How can women leverage their innate talent for sales?

It’s Women in Sales Month in the U.S., and it’s time to showcase our talents and get more women in sales. Well, it’s always time, but let’s tell it like it is: Women have the advantage in selling. 

Growing up, I had sales all wrong. I believed salespeople were life-of-the-party types—extroverts who could talk to a wall. I wasn’t like that, and I´m still not. But charisma isn’t what makes a good salesperson.

Top salespeople build strong, ongoing, trusting relationships. We’re not the center of attention. We ask probing questions, listen intently, have engaging conversations, and make connections—things most women do naturally.

Women in B2B sales know how to build relationships. We are hardwired to be nurturers, connectors, and collaborators. We don’t have to think or act like men to become rainmakers. In fact, many salesmen could take a lesson or two from saleswomen.

Salesmen Know Women Rock at Selling

“The best salespeople I know are women.” That’s what men tell me. Why? Because women:

  • Build strong relationships and earn clients’ trust
  • Have intuition and listen to our gut feelings
  • See the complexities in a deal and dig deeper to find the best solution for each client

(Image attribution: The Coach Space)

Women in sales approach relationship-building differently than men. We love to share stories and delight in pulling out the details, rather than getting straight to the point or being told to “net it out.” We tend to consider the long-term implications of any decision, where men often focus on results and completing tasks.

We are also curious creatures; we love to “peel the onion” and get to the root cause of a problem. Maybe that comes from being mothers and aunts. When talking to children, we rarely believe the first words out of their mouths. We ask questions, put the pieces together, fill in the gaps, figure out what really happened, and find a solution—another ability that serves us well in sales.

Women in Sales: The Math Doesn’t Add Up

Smart sales leaders also understand the value saleswomen bring to the table. 

Despite being underrepresented in sales roles across nearly all industries, women tend to hit or exceed their quotas, but are paid less in salary and commissions over time, according to the 2019 study by Xactly Corporation “The State of Gender Equality in Sales.” Some highlights from the report include:

  • Women are more effective sales leaders. Teams led by women tend to have higher win and attainment rates than teams led by men—94 percent for women vs. 91 percent for men. 
  • Most sales leaders are still men. Across all industries, women comprise an average 26 percent of sales managers. 

And the most egregious: For women in B2B sales, It doesn’t pay to stay in a sales career:

  • The pay gap widens as women progress in their careers. Account executives earn 22 percent less than their male counterparts, while women in sales leadership earn 25 percent less than their male peers.

The math doesn’t add up. After all the social progress in the past 50 years—not to mention all the research proving women make great salespeople and great leaders—why are many employers still undervaluing our contributions? No wonder so few women want the job.

According to LinkedIn, only 21 percent of sales vice presidents are women, and women represent 39 percent of the sales workforce, a 3 percent increase over the past decade. 

It’s high time for more gender diversity in sales. So, what can we do about it?

(Image attribution: fauxels)

Want More Women in Sales? Then Change the Game

Gender discrimination isn’t nearly as overt as it was years ago. Now instead of being harassed or insulted, women are more likely to be overlooked. To eliminate these subtle gender barriers, leaders and hiring managers must identify and address any hidden biases they have towards women.

In “Why More Women Should be Part of Your Sales Team,” my late friend Barb Giamanco explained:

“Companies with higher levels of gender diversity in their sales force significantly outperformed on their revenue goals over those sales teams who did not have high numbers of women among their ranks. Not only is revenue higher with a gender-diverse sales force, but deal profitability is higher too. According to the CEB Global (now Gartner) report “Gaining the Talent Advantage: The Case for Gender Diversity in Sales,” some 62% of companies who had 45% or more women in their sales ranks drove higher-than-average levels of profitable revenue.”

Just as importantly, women must take their careers into their own hands. It’s up to us to demonstrate behaviors that change perceptions, contribute to company goals, and accelerate our own success.

5 Tips for Women in Sales

Ready to change your sales future? Here’s how to start:

  1. Get your voice heard.
    Your ideas and insights are just as valid as your male colleagues’. Yet, every woman I’ve spoken with shares this story: “I’m at a meeting, and I offer a perfect solution to the problem being discussed. No one comments. Then 10 minutes later, a man says almost the same thing, and everyone thinks it’s a terrific idea.”

    One of my colleagues, a partner in a national CPA firm, has her response ready whenever this scenario occurs. She immediately says, “I’m so glad you liked my idea.” That shuts people up fast, while putting her in a position of leadership and strength.

  1. Ask for advice from people you respect—men or women.
    Listen carefully and adopt what makes sense based on your unique personality and selling style. We all need advice and guidance, and women are way more open to asking for help. We also like to give help.

    I never thought of myself as a mentor until a fellow author challenged me on this. “We are mentors for everyone,” she told me. “We write profusely and speak about sales. People take wisdom and insights from what we share.How do you find a mentor? Ask. People aren’t mind-readers. Find someone you trust and admire and start building a relationship.

  1. Step out of your comfort zone to test new ways of working.
    It’s better to apologize (if appropriate) than to ask for permission. Always ask why you’re selling the way you’re selling. If your current sales plan is working, keep doing it. Otherwise, change it up.

    What works well for one salesperson might not be the right style for you. Find your own groove.

  1. Learn from other women in sales.
    Your best resource for current insights on gender diversity in sales is Women Sales Pros. The website is full of articles and engaging podcasts designed to help women advance in their sales careers and to help companies attract more women in sales.

    Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of this organization since Jill Konrath founded it more than 10 ten years ago—because there was no organization for women in sales. This is a remarkable group of talented women whom I learn from every day. You will, as well!

  1. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.
    Even if most of your colleagues show up in jeans and flip-flops, smart saleswomen dress for success. You don’t have to wear a suit and high heels every day, but consider what you need to do to step it up. If you want to advance in your career, you’d better not look and sound like everyone else. You might be the best thinker and innovator, but if you look grubby, you’ll never get face time with clients…or with people more senior than you.

    Successful sales organizations in the 21st century will facilitate teams that leverage the strengths of both men and women. Smart sales leaders want diverse teams who bring different skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. Women are just plain naturals at selling. We know that. Now it’s time to tap into our innate strengths, build confidence, and get out of our own way.

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

(Featured image attribution: CoWomen)

(This post was originally published on September 3, 2015 and updated on October 13, 2020.)