Many women ask me about the best ways to break down the barriers faced by female sales professionals. Here’s my answer: the critical step is recognizing that how we perceive ourselves before, during, and after our sales conversations will always have the most dramatic impact on our ability to break down the barriers we encounter.
The good news is that the most important of the barriers to be broken through lie within ourselves. Here are three you may have encountered.
Barrier #1: You
The biggest barrier to our success, in my experience, is our own lack of confidence, the continuous internal questioning of whether we are capable of dealing effectively with certain people and situations. While everyone lacks confidence from time to time, I find that for many women who sell for a living, the problem is pervasive and linked to gender in a way that can persist for years. This lack of personal confidence stops us from taking risks and ultimately diminishes our personal presence and sales success.
Why does this happen? Our lack of confidence has many contributors, including what we were told was right or wrong as a girl, and what was reinforced through countless social norms and messages, both overt and subtle. All too often, we carry certain unhelpful assumptions into our sales call: for instance, we think accommodating the buyer means we are “being good” … and we believe it is important for us to be considered “good” because that is what mom, dad and/or society as a whole has been telling us to be for years. “Good.” Meaning “compliant.”
This desire to be “good,” to be accepted because we accommodate and yield to others, carries a hefty price tag. Our lack of confidence in ourselves shows up in our voice, in our physical posture and body signals, and in our behavior and choices during the sales call. Here are some examples.
- We avoid asking questions.
- We fail to say what is on our mind.
- We defer automatically to the male in the room or to our manager.
- We act demure in the presence of strong personalities or roles.
- We don’t give ourselves credit for our own success.
- We do whatever the buyer asks us to do.
- We worry about coming across as too pushy or too assertive.
- We assume that talking about money is taboo.
- We routinely practice negative self-talk.
- We use our tonality and body language to send signals of uncertainty, or on the other extreme, aggressiveness. We don’t strike a balance.
- We apologize for virtually everything that happens.
The solution to these problems? Get rid of your head trash. Yes, that is a lifelong process. No, that is no reason to postpone starting your mental cleanup for even one more day! David Sandler, the founder of our company, once said: "In sales, the battle for your attitude is fought between your ears." He was absolutely right.
Barrier #2: Flying Without a Selling System or Process
Many women in sales lose out simply because they don’t have or follow a proven, repeatable process for conducting their sales conversations. This is a problem for men, as well, of course, but it’s particularly dangerous for women in sales. Let me explain why.
Specifically, these women lack a process for establishing relationships, qualifying, and closing. Instead of focusing on what is proven to work in these three areas, they focus their energy on “relationship building” (read: free consulting), and hope and pray someone will eventually want to buy something from them. They schedule the meeting, but the meeting’s purpose and content is unclear. They leave thinking they just had a great meeting, but they are perplexed about where to go next. And when it comes time to close the deal, they tend to hear “We need to think it over.” Forever.
Yes, rapport-building is important. We won’t get far without it. However, if we are to be taken seriously and demonstrate that we really do mean business, we need to have a selling process that helps us move naturally from rapport building, to qualification, to close. This process – the Sandler Selling System – must be the foundation of all our selling conversations. If it is, we will find that the process shortens our selling cycle, increases our average deal size, and (as if that weren’t enough) works wonders in building our confidence.
Barrier #3: Going It Alone
It can be lonely being a saleswoman. We may look around and not see many female peers available to confide in … or support. A lot of our day may be spent “flying solo,” based on the sales role we have chosen. In addition, many of the women I work with are, initially at least, reluctant to admit vulnerability to others. Add it all up, and you may find yourself looking at a pretty stressful career path. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The most successful saleswomen recognize what can be gained by cluing others in on how they feel, what they fear, and what they’ve been going through. This kind of communication may be more important for women than for men. In proactively creating a network of like-minded, noncompetitive female sales professionals, many of the women I coach have discovered that they don’t have to go it alone. They can have a coach, a support group, and plenty of people who will listen to them, challenge them, and cheer them on. Not only that: They can become mentors to other women who may be less experienced or confident than they are. These women realize, often to their own great surprise, that they do in fact have great wisdom and experience to share, and that they can derive a deep sense of fulfillment from having a positive impact on another woman’s life.
With a confident attitude, a strong selling system that plays to our strengths as sellers, and an environment of support, we really can break through the barriers and beat the odds. In my book The Unapologetic Saleswoman, I share how some of the saleswomen I’ve worked with have empowered themselves and achieved great things by working on their attitudes, behaviors and selling techniques … and by assuming their rightful place as the successful woman in the room, with no apologies offered or needed.