The topic of women in the workplace is one that typically stirs impassioned debate and conversation, primarily because women have not yet achieved full equality, despite the number of years we’ve been pursuing it.
I recently read an Forbes article entitled, “Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO,” and it got me wondering: what are we doing wrong? Women—and society as a whole—often point the finger at external factors that tend to hold women back. While external influences are surely at play, isn’t it possible that women are at fault, too?
I decided to take a closer look, focusing on the traditionally male-dominated sales profession. The interesting thing about sales is that while women are actually seen as more successful at sales than men, sales remains a predominantly male pursuit. However, there are currently several notable female sales professionals making significant efforts to help women take charge of their sales careers. They include Jill Konrath, Kim Duke and Kristine Scotto.
After speaking with Konrath, Duke and Scotto, I identified specific actions and behaviors that many women display that can unintentionally sabotage their success in sales. Here are the top five:
1. Being Afraid of Self-Promotion
I grew up in a proper southern home where little girls were taught to cross their legs at the ankle, say please and thank you, and never be boastful. Many women, no matter their background, still follow that last rule, especially in the workplace. But it’s important to point out the difference between bragging and self-promotion. Kim Duke says, “Bragging is when you are saying something that’s untrue and has absolutely no relevance to the audience that’s hearing it. With self-promotion, you are sharing things that are true, and can build credibility.”
It’s a big mistake to assume that your accomplishments will speak for themselves. So, when a more senior position opens up, don’t trust that your achievements, education and merits will get you the job. The truth is, unless you speak up, no one will notice. Jill Konrath compares this failure of self-promotion to the old tree-in-the-forest adage: “If no one knows about your accomplishments, they don’t exist.”
2. Undervaluing Yourself and Your Services
I’ve heard many women complain that they are not paid as much as their male counterparts, or that they don’t get paid what they’re worth. However, sometimes the onus is on us to determine exactly what we’re worth.
When meeting with a prospective client, don’t attempt to mind-read them, make assumptions about their budget, or guess what they will do if you pitch a high number. Don’t low-ball the price just to get their business. Kristine Scotto says it’s better to go in boldly and lay it out on the table. If the client displays sticker shock, negotiate. Never undervalue yourself or the services you provide. You will just lose possible revenue.
3. Asking for Directions
I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this something men are guilty of more than women? Yes, men are horrible at asking for directions. But the interesting thing is that many women, functioning in a predominantly male environment, adopt a similar mindset. They don’t want to appear weak, so they try to figure things out on their own. They attempt to prove themselves.
Trial and error has its benefits. Sometimes it’s good to fall down so you know how to pick yourself up again. However, it’s also good to know when you need help and be willing to ask for it. Another thing to remember is that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. “It’s about sitting down with someone and just saying, ‘Here’s a fact—I’m struggling with this right now.’” says Jill Konrath. “You need advice and support from people who have been around, whether it’s asking about the sales process or better understanding what you’re selling. It’s all stuff you need to learn. The key is to not feel weak in the process. Remember that you’re just a learner and that learning is a process.”
4. Making Relationships the Priority
With most women, relationships are a priority. This is true in their personal lives, but also in their professional pursuits. The great thing about sales, and one of the reasons women do so well at it, is that building relationships is a huge aspect of closing a deal. However, you run a risk when you put too much focus and energy on the relationship.
Don’t place a higher importance on building a positive relationship with a prospect than on closing the deal. And when a prospect goes cold or says no, don’t simply move on. Instead, use your relationship-building skills to educate the prospect. This will add value to the transaction and, more often than not, will result in a closed deal.
5. Being Afraid to Make a Mistake
This one in particular hit home with me. Like most women, I am a bit of a perfectionist. I’m very concerned with doing a great job and not letting anyone down. As a result, I tend to play it safe. Women in sales do this, too. They lob the safe pitch. They charge a safe amount. They keep repeating the same methods, whether those methods are right for the situation or not.
“Being willing to bring in big, creative ideas and take a chance on your customer is a complete win-win,” says Duke. “Even if the client hates your idea, it could potentially have a domino effect. With some brainstorming, you and the client might be able to change the idea into something you both love. That would allow the client to see that you are working on their behalf—that you are truly on their team.”
While I chose to focus on sales, you can apply these actions and behaviors to any profession. If one or more of them hit home with you, think of small changes you can make to your daily activities that will help you become more successful in your career.
About the Author
Lauren Carlson is the CRM analyst and writer at Software Advice, an online resource for software buyers. She focusess on CRM, SFA and Marketing Automation. She is particularly interested in the changing role of women in the professional landscape, and in how new media are changing relationships.