Here’s what I’ve learned about selling from some top women leaders.

When Amy referred to herself as a “bulldog,” the idea conjured up images of a pushy, arrogant, aggressive, in-your-face salesperson—the kind none of us wants to be. But that’s not what bulldogs are, and it’s not what she meant.

Like most successful women in sales, Amy is tenacious. She sells with confidence. She’s dedicated and loyal—a dog with a bone who works hard to find the best possible solutions for her clients. And that’s what all salespeople should be doing to earn trust and promote business development.

Considering only about 18 percent of buyers fully trust salespeople, perhaps more salespeople should be acting like bulldogs — i.e., acting like successful women in sales.

Lessons from the Dog Pen

The bulldog in question is Amy, director of sales strategy at a large B2B software company. She has both a deeply rooted sense of integrity and an unbounded passion for sales. Her goal is to ensure that her buyer has a superior buying, selling, implementation, and consulting experience.

“If you wouldn’t buy what you’re selling, that’s a problem,” Amy told me. “Go figure it out. Understand the pain of your prospect. Get in their corner and find a way to create value.”

Amy professes that no one will take better care of customers than she does, because she’s spent plenty of time on their side of the table. She didn’t come from a technical background, but she brought a unique capability to technology sales: domain expertise.

Amy has “been there” … as a customer of incentive compensation and a lover of performance management. So, she has a deep sense of accountability and a maddening level of loyalty towards her customers. As she puts it: “If I give you what I have, I will have your back.” That’s her bulldog-like tenacity.

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.

That’s a winning business development strategy, considering 65.2 percent of buyers find value in discussing their challenges with insightful salespeople, according to CSO Insights report.

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.

More Leadership Lessons from Women in Sales

Women leaders have their own unique styles, but they’re all bulldogs in their own right. Take Ellen, for example. 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 does 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.

Then there’s Sue, who wasn’t the most technical person in the world but has managed to excel in a male-dominated industry. She says she must work smarter and harder than many of her male colleagues, and that it’s challenging to improve herself when there are so few women leaders to mentor her.

But that hasn’t stopped Sue. Getting both male and female perspectives is essential for women in sales (or for any sales professional), so Sue has found successful men and women in sales to mentor and coach her. Many of them recognized her talents and offered their support without being asked. Now when Sue is struggling with a deal or leadership challenge, she can ask them, “What would you do?”

Then there’s Kari, who returned from maternity leave to find new players. She felt uncertain about how best to re-engage. She’d always been the top business development rep. Shortly, several people told her she should apply for an open management position. Kari had her eyes on management as her next step, but she didn’t have management experience. So, what did she do? She read up about management and leadership practices and interviewed people in management positions. She got the guts to apply, though she readily admits that she was terribly nervous going into the interview.

She got the job! Looking back, her advice to women in sales is to always interview for your next job. Talk about yourself and what you’re working on to as many people as possible. People aren’t mind-readers. They don’t know what you want. It’s your job to let them know.

Embrace YOUR Inner Bulldog

These interviews got me thinking: I’m a bulldog too. I stick to my beliefs that no one should ever have to cold call and that referral selling is the #1 way to reduce prospecting time and get every meeting in one call. People consistently challenge my sales strategy. They don’t believe referrals can scale. They want to know what research I have to back up my claims.

There’s plenty of research about why executives take meetings with salespeople. (You guessed it: referrals from people those leaders know and respect.) Then there’s my research from being the “feet on the street” for well over 35 years. I know what works, and sales leaders know it too. The problem is that they’re all rhetoric. They tell their sales reps to go out there and get referrals. But without disciplined referral programs or accountability for results, referrals will merely trickle in.

I only count what I bring about, and that’s how referrals scale. Darned if I’m going to sit around and wait for people to call me.

What’s the lesson here for women in sales?

  1. Stand your ground. Women say yes a lot. Learn to say no a lot. If you can’t say no, then set realistic expectations. Get help to complete your projects and be more objective about which clients deserve your time and which don’t.
  2. Give yourself a break. You can’t be all things to all people. Women think we can do everything and often push ourselves too hard. We know that doesn’t work, but we do it anyway. And we pay the price … over and over again. Unless we take time to unplug, we can’t function as well at work, and we definitely can’t function at home. (Even bulldogs need sleep.)
  3. 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 what it takes for women to succeed in sales? Check out my popular speaking topic, “Big Deals and High Heels: Why Women Are Naturals at Selling.”

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

This post was originally published on March 3, 2016 and updated October 3, 2019.