I started my sales career in the Chemical industry, where my Manager wanted more women on his team as he believed they made better sales people. I was recruited along with another female colleague. Although I was encouraged by this, I soon realised that out in the field I was the first female Account Manager they had ever had. One of my first Purchasers thought it best to talk “macho” style and kept swearing inappropriately during our price negotiations. After a couple or so visits, I asked if it was necessary for him to use such foul language. Although he was a little taken aback by my request, he did stop and I ended up increasing their business by 10% during the first year.
Another embraced my femininity differently. After quite a tough negotiation, I agreed to give him his preferred price for an increase in volume. With that he thanked me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, after which I made a sharp exit and made sure I was never left alone with him again. So as you can see wearing a skirt in sales can be pretty daunting. This is maybe why the other girl I joined the sales team with, left after 6 months. Even so, after 10 years in the profession, I’m pleased to say that was the only time I had a deal sealed with a kiss.
Although women are not aliens to the sales industry, I still feel that more women need to be encouraged to pursue a career here. This is because there is still a stigma attached that it is a male domain. It’s even featured in some job titles – eg: Car Salesman, Door to door salesman, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to disrespect the male sales teams out there. Most of my sales expertise and experience has come from working with my male counterparts. just want to highlight that women can bring certain soft skills to the sales table that can play a subtle but important role during the sales process.
To start with, women are natural communicators and will openly ask questions to reach out to the customer. EG: So how did you get on with our new product sample that we sent to you? Did you find our service useful? If not why not? What could we do to improve this? etc……
Empathy is another skill we use very well to tap into and acknowledge how the customer is feeling. This is a key step to building trust and strong relationships, as you are making the customer feel important by asking for their feedback and not assuming anything. This information is important as this is your hands on market research. If a few customers are feeding back the same comments, then you know what direction your product or your service has to take.
Another key skill is emotional intelligence. Picking up the mood of the people you are selling to around the table without any spoken communication can be very powerful. I have attended meetings where my Account Team members were convinced that the customer was going to have us as a supplier of choice. In the car journey back, I told them that the customer’s silence was not because they were impressed by our product range but that they thought we were arrogant and switched off. Lo and behold, we ended up losing that portion of the business.
This leads me onto another trait that women tend to leave out of the sales meeting – arrogance or being over confident. Purchasers are programmed to be provocative and tell you that your competitors are cheaper and have a better product or service. That is lesson one taught at all at Purchasing Schools globally. Consequently, firing back with a “mine’s better than yours” response is not going to help and may even turn the meeting into a point scoring session. (Yes, I have witnessed this a few times). Although women tend to play down arrogance as they know it doesn’t bring out the best in people, it can also be their downfall as they struggle with appearing too brash and bolshy and may underplay their sales merits.
With the increase of women launching their own businesses, sales automatically becomes a necessity. However, as mentioned we already possess the natural skills needed. They just need to be tapped into and worked on. Before you know it you’ll be sales excellent.
Would love to to hear what you have to say on the matter. Are you a woman looking to pursue a sales career? Or maybe are already in sales. I’d be interested to know what you like or dislike about the profession.