Hiding behind technology doesn’t drive sales—THIS WILL.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month in the U.S.! I know it seems like there’s a month for everything, but this is certainly one worth celebrating. Closing the gender gap, here and abroad, has been slow, but it’s also been steady. Just consider that in the 1960s, women couldn’t do any of these five things:
- Get a credit card: Until the passage of the Equal Opportunity Act in 1974, banks routinely refused credit to unmarried women and required married women to have their husbands co-sign.
- Serve on a jury: Women were barred from jury pools in most states, because lawmakers believed they should be at home caring for their families.
- Take a birth control pill. The FDA only approved the birth control pill to treat “severe menstrual distress.”
- Get an ivy league education. Yale and Princeton began accepting women in 1969, but Harvard waited until 1977, when it merged with the all-female Radcliffe College. The University of Pennsylvania and Cornell both admitted their first female students in the 1870s, but only under special circumstances.
- Experience equality in the workplace. The 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of gender or race, but that didn’t stop them from doing it. (It still doesn’t.)
Now imagine a woman owning a business in the 1960s. Some extraordinary women made it happen, but they were few and far between. Not today, though!
Of the 30.7 million small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) active across the U.S., 45 percent are owned by women. What a leap from 1972, when women owned only 4.6 percent of all businesses!
And the numbers are continuing to trend upwards. According to the 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned businesses is growing two times the rate of all businesses nationwide. These businesses employ roughly 9.4 million people and contribute $1.9 trillion to the U.S. economy. And women of color are starting businesses at 4.5 times the rate of all other business owners. As of 2019, women of color accounted for 50 percent of all women-owned businesses, employing almost 2.4 million people and generating $422.5 billion.
These remarkable women have proven they can accomplish anything they want to accomplish. Unfortunately, many don’t want to learn how to sell.
If you’re one of them, know that I understand where you’re coming from. Sales wasn’t my first career choice, either, but now it’s my passion. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: Women are great at sales.
Small Business Guide to Sales
Most small business owners founded their companies based on their experience within a certain industry or professional role. Perhaps you came from marketing, IT, product development, finance, consulting, or customer success. You knew your stuff, but you probably didn’t know how to build sales for small business.
It doesn’t matter your gender, geography, or culture. If you didn’t learn how to sell in previous roles, selling isn’t in your lexicon. In fact, you might think sales is a four-letter word.
(Yes, I know it’s five. But it’s easy to understand the confusion, considering how many pushy, arrogant salespeople give the rest of us a bad reputation.)
It’s only natural for women to shy away from sales. Most of us were raised to be humble, modest, and unassuming, so we don’t want to appear pushy and arrogant by tooting our own horns.
But here’s the thing: If you’re a business owner, you should be tooting it. Because you built something from nothing. Because you’re putting in the hard work to bring your vision to life. And because you actually need to sell to stay in business.
Consider this: 15 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs started out in sales, making it the third most popular background among successful leaders. Only financiers (31 percent) and engineers (18 percent) outnumber salespeople among top executives.
Still don’t think it’s important to learn how to do sales for small business?
Why Entrepreneurs Don’t Learn How to Sell
What gets in the way of sales? Why are you in such a rush to run away from anything that looks like selling?
It’s called call reluctance, and it affects everyone—even seasoned sales pros. You might think call reluctance only affects cold callers. Actually, no. There’s even more call reluctance when asking for referrals, because it’s the most personal lead generation strategy. We put our reputations on the line and risk being rejected.
One client told me, “I’m not sure of the reason, but I have never been comfortable asking for referrals.” And another said, “I think I’ve told you before that I have a mild-to-moderate case of call reluctance. Even warm opportunities I’m following up on create anxiety.”
That’s why many small businesses spend money on marketing campaigns and cold calling. (Or hiring companies to call for them.) They don’t want to tap into their networks to generate sales, even though it’s the most effective small business sales technique.
If this sounds like you, it’s time to call it what it is—call reluctance, or the fear of self-promotion. And it could be holding you back from even greater business success.
Small Business Sales Techniques That Work
Most women business owners have a large network they can tap into for referrals. Most importantly, they have relationships from past companies. People will refer you because of the relationships you’ve developed. Because they like you and trust you.
It doesn’t matter if your business is new or established. People don’t refer companies, they refer people.
Referrals are the #1 way to expand your business. Get a referral introduction from someone your prospect knows and trusts, and you get the meeting every time. No more struggling to get the right people. No more hoping someone else would “do sales.”
Sales is not a four-letter word, at least not when you sell by referral. Referrals are about the relationships you’ve developed. They’re based on trust, not cold calling. You’re not a pushy and aggressive salesperson, so you won’t come off like one.
As a small business owner, you need to maintain a healthy cash flow and manage your costs. There’s no cost to referrals. Sure, you need to send a thank-you note. You might even send a small gift or make a charitable donation after the fact. But there’s no huge marketing cost and no investment in a costly salesperson. You will need to hire a salesperson at some point when your business can afford it, and perhaps you have already. But as the company’s leader, you still need to know how to ask for referrals.
Learn How to Sell by Referral
Now’s the time to build your business through referrals. They’re your biggest competitive differentiation. You get in early, build strong relationships, and get the business. My clients report at least a 50 percent conversion rate from prospect to client, and most say it’s more than 70 percent.
Think of the impact asking for referrals could have on your business—while still protecting your cash flow and increasing sales. Now tell me, are you ready to learn how to sell?
Ready to learn how to sell by referral? Email email@example.com and schedule a 15-minute complimentary call.
(This post was originally published on May 2, 2019 and updated October 12, 2021.)