Two years ago, an Institute for Excellence in Sales (IES) supporter suggested that the IES create a program designed specifically for professional women in sales – to help them grow their business and sales careers. We went ahead and created a speaker-based program just for women that replicated what the IES was already doing. We pitched the idea to the women IES members and were surprised at their lack of enthusiasm.  We were determined to understand why the original idea failed so we did some research and returned to the same women with a different pitch, which received an astounding reception. Based on this research, we came up with 15 challenges that they said were most pressing. Check the list below and let me know if you agree.

The next IES Women in Sales program is Tuesday, May 3 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

By Fred Diamond, Executive Director, Institute for Excellence in Sales

Here’s the back story.  The main motive for founding the Institute for Excellence in Sales (IES) was to get leads for my marketing consulting business. I was often brought on to give the Sales team what they needed from Marketing to be successful. I’ve always been passionate about the main mission of Marketing, which is to help drive sales. Anyone who knows me has heard me say this a million times: “Marketing that doesn’t lead to revenue reward is a HUGE waste of time and money.” The IES is a more formal extension of the support I feel professional sales people need.

So, what about women in sales?  Do all sales professionals face the same challenges?  A few years ago one of our supporters suggested that we launch a Women in Sales program. He holds a leadership position in a large IT company and said that while his sales women perform on average percent points better than the men, he’s observed that they learn differently and learn from each other more than the men on his team do.


I thought I was taking his advice.  The original Women in Sales program we developed mirrored the primary IES program, which is to bring world-class speakers to DC for mini-workshops for sales leaders. We were going to bring in some of the top female sales speakers in the world such as Jill Konrath, Colleen Stanley and Kendra Lee, who have all graced the IES stage, to deliver a morning keynote followed by multiple concurrent breakout sessions capped off with lunch.

When I started socializing the program with female IES members, the idea was met with a thud. What were we missing?  The general concept, a professional association educating women in their sales careers supported by the IES, was met with approval however, we were told that women don’t need a separate curriculum, but rather a place to meet, learn, network and discuss sales issues with like-minded professionals. That’s an entirely different picture than we first envisioned.

This was a classic case of a company bringing a product to market without speaking to or getting any input from customer base.  Like when LifeSavers launched soda products or when Colgate brought out a line of frozen dinners (look them up!)


To come up with the optimum program, last winter we gathered a group of 30 successful women in sales across multiple markets and locations, years of experience, and organizational levels. We asked them what problems they faced, how they would like to engage with other professional saleswomen to solve some of the problems, and if they would be committed to joining, running and leading an organization that addressed these topics.

The high level of interest astounded me. The first question we posed was “What are some of the challenges you think about as a woman in sales?” The tsunami of ideas didn’t stop coming.

Before you read on, what challenges would be on your list of sales challenges?  If you are male, how many of the following bullets on the list would apply to your challenges?  If you are female, how many items on the list do you agree with?

Here is the list of the top 15 challenges facing women in sales the committee came up with:

  1. How to build my credibility in my company and in the industry?
  2. How do I know if I’m being paid properly?
  3. How do I determine what to spend my time on?
  4. How do I optimize my career path?
  5. Should I move into management or grow as an individual sales professional?
  6. How can I become a better sales manager and grow people?
  7. How to engage at events?
  8. How to best communicate upwards?
  9. How do I get to the next level and stay there?
  10. How do I brand myself?
  11. How much responsibility should I take?
  12. How to get better at negotiation skills because if you don’t ask, you don’t get?
  13. How to build confidence that I can ask for things and not be afraid?
  14. How to work with men or women that are older than me?
  15. How much should I socialize at work?

The women on the committee were in agreement and heads were nodding.  The energy in the room was palpable. It became clear that women who have made a commitment to having a hugely successful sales career had a whole different list of challenges that men have. We wouldn’t have been clear about these challenges without first doing the research.


After two more steering committee meetings, the team created a program specifically for Women in Sales, based on the following four pillars:

  • Community of Likeminded Professionals
  • Personal Development
  • Career Development
  • Leadership & Management Growth

The IES formed an advisory board of some of the sharpest female sales leaders we know, which includes former IBM public sector leader Anne Altman, Accelerated Government Strategies Group’s Aileen Black and Deltek’s Mary Beth Cockerham to ensure we deliver the right program. The committee suggested we started holding monthly programs featuring facilitated discussions led by successful sales leaders on topics of relevance to women in sales. The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce offered to host the meetings.

The committee suggested an online community to continue the discussions and we’re planning two social events and a full day personal development workshop on October 6. More information on the program can be found here.

The steering committee said to create an environment where women who are serious about a career in sales can have a safe place to understand what it takes to be successful and to learn from other women who’ve been there and done that. The women on the committee have had successful careers and were excited about participating in an organization solely focused on their challenges.


Now that the program is underway, we’re learning about what’s important, what works and what’s needed. Take a look at the list above. Do you agree that these are challenges uniquely faced by women in sales?

We’d like to know your thoughts.

The next IES Women in Sales program is Tuesday, May 3 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.