By Kimberly Shernoff, Sales Enablement Director, Relative Insight
I grew up in sales working with my dad on the used car lot on weekends and every summer during High School. This involved going to the auctions and hanging with the guys; just me and a bunch of used car salesmen. It was as crazy as you might think, but one of the best experiences for my introduction to sales as a career. Contrary to what people say about used car guys, I learned from my dad about selling with integrity. From there, I moved to retail sales and then, after college, eventually into software. Sales was something I never thought about doing full-time. Sure, I took a class in college but didn’t think about as a career.
Luckily for me, my best girlfriends from college and a few I met right after also went into the corporate world of sales. I went into SaaS; selling skill and behaviour assessments that helped companies hire and retain talent. I knew I needed to sell something that I was passionate about, believed would make a difference, and keep me engaged. I had no idea back then that I would stay with my first company for over 15 years and still be in sales today. Yet, it all makes sense when I think about the human elements: Listening, empathy, communication skills, dedication, integrity, determination, sacrifice, competition, relationships, cognitive ability, and yes, some good old-fashioned ego. These are the top skills and behavioural traits you see in sales executives, male or female.
I can look back now and say, without a doubt, that women need other women in sales as mentors, but not only women. The right boss or mentor that manages a rep to their strengths is what matters most. I was lucky to have both. And while it was key for me to have friends in sales, I found it best that we didn’t work together.
Early on, I was prone to jealousy, and I was competitive. In terms of women working together, I found it hard if we directly competed. Yes, I liked other women in the office, but now, looking back, I could have done better. Men seem to compete differently than women for the most part. I don’t think this is just sales-related. It seems life-related. Does it have to do with how we are raised? Or is it part of our make up? I am not qualified to answer all this, but I have a feeling it has something to do with both.
Yet my sales girlfriends: They are strong, smart, and competitive and we would push one another, train and role-play together at home. Twenty years later this small group and I are still close. Three out of four are still in sales, but our careers have all taken different paths. That said, all have excelled within our roles and become top reps. Some went into medical, and pharma. One has left and gone on to be a stay-at-home mum, two got married and had kids. I choose not to do either of these things. I recall at my old company, my boss spoke to my colleague’s spouse about the role he was taking to make sure he was supported. But women in sales need a support system, just like men. This can come from partners, parents, and friends.
It’s not always talked about, but sales is an emotional job that you are sometimes required to not have an emotional connection to even when you are getting rejected day in and day out, losing a deal, facing objections, getting yelled at, missing quotas – and so on. It is key to learn to manage your emotions in sales – to brush it off, not to take it personally, and to move on to the next. This is not easy.
I hate to sound like a cliché but to be successful in sales, for me, also requires some emotional attachment. Over the years, we have seen more and more women in sales. Women excel at listening with empathy to relate to a buyer’s challenges. Now in the work that I do at Relative Insight, we analyze text data, and language. For instance, we did a report recently on analyzing the psychedelic language of trips and this showed that women were more open to sharing their emotions, while men didn’t share what they felt. Yet that must not be seen as weak. I have shed a tear or two during my career, but the moment that call was about to start, I was back in the zone, ready to go. I am an emotional person, but I won’t let it affect me during game time.
I don’t know if we need to manage women differently because of this. I just think we need to create a safe space. Salespeople in general need to manage their emotions regardless of gender. One thing that helped was that I had a boss who would listen, let me vent, talk me through the ”why” something may or may not have happened, and move on.
I have also worked as a certified health and wellness coach, and instinctively, I knew over the years how important mindset was but, after becoming a coach, I was able to put a label on it and develop myself and my team around it. It is something we now work on throughout the entire Relative Insight sales team. Not only learning how to have the right mindset to manage the day-to-day of sales but the right mindset to manage each step of the sales process to earn the right to move forward.
Sales is one of the best professions; if you are willing to work hard and to remain curious, to work on your mindset and realize the work is never done. It can be an amazing career. And while it might still be a bit of an old boys’ club at times, well, there are enough women in sales now to have our own clubs and mentors. Just ensure you have a boss supporting your growth regardless of gender. There are plenty out there. I have been privileged to experience that before and here at Relative insight. Today, we have over 30 females in the commercial function. There are two C levels in the executive suite, and several female VPs and Directors. The future is bright!