When the right man for the [sales] job is a woman


Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I’m sorry to admit that I only knew that because Google told me (good old Google). Now, I’m in sales and so my first thought was ‘what’s the best way to use this to my advantage?’. To call female prospects and start a conversation with “Hi, I’m a woman, you’re a woman, buy what I’m selling” seemed more than a little contrived and, well, stupid. So, I gave it a little more thought….

I started thinking about what made a good saleswoman, about what advantages my gender gives me over the sales men I know. And, in all honesty, I didn’t want to find any. I’d rather find equality; that I’m simply as good as them, not better, as a result of genetic fate. Because that’s when it turns into an argument isn’t it? That’s when people start getting indignant and climb up on their high-horses and start pointing the shaming finger called ‘sexism’. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t etc. So instead I looked at the other saleswomen I know and work with, and I had a couple of light-bulb moments.

First; I’m really lucky. I work in the SaaS industry. It’s exciting and fast paced and never dull. It’s largely male dominated, but the main reason for this is that there aren’t a lot of female developers out there. On the sales side of things there’s an imbalance too, but it’s for the same reason – there simply aren’t as many sales women out there. It’s been an image thing until now. Traditionally, when we think of sales we still see Billy Big B*llocks with his slicked back hair and his tidy suit, flashing his commission wad in the bar with the boys. That’s only appealing to one kind of woman, and she’s not usually the career focused kind.

It also means that a lot of the women who do go into sales do it with the mentality that they will be competing against Billy and the boys and will have to have similarly big brass ones to do so. Now, it does depend on the industry but largely, ladies, it just ain’t true.

You don’t have to be a hard-nosed bitch to succeed in sales.

Confident? Yes. Resilient? Definitely. But a bitch? No. Not in my experience. Ever heard the phrase ‘you catch more flies with honey’? Which brings me to my first point:

I once described myself to a prospect as ‘cuddly, ginger and dang lovable’ and it’s still true. I’m really nice and I’m very nonthreatening. I like to talk to people and I like to help people. If I hadn’t gone into sales I would probably have ended up a teacher (or joined the RSC, sigh, but that’s a different story). And this, as it happens, is an advantage. I’m not saying men are all gruff and threatening, but when you get a phone call out of the blue and it’s a bloke, you assume he’s probably selling something and your guard goes up (go on, deny it). But it takes the prospects I call a little longer to realise that I want to sell them something. And we all know those first few seconds are vital, right? So it’s an advantage.

Secondly, I can pull off a giggle. Sorry boys, but that is simply harder for you to do! A giggle is definitely a girl thing. And it only works when we call guys. Again, it reinforces the ‘non-threatening’ vibes and the guard comes down a bit. It’s not about then moving in for the kill, like I’m hunting prey or being sneaky, it just means my prospect is more inclined to give me time and to listen to what I have to offer.

I’ve learned today that:

Women are statistically more coach-able than their male counterparts

Women take direction better (that cliche about us asking for them is actually a psychology thing), handle criticism better and are more open to learning and improvement. It’s not by much (5-10%) but in sales, these are absolutely vital traits, so as advantages go, I’ll take it.

And one final thing. I am a woman in sales who, when appropriate, sells to other women in sales. Generally, we’re more inclined to give each other the time of day, because there is a recognition of an unspoken minority bond. But I’d better have a bloody good value proposition and a more relevant reason to call than shared physical attributes.

Women are still a minority in sales, but it’s not something we’re protesting, it’s something we’re trying to correct – because it’s such an exciting, constantly evolving, potentially lucrative and incredible career. It’s finally a respectable profession (thanks to the sales men who have fought for years to make it so, I might add) and we just want to let the rising female sales stars out there know that the ground has been broken, and the opportunities are huge…

Purely by chance, our sales team is evenly gender balanced here at Refract. It’s not because we went looking for women who could do the job as well as men, or vice versa. We found people who were awesome and we hired them. Half of them just happen to have boobs and, in a few ways, that may be to their advantage. I look forward to teaching them a few things I’ve learned…

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