The many sales challenges faced by men and women in sales roles are largely the same. Difficulty getting through to buyers. Not enough qualified opportunities in the pipeline. Too much admin work and not enough selling time. Trying to keep competitors at bay. Keeping sales skills sharp. The rapid pace of change. And more.
I’ve written about the business case for women in sales, how a strategic focus on diversity and inclusion positively impacts revenue, the customer experience and fosters cultures that are forward thinking and innovative. More companies are thinking about how to shift their approach when it comes to recruiting and retaining women while also doing their part to encourage women shying away from a career in sales to reconsider.
Are you getting in your own way?
Volumes have been written about bro cultures, women being held back, gaps in pay. All concerns that have merit. What I also believe we can discuss more openly is how our success – whatever career path we choose – is ultimately up to us. With that in mind, I want to talk about several common behaviors that sabotage women in their quest for success.
Let’s start with being seen not heard.
I’m not the only woman who has felt seen but not heard in meetings. If you want to be heard, rather than fume at being overlooked, make it your business to assert yourself by speaking clearly, confidently and concisely. Without meaning too many women are more likely than men to wait to be called on, downplay their certainty or hedge their assertions making them seem less confident than they are.
Are you leveraging relationships or just building them?
Often, we hear that women possess the innate strength of building relationships. While I believe that to be true, I’ve also noticed that many women shy away from leveraging the power of the relationships they’ve built. They’ve built a network but have a bias against using it. Asking for the specific business help they need is viewed, and sometimes judged by other women, as selfish or overly ambitious. Men don’t fall into this trap. If they need help, they ask for it.
Do you fall into the TMI trap?
This sabotaging behavior isn’t new news. How you use your words matter and never is that truer than in selling. The urban myth that women speak 20,000 words in a day while men speak 7,000 was debunked in a 2007 study. It turns out that it isn’t the number of words men and women use in a day; they are basically the same number. The core difference is in how words are used. Women are often tuned out because they take too much time to get to the point. They preface their suggestions with a lot of backstory and unnecessary background. Side observations obscure the main point, while over explaining the rationale behind the point they want to make creates a perception that they lack confidence in their abilities.
The only way to say this is to say it – ladies, stop downplaying your achievements. There is that old joke about there not being an “I’ in team, which always made me laugh. Look closely at the word, and you’ll see the word “me”. Not we, me. Our male counterparts use “I” more often. Women, on the other hand, use “we” more often. On the surface “we” sounds inclusive. In fact, I’ve found myself doing the same thing when talking about accomplishments that I believed came together as a result of a team effort. Though that may be true, research also confirms that using “we”, especially if you are responsible for leading a team, creates confusion about your role in a specific effort. The higher ups wonder… Did you lead it? Were you essential to the outcome? What exactly do you mean when you say “we”? Much of the problem stems from something in a woman’s DNA that insists that self-promotion – no matter how well deserved – is bragging. Bragging equals bad. How you present your accomplishments may be the difference, but marketing our contributions is part of the job.
People pleasing and the perfection trap.
Many women, including me, suffer from the disease to please. Voltaire wrote that “Perfect is the enemy of good.” A manager I worked for gave me that feedback once, and at the time, it really annoyed me. When I thought about it later, I understood what Voltaire meant. He meant that perfection is an illusion. Not everyone will like us or agree with us but trying to navigate our careers through the lens of trying to be something we aren’t doesn’t make much sense. It certainly leads to more heartache than needed.
It is true that many challenges men and women face in sales are similar when it comes to common elements about the sales process. It isn’t as true when it comes to accepting that it is often our own insecurities and behaviors that unwittingly work against us.
External factors that can block our path certainly exist. As a woman who began her sales career in the macho, male dominated world of tech, I’ve certainly been faced with bias that presented obstacles I felt were unwarranted or unfair. Still, I side with Viktor Frankl on this one. No matter what the circumstance, we have a choice. If where you are today is not where you want to be, what choice will you make to turn things around?
First published in Top Sales World Magazine in June 2019.