others stepped into the role without being asked. Now, when she’s struggling with a deal or having challenges on her team, she can ask them, “What would you do?”

What’s the lesson here for women in account based sales? Know your stuff. Seek out mentors and sponsors. Build the strong relationships you’re so good at building. Never stop learning and sharing your wisdom—with your clients and with women coming up the ranks behind you. The more women in sales support each other, the more quickly all of us will succeed.

Want to learn more about women in sales? Check out my speaking topic: “Big Deals and High Heels: Why Women Are Naturals at Selling.”

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Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.

One Response to Can Women in Sales Overcome Unconscious Bias in High-Tech?

  1. Hi Joanne,
    as a sales trainer, I can say that I find more ofted sales champions within female reps classes that male ones.
    Maybe sales women are more flexible and empathetic than men? I don’t know…
    Thanks for sharing!

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