5 Ways Women in Sales Sabotage Their Success

The topic of gender equality in the workplace is ever-present. Society points a finger at male-dominated companies and organizations, telling them to wake up and recognize women as powerful forces in business. But what should women do? A recent article in Harvard Business Review discusses how lack of confidence is a primary cause of many women’s stunted professional growth.

As the saying goes, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

The field of sales is fast-paced, aggressive and dominated by men. However, there is a burgeoning group of female sales professionals who are looking to empower women to take charge of their sales careers:

  • Jill Konrath is an author, trainer and sales strategist focused on teaching sales professionals how to survive and thrive in today’s business environment.
  • Kim Duke is a former sales executive and current owner of Sales Divas, where she offers training and consulting to women in sales.
  • Kristine Scotto is an executive with more than 25 years of experience in sales and marketing roles.

I spoke with each of them about which actions and behaviors they’ve seen women display that can unintentionally sabotage their success. Below are the top five we identified.

1. Being Afraid of Self-Promotion

As young girls, we were taught not to brag. It was a behavior perceived as boastful and improper. However, Duke points out that there is a difference between bragging and self-promotion: “Bragging is when you’re saying something that’s untrue and has absolutely no relevance to the audience that’s hearing it. With self-promotion, you’re sharing things that are true, and can build credibility.”

This behavior is most noticeable in networking and professional development. Women believe their accomplishments should speak for themselves, and many are hesitant to discuss things such as their education and reputation, erring on the side of modesty. Therefore, when a more senior position opens up, they assume they will be considered based on their accomplishments and credentials, despite having been reluctant to voice them.

While modestly is an admirable trait outside of the workplace, it is foolish in the professional world. Konrath compares it to the tree falling in the forest: “If no one knows about your accomplishments, they don’t exist.”

2. Undervaluing Themselves and Their Services

When pitching a prospective customer, many women make the mistake of trying to mind-read their buyer. They make an assumption that their prospect will reject them if their price is too high. By making this assumption, they leave money on the table.

Women are scared of compromising the opportunity, but in reality, they have nothing to lose. If you don’t currently have the customer, you lose nothing if you don’t win them. It’s better to go in confidently with a more ambitious proposal. If the customer gets sticker shock, you can carve back some of the value and work within their budget. Scotto points out, “No one determines our value but ourselves.”

3. Not Asking for Directions

Men aren’t the only ones who are bad about this. Many women in a male-dominated business like sales make every effort not to appear weak. Therefore, many women, particularly those who are newer to sales, fail to ask for help when they need it.

“There’s a way of asking for help that can be done such that it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of great strength,” says Konrath. “It’s about sitting down with someone and just saying, ‘Here’s the fact—I’m struggling with this right now.’ You need advice and support from people who have been around, whether it’s asking about the sales process or understanding what you’re selling better, it’s all stuff you need to learn. The key is to not feel weak in the process and to remember that you’re just a learner and that it’s a process.”

4. Making Relationships the Priority

Developing relationships is important when selling. But when the relationship gets in the way of the transaction, you have a problem. As Scotto explains, women tend to be more sensitive, placing a higher importance on creating a positive relationship than on chasing the desired business result.

But Scotto says that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. “When a prospect says no, women will tend to accept that answer focusing again on the relationship. Instead, they should focus on educating the prospect. This ultimately adds more value and will get you to yes almost every time.”

5. Being Afraid of Making a Mistake

Women tend to be perfectionists. We don’t want to let anyone down—including ourselves. Above all, we don’t want to look foolish. As a result, many women in sales tend to play it safe. They pitch the safe pitch. They use the same tried and true ideas because they know that they work. But while you are playing it safe, your male counterpart is throwing the Hail Mary and scoring big.

“Being willing to bring in big, creative ideas and take a chance on your customer is completely win-win,” says Duke. “Even if they hate your idea, it could potentially have a domino effect where there’s some brainstorming with the client and the idea will change into something you both love. That also allows them to see that you are thinking for them and that you’re a part of the team.”

Writing this article turned out to be both a professional and personal exercise for me. I realized that I am guilty of several of these things, and now that it’s been brought to my attention, I can start making an effort to adjust my behavior for long-term success. What about you? Are you guilty of any of these behaviors? Have you observed them in your coworkers? Please share your thoughts, experiences and feedback in the comment section below.

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