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. I´m still not, but it hasn’t been a problem in my sales career.
My first job out of college was with Joseph Magnin, a women’s specialty store in San Francisco. I entered their management training program and was groomed to become a salesperson—a role I entered with much trepidation. I wasn’t pushy or aggressive like I thought salespeople were supposed to be, but I did have definite points of view.
One of my first lessons about sales came early on in my new job. I wanted to rearrange a display of elegant gifts, so I asked the more experienced employees for their opinion. They all insisted it had never been done that way before. When I told my manager about their feedback, she looked at me and said, “That’s the best reason I know for doing it.” I was 22 years old, and I have never forgotten her response. She probably had no clue what an impression she made on me.
Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the best way. There’s an old story about a little girl who watched her mother cut off the ends of a ham before she put it in the roasting pan. When the little girl asked her mother why she did this, the mother thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know. My mother always did it that way. Why don’t you ask your grandmother?” So, the little girl asked her grandmother, who responded, “That’s simple. The pan wasn’t big enough.”
Since that time, I continue to challenge traditional ways of working. I challenge tired prospecting techniques like cold calling, direct mail campaigns, advertising, and trade shows—and the expectation that these activities alone will deliver great clients.
To this day, my best advice for other women in sales is to challenge the status quo, to challenge the stereotypes, to be themselves and not try to act like men in sales. The truth is that women have their own natural strengths that make them top sellers.
Women in Sales March to a Different Drum
Top salespeople build strong, ongoing, trusting relationships. We’re not the center of attention. We put our clients and prospects center stage. We ask probing questions, listen intently, have engaging conversations, and make connections—which gives women in sales a strong advantage.
Women 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 should start thinking and acting like us.
“The best salespeople I know are women.” That’s what experienced salesmen tell me. Why? Because women:
- Build strong relationships and earn clients’ trust
- Have intuition and listen to their gut feelings
- See the complexities in a deal and dig deeper to find the best solution for each client
Women in sales build relationships 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 tend to focus on results and solving problems. And these traits serve us well in sales.
Women in Sales Have Power
Perhaps because I began in retail sales, I never thought my gender was a disadvantage. All my colleagues were women—from human resources, to department managers, to the salespeople. We only worked with one male buyer. The rest were women too. So, I didn’t need to compete with men.
Today’s saleswomen don’t have to compete with men either. But they do need to take their careers into their own hands and demonstrate behaviors that change perceptions, contribute to company goals, and accelerate their success.
Here’s how to start:
- Get your voice heard. 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 when this scenario occurs. She immediately says, “I’m so glad you liked my idea.” That shuts people up fast, while putting her in a leadership position.
- 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 tend to be way more open to asking for help.
- 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 and find your own groove.
Above all, make time for yourself and the people you care about. Don’t let the corporate world gobble up all your energy and dull your creativity. To be successful in sales, you’ll need plenty of both.