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Women in Sales: What’s Standing in Our Way?

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woman-glass-ceiling-stock_463We’ve come a long way, baby. But saleswomen still have challenges to overcome.

Men tell me the best salespeople they know are women. They say women have strong intuition, ask good questions, don’t rush the sale, connect with people, and are terrific at building long-term relationships with prospects, clients, and referral sources.

Research from Xactly Corporation confirms that women in sales outperform their male colleagues in:

  • Loyalty (staying in their roles for nearly one year longer than men)
  • Quota attainment (70% vs. 67%)
  • Overall leadership effectiveness (55% vs. 52%)
  • Leadership effectiveness in sales (67% vs. 63%)

Yet, despite compelling evidence that women have what it takes to lead, men are still running the show at most organizations. Is the system still rigged against us, or do saleswomen simply need to learn how to play the game?

My answer to this question: “all of the above.”

What’s Keeping the Glass Ceiling Intact?

Debra Walton, chief content officer at Thomson Reuters and an outspoken advocate for women in leadership, sums up the problem in her article, “Women in Sales: Common Challenges and Common Sense Solutions.” Walton discusses the “unconscious biases” that most women in sales have experienced, and more importantly, what we can do about it.

As she puts it:

One of the remaining challenges for most companies seeking diversity and balanced leadership is getting past “unconscious bias.” Fortunately, most high-performing companies have moved beyond the days when overt discrimination was tolerated; they rightly base hiring and promotion on business performance. But the “invisible” challenge of male leaders continuing to hire in their own image still persists as an obstacle to building diverse leadership teams.

How can women in sales overcome this barrier? Walton offers several suggestions: find a male sponsor, leverage external networks, learn to play golf (or find other ways to socialize with clients). Just as importantly, she says women must overcome their own self-limiting beliefs. She writes:

At the end of the day, I think the real issue is a matter of confidence—or lack of it. I’ve spoken before about the “imposter syndrome” in which women feel they’re not qualified to be in higher positions. Male colleagues also experience this—but because they typically have a higher risk tolerance than women, they power through these feelings of being out of their depth. What I say to women (and men) is that the “imposter” feeling is a natural one if you are really stretching yourself. So I would be more worried, in fact, if I weren’t feeling at times a little “over my skis.”

(Read the rest of Walton’s article.)

Fight Like a Girl

Yes, gender biases still exist. Anyone who tells you otherwise is fooling herself. But while we can (and should) advocate for social change, we can also fight gender stereotypes by defying them.

Women in sales don’t always get their voices heard. We apologize too much, and many of us don’t take a proactive stance to build our own careers. We don’t believe in our abilities the way that men do. And that’s a shame, because study after study has shown that women are just as good as men at leading, maybe even better.

Want to learn more about women in sales? Check out my latest speaking topic: “Big Deals and High Heels: Why Women Are Naturals at Selling.” Come listen to the presentation at Dreamforce later this month, or contact me about speaking to the saleswomen in your organization.

Connect with No More Cold Calling

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

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