By Shelley Cernel
It’s no secret that women are drastically under-represented in sales, holding only 4 out of every 10 sales positions. This is increasingly the case as you look up the leadership ladder, with only 1 in 4 executives being female. But just because men outrank women, does that necessarily mean that they are better at selling?
Let’s take a look at just a few of the ways women have the upper-hand in sales and some key take-aways that everybody, regardless of gender, should take into consideration.
1) Natural Social Skills
A study from US psychological testing firm Arch Profile found that female sales reps tend to be more helpful and attentive to detail. These natural social skills mean that they are more likely to identify a solution rather than just push a product in efforts to make the sale. The attitude of needing to “toughen up” or “go hard or go home” just isn’t going to fly when buyers have more options than ever before. An aggressive approach to selling can turn buyers off, and just the tone of a sales rep can be enough to discount a company’s product or service from consideration.
Key Takeaway: Sales coaching and training should focus on helping reps learn different ways to handle sales situations. Further, reps should take the time to build and develop those business relationships that are based on honesty, credibility, and authenticity. At every prospect touch point, look for ways that you can add value, such as with relevant content, cementing your position as the buyer’s trusted advisor.
2) Willingness to Listen
To put it bluntly, women are better listeners. Though a common stereotype, this one has been backed by science. A team from Cambridge University found that the part of the brain linked to the ability to listen was more prominent in women than in men.
A common mistake that sales reps make is talking too much and failing to practice ‘active listening’. But a survey from Inc. Magazine found that one of the top reasons buyers moved forward with a specific vendor was because “they felt that the salesperson understood their needs best”.
Key Takeaway: Despite common belief, selling really isn’t about talking – it’s more about listening and taking the time to understand your prospects’ needs, challenges, and pain points. Ask open-ended questions to gain insight into these topics and then paraphrase what they just said to demonstrate that you were listening, that you do understand their problem, and to clarify any confusion. Then use those conversations as a launch point to challenge and engage prospects.
3) Strategic Flexibility
Sales has long been a boys club involving activities traditionally viewed as more masculine (think back to sales execs in classic TV shows such as Bewitched). Because of this cultural mindset (admittedly, one which doesn’t exist at every company), there can also be a hesitation to deviate from selling the way you have always sold in the past. The result? Lost sales opportunities and successes. Since women have historically had to work harder just to prove themselves and to work their way up, they are often more willing and open to trying new things, such as the latest technologies, pilot programs, and fresh sales strategies.
Key Takeaway: The status quo isn’t always the way to go! The B2B buying space is in a constant state of change. To continue to see sales success, reps must adapt to evolving buyer expectations, forces in the marketplace, and even goals and processes internally.
4) Informed Decision-Making
You can’t be successful in business without taking risks, and one could argue that that sentiment is even truer in the world of sales. Stereotypes argue that men take more risks than women do. On one hand, that exposes the company to more danger. But on the other hand, it presents the opportunity for greater success. So what’s that have to do with women?
In their book Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman conducted research that suggests women don’t take as many risks because they are better at assessing odds and can make more informed decisions. Another study from Duke University echoes this sentiment, finding that when men are under stress (as is common when those monthly and quarterly goals loom ahead), they are more likely to make rash decisions and take more costly risks. The same study found that women under similar pressure exhibited improved decision-making abilities, conducting thorough research and going after more advantageous decisions with surer successes (versus a small chance of a huge achievement). So basically, women aren’t taking fewer risks – they are merely taking better risks.
Key Takeaway: Use data to help make informed decisions, from top of the pipeline through post-sale. Data-driven insights can help reps make decisions about factors that may affect the success of a sale, such as how to prioritize prospects, what content to share to generate the most ROI, and which messaging to use when.
Another reason that gender diversity in sales is so important? A study conducted by Credit Suisse found that sales organizations with at least one female on their board outperformed their peers with all-male boards by 26%!
To learn more about the challenges women face in sales and their tips for success, hear real women share their success stories!
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