Women in Sales: 6 Experts Share Selling Advice
The number of women in sales is small, but they are a mighty group.
A look at some of the top female sellers in history gives you a glimpse of their power:
- Persis Foster Eames Albee was the top sales agent for The California Perfume Co., which became Avon. During her time there, she developed a network of more than 5,000 female sales agents
- Madam C.J. Walker invented hair care products for Black women. When retail stores wouldn’t carry the products, she turned to direct sales. Her sales strategies were the precursor to the multi-level sales model.
- Anna Bissell, whose husband invented the Bissell carpet sweeper, was the top salesperson for the company. She later became CEO of the company and the first woman CEO in the US.
Women in Sales Today
Today, women represent just 29% of B2B sellers and only 26% of sales managers, according to a study conducted by Xactly. Looking at success rates, however, women outperform men. The same study found 86% of women salespeople achieve quota, compared with 78% of men.
Women succeed in sales because they excel at different capabilities than men. Research by consulting firm ZS, which looked at the performance of more than 500 salespeople across several industries, found seven capabilities that set high-performing salespeople apart:
- Shaping solutions
“Both high-performing women and high-performing men used all seven capabilities to some extent,” the research found. “But high-performing women were more likely to emphasize connecting, shaping solutions, and collaborating, while high-performing men relied more on improving and driving outcomes. For analyzing and influencing, there was no measurable difference between the genders.”
Considering today’s digitally savvy and self-sufficient buyers, it isn’t surprising that connecting, shaping solutions, and collaborating skills are highly effective. Buyers want sales reps to add value beyond what a company’s website can provide. That means sellers must be able to collaborate with buyers, listen to their concerns, and shape solutions that focus on buyers’ needs.
6 Expert Tips from Women in Sales
For The Adapter’s Advantage podcast, host and Allego President and Co-founder Mark Magnacca spoke with several women sales experts about their experiences in the industry and skills that sellers must have. Here’s a look at six things they say sellers must do to succeed today.
1. Build Relationships with Buyers
A lot of people perceive salespeople as pushy—as trying to urge you to buy something prematurely. What sales reps need to remember is that selling is a process, and you must be patient, says Erica Feidner, sales expert and “Piano Matchmaker” who sold $40 million of pianos for Steinway. In her case, she gets to know the buyer and builds a relationship with them before trying to sell them a piano.
“I’ve been known to say ‘sale’ is a four-letter word,” Feidner says. “Over the past few years, the idea of a salesperson or sale has pivoted to a very meaningful and important service.”
Learn More: Listen to The Adapter’s Advantage podcast episode with Erica Feidner, Selling as a Service.
2. Be Emotionally Self-Aware and Willing to Change
Today’s sellers must have emotional awareness, says Colleen Stanley, president and founder of Sales Leadership Inc. and author of the book Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success. Sellers must be able to admit their strengths and weaknesses and think about what they need to change.
“I really believe in the phrase: ‘If you’re not aware of it, you can’t change it. If you’re not aware of it, you’re bound to repeat it,’” Stanley says.
If you aren’t willing to learn, change, and grow, you won’t be able to adapt to different scenarios and situations, she says.
“Emotional self-awareness also requires some courage, and it requires another EQ: self-regard—the ability to admit, ‘I’ve got a blind spot. I have a weakness. I need some help. I don’t need to be the smartest guy or gal in the room,’” Stanley says.
Soft skills help with the execution of the hard skills, she says. And the combination of the two helps companies drive sustainable revenue.
Learn More: Listen to The Adapter’s Advantage podcast episode with Colleen Stanley, Integrating Emotional Intelligence into Sales.
3. Be Confident, Eliminate Imposter Syndrome
Confidence is the most important skill sellers must have today, says Kate Holmes, CFP, founder of Innovating Advice. Imposter syndrome, when people doubt their skills, talents, and accomplishments, is a big issue for some. Firms need sellers who are confident and willing to close the sale or have their first client meeting by themselves.
“The power of building confidence is incredible. I learned this lesson all over again last month when I got my pilot’s license,” Holmes says. “There’s a learning curve and the rush you get the first time you land an airplane. It changed my entire thinking on the world. Once you can do that, you’re like, ‘All right, I can do anything.’”
Learn More: Listen to The Adapter’s Advantage podcast episode with Kate Holmes, Building a Business for Life.
4. Be Curious and Willing to Adapt
Sales success comes from combining creativity, curiosity, and adaptability and recognizing that you must put your customers’ needs and the conversations they’re having at the forefront, says Colleen Francis, president and owner of Engage Selling Solutions.
“I really, truly believe that salespeople still, from a skill perspective, are not good at monetizing value and communicating value to their customers. But to do that well, you have to be curious. You have to ask questions. You can’t be afraid to ask questions around what it’s costing them and what their goals are and what the biggest growth opportunities are and where they’re struggling,” she says.
“And if you’re not curious from an operational standpoint or a business standpoint, it’s impossible for you to build the right value messaging to give to your clients that’s focused on them.”
Learn More: Listen to The Adapter’s Advantage podcast episode with Colleen Francis, Transforming Sales Strategy.
5. Dare to Do Something Different
Sales mentor and trainer Elyse Archer discovered the power of video when she started creating videos to market herself as a sales coach. She soon learned video sped up the sales process. People felt like they knew her faster and that they could learn from her sooner. Plus, social media platforms put videos in front of users more often than article links, so more people see them.
Videos are also powerful when communicating one on one with buyers, Archer says. After a year of trying to get a meeting with a vice president of sales at a high-level financial organization, Archer grew frustrated and decided she had to do something different. So, she sent him a video message. It worked. He replied, they arranged a meeting, and it led to a friendly and profitable relationship that continues to this day.
“All it took was just doing something a little bit different,” Archer says. “And that turned into a six-figure relationship. He referred me to a bunch of other people and became one of my dear friends. And I don’t think he ever would have responded if I didn’t do something different.”
Learn More: Listen to The Adapter’s Advantage podcast episode with Elyse Archer, Believing in Yourself.
6. Share Best Practices with Other Sellers
Courtney Ness, founder of Field Factor Training, says sharing best practices is one of her favorite things to do, especially during the first few weeks after a product launch. During that time, sellers don’t know yet what will resonate with buyers.
Sharing best practices and keeping communication open between reps across the country are critical during this time, she says.
“You have to have high channels of communication with your team, no matter what geography that they’re in, because they’re going into the unknown. There isn’t enough market research out there. Does red work? Does green work? We don’t know what color works, but what we do know is how our initial conversations are going with our customers,” Ness says.
“And that, to me, is the cornerstone of any launch: capturing that data real time during a conversation and sharing what’s working and what’s not working. It’s about getting everybody on the team sharing and talking so we are moving forward as a company with our mission.”
Learn More: Listen to The Adapter’s Advantage podcast episode with Courtney Ness, Developing Advanced Selling Skills.
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