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  • Mercer Smith-Looper

Three top tips for women in sales

When you think of a salesperson, what do you see? You might imagine a Dwight Schrute-style car salesman in an ugly yellow shirt. Maybe, to keep The Office metaphor rolling, you see a Ryan: Bluetooth earbud in, suit on, talking loud and smiling smugly. 

No matter what you envisioned, it was probably someone male-presenting. Most people think “salesman” rather than “salesperson” or “saleswoman.” Even my grammar checker tried to get rid of “saleswoman” but took no issue with the “salesman” around it.

Here’s another experiment: go to your LinkedIn and search for any Director or VPs of Sales in your network. What demographic breakdown do you see there? When I searched, there were three women in the top twenty results. Only 15% of the VPs I saw were female-identifying.

Luckily, the numbers jump when looking at individual contributors at the sales level. LinkedIn statistics show that women make up 41% of the active sales workforce. So if they’re that prevalent, why don’t more of us think of saleswomen?

Female-identifying folks have tons of skills that make us inherently excellent salespeople. It’s time for us to get the respect and attention we deserve. Here are a few things that you can integrate into your day-to-day to take up the space that you’ve earned.

Be bold

Women are great at closing deals and attaining quotas, but they’re also committed to being the best of the best before throwing their hat in the ring. Studies show women hit their quotas at a slightly higher rate than their male-identifying counterparts. According to Gartner Inc., the average quota attainment rate for women is 70%. Men’s quota attainment rates hover around 67%.

Even with that being the case, historically, research shows women feel the need to meet 100% of hiring criteria on a job listing, while men usually apply after meeting only 60%. LinkedIn behavioral data backs this up. Essentially, women tend to over-self-select and as a result apply to 20% fewer jobs than men

You don’t need to be quiet about all of your successes. Other people may surpass you in opportunities if you keep playing down the things you do competently. So, apply for the positions you’re interested in and don’t be afraid to show how awesome you are. 

Lean in

Ann Davis, the VP of Sales at Journey Sales, wrote

“Most female sales executives, at some point in their careers, get caught in the trap of thinking, believing, or acting like they need to be part of the boy’s club. Focus on being your authentic self. Understand your skills, strengths, and areas of development. Most importantly: believe you bring qualities to the team that make everyone better.”

Instead of trying to be something you aren’t, focus on what you already are and can do. You don’t need to be anything else to be successful. Leaning into the skills that you already have may make you an even more successful salesperson.

Studies suggest women pay more attention to nonverbal communication, giving them a distinct advantage when working a sale. Instead of just basing sales strategy on what the customer says, women can synthesize things like body language and conversation gaps to read into the customers’ needs, concerns, and holdbacks.

Women also tend to listen more. Women in sales spend as much as 80% of their time on calls listening to what customers say. The more you listen to your customers, the more you understand their motivations. The better handle you have on their motivations, the more clearly you see the levers you have to pull to close. 

All that closing leads to financial benefits for your company. According to a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher financial metrics than those that aren’t.

Lean into your innate traits. Stop trying to play ball with the boys when you’re already in your own league as a woman.

Surround yourself with other women

How many sales job descriptions have you read using phrases like: ‘hungry,’ ‘relentless,’ ‘driven,’ or ‘sports-minded?’ When you combine those words with an image of a stereotypical woman, you may also conjure some additional vocabulary: ‘pushy,’ ‘bossy,’ or even ‘high-strung’. 

The vocabulary we use to discuss women in sales needs to be more inclusive of actual women in sales. The best way to change the way we describe sales and make it more inclusive is to make sales itself more inclusive. We need more alignment among women, and we also need more saleswomen.

If you’ve already hired women as team members on your sales team you’re on the right path. Further, women-identifying leaders tend to create more diverse groups. On average female-led sales teams are equal in representation, while teams led by male-identifying persons are only 25% women.

You also should help your women-identifying teammates find people to support them. Having team members and other women to mentor them has a positive boost on employee retention and economic output. Mentors, especially those in the same situations as their mentees, can also provide examples on how to navigate long-term career paths and trajectories. 

Diversity adds value

As a woman in sales, take confidence in the fact that you are single-handedly contributing to the excellence of your team and company. You bring unique perspectives, alternative solutions, and superior listening skills to the table. Beyond that, you boost sales and attract additional diverse candidates to continue making your company the best.

Be bold in your decisions — you don’t need to doubt yourself, especially when you have the numbers in your corner. The next time you wonder about your capabilities, question if a man in precisely the same position would have the same thoughts. 

We’re stronger together, so surround yourself with other women. Whether they’re in sales, or just in business, having other representatives of the work that you’re trying to do is meaningful. They’ll give you a space to talk about your problems, a venue to work through potential issues and strategies, and continue to lift you and remind you of your value. 

We’re strong. We’re capable. We’re smart. Let’s keep working to get all saleswomen the space in business that they deserve. 

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