When I began selling technology solutions 20+ years ago, the ratio of women to men was pretty off kilter. By now, you would expect that the ratio of women to men in sales organizations would have become a little more equal, especially in the leadership ranks. Unfortunately, statistics from multiple research studies tell a different story.
The LinkedIn Sales Solutions team conducted an analysis of the LinkedIn member network last year to measure the representation of women by job function, title, industry, and more. As it relates to the profession of selling, the study revealed some telling results. The study confirmed that women are unrepresented in sales as a whole (only 39%) and representation in senior ranks is even less.
In this article, I want to focus on two major points. First, why don’t more women embark on a career in sales? Second, how companies can do a much better job recruiting women into their sales ranks. Why? It’s good for business!
Where are the Women in Sales?
From the moment I landed my first serious sales job, I have loved it. My earning potential was largely unlimited, one day never looked exactly like the next, and I had a lot of flexibility in how I went about accomplishing my goals. This last point was so important for me because I have never been and never will be a 9-5 gal.
From my point of view, there are three reasons why women still don’t seek out selling roles.
- As an industry, sales has an image problem. Somewhere buried deep in the collective psyche is the bias that anyone who sells is nothing more than a sleazy, snake oil salesman out to pick your pocket. Think cheesy used car sales guy. If the perception is that selling is about hounding people until they buy something versus helping companies solve their business problems, it is no wonder that sales haven’t held much career appeal in the eyes of women.
- Selling is viewed as a cut-throat, competitive business. The aggressive, hunter/kill mentality often seen (and rewarded) in many sales organizations holds no appeal for many women. Women tend to want to work in collaborative, team environments where the focus is on serving customers not crushing quotas.
- Women don’t know how great a career in sales can be. Companies do a poor job tailoring their recruitment efforts to what appeals to women. As Trish Bertuzzi once wrote in a blog post, companies should “Lay off the war words: hunt, kill, crush – these words tend not to appeal to female candidates.” Companies like Forrester know how to appeal to women and balance the perks they offer; there is something for everyone.
Why should women consider a career in sales?
Flexibility. The profession of selling has evolved quite a bit since I first got started in my sales career. Technology has certainly had much to do with that. Roles in business development or inside sales don’t always require that you leave your home office to get the job done. If you take on a position in field sales, you are able to juggle your schedule so you can attend family activities that you might miss working a 9-5 job.
Your natural traits are what buyers want. Salesforce’s State of Sales report noted that 83% of buyers want to work with salespeople “focused on helping achieve their company’s needs, not just making a quick sale.” Buyers want to work with salespeople who are good listeners, consultative in their approach, and who are focused on fulfilling buyer needs instead of making a quick sale. Women naturally tend to be more nurturing, collaborative and adept at listening and responding to buyers needs first. Does this mean that men in sales don’t demonstrate these traits? Of course not. And, there is solid evidence to suggest that women may have a natural edge here.
Diversity in the Sales Ranks is Good for Business
“Bringing more women into sales roles at every level quite simply makes business sense.”- Eliot Burdett, CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting
Your customers are diverse and that, in and of itself, is a good reason to have diverse salespeople who can connect and nurture strong relationships with multiple customer types. Imagine what would happen if everyone in your sales organization was a clone of everyone else. That would make it difficult to find common ground with customers and prospects.
How can organizations attract talented women to positions in sales?
It begins with organizations opening up to the idea that they need to balance the gender mix better. The diversity of style, approach and thinking need to be valued more. Any sales team largely made up of aggressive male hunters doesn’t bode well over time.
Put more emphasis on recruiting women and tailor the benefits message to incorporate those things that will be important to them. Appeal to women’s desire to be collaborative in working with customers to solve problems. And, please stop creating job descriptions filled with warrior language. That language doesn’t appeal to most women, which means your company is missing out on attracting talented women.
It is a Great Time to be in Sales. Join us!
Ladies, don’t overlook a career in sales. It is a great profession; we need you. And, for sales leaders reading this article, please overhaul your approach to attracting talented women. Your business will be stronger for it!