How women can become better at sales

by | Sep 27, 2017

Why do women avoid promotions into sales ?

There is no reason why women can't become better at sales

I was recently asked to put together some tips on how women can become better at sales by an organisation where achieving business development targets is a key factor in promotion opportunities with senior roles having sales KPIs. The director had observed a reluctance of the women in his team to put themselves forward as candidates. This meant that many capable women were getting stuck below their potential. Here they get bored, complacent or leave. He wanted to find out why making the move into a more commercially focused role was challenging.

The sales process is one classic place where unconscious bias and outdated stereotyped gender expectations collide.

Debunking hunter/gatherer myths

Today women influence 85% of consumer spending decisions. Increasingly companies are being examined by their clients on the diversity and inclusiveness of their teams. The sales process is associated with many traditionally gender coded characteristics which are now considered to be out of date. Hard sales such as business development is even called "hunter" style, while soft sales CRM is considered to be a "gatherer" style.  And just as these stereotyped attributes are being debunked in a wider and even historical sense, then expectations about male and female characteristics in the sales process should be as well.

The very terms hunter/gatherer are much more gender interchangeable than was previously believed. The whole notion of men being hunters and women gatherers is rooted in research of gender roles in Paleolithic societies which is now under the microscope. The theories have now been found to be misleading with men and women assuming both roles as both hunters and gatherers.  As recently as September 2017 examination by archaeologists of a Viking grave revealed that the warrior was not a man as previously thought, but  a woman. 

Research from the University of Chicago and Tel Aviv suggests that male and female brains have more in common than previously believed.  They suggest "Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain."

We are just socialized and trained to use different functions (muscles) giving them greater strength. Today our expectations are that any qualities are on a spectrum and reliance on rigid gender coding is limiting.


women can become better at sales

Out dated gender expectations

How women can become better at sales

There are many areas where the way women have been raised and trained will impact their approach to sales.

Impactful professional image

In any organisation the sales function is usually easily identifiable by the way their people are dressed. Women in sales need to have an impactful professional image with strong non-verbal communication and executive presence. Women sadly are judged more harshly by their appearance than their male counterparts.

Download: Free Executive Presence coaching self- assessment

Topic or product knowledge

It's really important for women to know their stuff. In the face of strong questioning they are more likely to defer and will suggest they look into an issue or even say they are not sure. Having an in-depth knowledge of a product or service, the market and their customers with the confidence to hold their ground is important. This is especially noticeable if they are in a meeting with a man who even might be junior to them. Very often the conversation will be directed at the male especially on technical topics. Being confident about that knowledge gives the resilience to remain calm under pressure without giving ground.

Language choice

Assertive and direct language is important in the most sales processes. Exuding confidence and positivity is very helpful when matched with vocabulary choice. Replace " we try to..." we will." Honing any sales presentation so that all filler words are eliminated is equally vital. There is much evidence to suggest that women sabotage themselves with words and self-deprecating langauge choice ("I'm no expert.." ) apologising (I'm sorry, I just ..)  and asking permission (May I add something....)

Take a Look: Free Download Power word list - Pack your presentations whether written or spoken, with punch.

Financial targets

For many women having financial targets and meeting them is something that doesn't sit well. A male salesperson will brag about his bonus. Women rarely cite financial success as a key motivator.  They are more likely to say they want to be "happy" without putting a price tag on their ambitions.  Women need to learn be OK with meeting their targets and being rewarded for it.

Mix relationships and money

Women frequently don’t like to mix money with their relationships. They are more likely to be willing to offer discounts or additional services to get the signature on the contract especially if pressurised. They are also more likely to get caught up in time-wasting activities from people wanting to "pick their brains" or do catch-up coffees to give free advice. They also are more reluctant to use their friendship networks for business purposes. With today's overlapping and blurred social and processional networks that is something that they also need to address. Men generally tend to be more comfortable in this area.

Learn to ask

Women are raised to be other centred and therefore avoid asking directly for what they need, want and deserve. In any sales process having the self-confidence to do just that is a pre-requisite. However women experience gender blow back when they are persistent and assertive, and are often characterised as being aggressive and pushy. In line with gender stereotyping the expectation is their approach should be softer.

Women can become better at sales when they understand that it's acceptable to address issues directly. "I can see you have some concerns about (price/delivery/quality) help me understand what they are.." Negotiation is a process and not one they should be afraid of.

Beating gender stereotyping in sales will take time. But it's important for women to hone these skills and become bias conscious (their own as well as other people's) to get the career promotions they deserve.


For information on training and coaching programs for your women leaders contact 3Plus NOW

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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