The many sales challenges faced by men and women in sales roles are largely the same.
- Difficulty getting through to buyers.
- Not enough qualified leads in the pipeline.
- Too much administrative work and not enough selling time.
- Trying to keep competitors at bay.
- Keeping sales skills sharp.
- The rapid pace of change.
- And more.
Selling in today’s 21st century environment is more challenging than ever. That means that our ability to transcend obstacles to success is as much about managing our beliefs, mindset and attitude, as it is about being highly skilled at the various aspects of the selling process.
I’ve written about the business case for women in sales many times.
Research supports that a strategic focus on diversity and inclusion positively impacts revenue, the customer experience and fosters cultures that are forward thinking and innovative.
Volumes have been written about bro cultures, women being held back, gaps in pay. All truths that have merit. There is no question that there is work to be done. Progress has been slow to fix many of the pervasive problems that persist.
At the same time, I want women in sales (or in any role), to remember that there are times when we may undermine our success without even realizing it through some of these common behaviors.
Being Seen Not Heard.
I’m not the only woman who has felt seen but not heard in meetings. Many women don’t realize that they are more likely than men to “wait” to be called on to speak.
Women also have a tendency to downplay their certainty about their ideas, business opinions, or even the products they sell. They hedge their assertions making them seem less confident than they are. If you want to be heard, rather than fume at being overlooked or feel your ideas were dismissed, make it your business to assert yourself by speaking up clearly, confidently and concisely.
If you are in a sales role, this behavior is especially problematic. There is a gap in gender diversity in departments other than sales in many companies, which means that the buyers we are approaching are mostly men. If you appear to lack confidence in what you sell, these male buyers won’t feel confident in buying from you.
Leveraging Relationships vs. 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.
I’m as guilty of this behavior as anyone. As much as I talk with guests on the Conversations with Women in Sales podcast about how important it is for women to stop sitting on the sidelines waiting for others to notice their good work, reward them, promote them or help them when they need a favor, I find myself doing the same thing without realizing it.
For many of us this is a bias hidden away in our DNA that cautions us against asking for specific help from the people in the networks we’ve established. Adding to our concern is the judgment many of us have felt by other women who signal to us that our ask is selfish or overly ambitious. For the record, women who judge other women, and it happens far more often than you might think, are often unaware that they do it.
I have to give a hat tip to men here. They don’t usually fall into this trap. If they need help, they don’t hesitate to ask for it.
The TMI (Too Much Information) Trap
This sabotaging behavior isn’t new news. How you use your words matter and never is that truer than in selling.
It is important to note that the urban myth that women speak 20,000 words in a day while men speak 7,000 was debunked in a 2007 study.
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. And, yes, I’ve been guilty of this behavior too. Women often 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.
Tip: Get to the point and let people ask for more details as they need it!
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 when speaking. Women, on the other hand, use “we” more often. On the surface “we” sounds inclusive. When we believe that our accomplishments came together as a result of a team effort, we are reluctant to call specific attention to our part in the process.
Research 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”?
Women are discouraged from “self-promotion” beginning at an early age. Promoting our own efforts is equated to bragging. Bragging equals bad. How we present our accomplishments may be the difference, but marketing how we contributed to the success of the business or any team project 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.
External factors that can block our path certainly exist. I began my sales career in the macho, male dominated world of tech, and enjoyed great success all through the years. And like so many women, I’ve dealt with my share of biases that presented obstacles I felt were unwarranted or unfair. At the same time, I recognize that there have been times when I let my own insecurities and behaviors work against me. I know I’m not alone.
I’ve always been inspired by Viktor Frankl and his story. In the most horrific of circumstances, he came to the realization that 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?
NOTE: A similar but shorter version of this post was originally published as an article in the Top Sales World Magazine in June 2019 – Women in Sales Edition.