Women who want to climb the sales ladder face unique challenges in a male-dominated industry. However, many women have broken the so-called glass ceiling. The opportunities are there, but the approach required to succeed is a little different for women than for their male counterparts. In Sales Game Changer Podcast Special Episode 008, Institute for Excellence in Sales President Fred Diamond and Gigi Schumm, the Senior VP of Worldwide Sales at Threat Quotient, explored different perspectives women sales leaders have presented on the podcast. Of all the advice they offered, these are the seven biggest takeaways.
Play to Your Strengths
Don’t try to be something you’re not. While this may sound obvious, the pressure to fit in as the only woman in the room can be overwhelming. Rather than striving to measure up to male coworkers, explore and develop what sets you apart from the crowd.
Christine Barger, a GM at Microsoft who’s spent time with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, shared her thoughts on the matter. “I’m a simple person,” she said. “I like three to five things to be good at. I feel like the best way to show impact is to make sure that you figure out what your three to five things are that are important and you just hunker down on them and be the best at those things.”
In other words, understand your own strengths and add value to the company in your own way.
Don’t Rely Exclusively on Your Company
Don’t depend solely on the success of your company to fuel your career growth. Continue networking so you have diverse relationships and a positive reputation overall. Additionally, you shouldn’t rely solely on your company for your professional development. Companies invest in the business plan. You have to look for opportunities that improve the business by improving you, the employee.
Telesa Via, VP of Sales at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, told us to “Push yourself, go out and reach out to see what tools are out there to educate yourself on how to continue to sharpen your saw because you cannot rely a hundred percent on the company that you work with as the only way.”
Your Emotional Intelligence? It’s an Asset
One skill in particular that often sets female sales associates apart is their innate emotional intelligence (EI). Understanding people is an essential skill in sales, allowing a deeper understanding of the customer’s wants and needs. Sales don’t work without a human connection, so emotional intelligence is highly beneficial to career growth.
According to the International Journal of Business and Society, emotional intelligence impacts adaptive selling behavior. This, in turn, impacts sales performance. Researchers defined adaptive selling behavior as the change in selling tactics and strategies and verbal and nonverbal forms of communication during a sales engagement. People with higher emotional intelligence connect more readily with their buyer. This allows them to shift their style and techniques sooner than someone with less EI.
Sam McKenna, a Sales Leader at LinkedIn, believes that emotional intelligence had a substantial effect on her career. During the podcast, she said, “I think if you understand people, the dynamics of their company, their teams, their challenges, what they’re measured by and how what you’re selling is going to impact them, you can really start to build a story of how you’re going to help them, how you’re going to get them to their goals.”
A Great Mentor is a Must
It’s not always about what you know, but who you know. Gigi addressed the importance of connecting with more experienced sales reps. She suggested that in many cases, a newer associate can land a job they want by calling on mentors and peers for guidance. She explained, “You don’t have to have experienced it personally yourself if you can call on a network of people that you know who are willing to help you.”
When you’re looking for someone to help guide or further your career, Telesa Via suggests that you “find someone that you can connect with that is always going to do a reality check and provide you with a different way of looking at things because the one lens or the one way is not always the best way.”
If you’re worried about asking for help, Gigi assured us that the majority of sales leaders are almost always happy to offer their wisdom.
Be Confident in Your Learning
Approach the field with confidence, but also with curiosity. A willingness to learn is looked upon favorably, and you don’t have to doubt your own skills to do it. Many companies are even shifting the way they conduct training to maximize retention.
“You have to make yourself somebody who invites feedback. That doesn’t just mean saying, “I would really like your honest feedback”, but it really means that you have to open yourself up to it and take it well if somebody gives you feedback.” – Gigi Schumm
According to Forbes, there are six steps to accepting constructive feedback:
- Stop your first reaction.
- Remember the benefit of getting feedback.
- Listen for understanding.
- Say thank you.
- Ask questions to deconstruct the feedback.
- Request time to follow up.
Accepting criticism and feedback can be hard, but it’s one of the best ways you will learn. Remember, if all anyone tells you is how great you are, then there’s something they aren’t telling you. Because no one is perfect.
Speak Up in Meetings and for Yourself
There’s no need to wait until you know everything to participate in the conversation. Women tend to avoid putting themselves out there until they are 100% sure of their position. In fact, men speak up to 75% more than women in meetings. Have the confidence to make your ideas heard. Make it clear that you’re sitting at the table for a reason!
Even in terms of your career, don’t be afraid to say something. Many professionals will bemoan the lack of learning opportunities, but won’t speak up. Don’t make it difficult. It can be as easy as asking to attend a meeting or stepping up for new challenges at work.
This confident, forward approach pays off when it comes to landing coveted sales positions as well. Monica McEwen, a VP of Federal at MapD, wouldn’t have climbed the sales ladder as quickly without taking that leap of faith. She said, “I put my hand up and said I want to move out of pre-sales and into sales and they took a chance on me and I’m glad they did.”
At times, women may need to assert themselves amongst men who doubt their abilities. It’s important to answer those questions for yourself, so you can address them from an employer’s perspective.
“Why are you hiring this person as opposed to finding somebody who has done the job?” I welcome those kinds of conversations and challenges because if I’m going to take a risk on this person, I should be able to articulate exactly why I do believe that they are worth it and that it’s the right decision from a business vantage point.” –Gigi Schumm, the Senior VP of Worldwide Sales at Threat Quotient
Know why you’re worth the risk and have a clear justification for decisions you make within the company to prove why you’re an asset.
With the climate towards women in business shifting, companies have realized the benefit of diversity. Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning of companies are often led by men who are unsure of how to guide their female associates to success. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible for women to succeed. It just means that women in sales have to approach the field with even more drive, clarity, confidence, and self-awareness than their male counterparts.
Be Confident and Take the Leap
A theme throughout this Sales Game Changers podcast episode was the importance of confidence. In another striking observation from Gigi, she stated that “Women tend to underestimate the knowledge that we’ve picked up along the way and we may or may not really think we’re ready for that next leap.”
The collective suggestion? Take the leap. To show the sales industry how to better support and push women to success, female associates must be willing to put themselves out there, take risks, and show the salesforce what they’re really made of. This is why the Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Forum was created: to give a career pivoting opportunity to women in sales.