Earlier this year I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at a Woman in Sales dinner. In attendance were about 125 top female sales executives. I heard from the organizers that some of the women invited didn't want to attend, since they felt women should not be singled out from their male colleagues. I disagree with that view, though I respect it. In the end, I think the evening was well received, and the attendees appreciated the value of women coming out to support each other.
I'd like to share some of the remarks I made that night pertaining to the qualities of a great sales leader -- regardless of gender -- and discuss a study that shatters some myths about gender stereotypes. In a second installment, I'll relate what I hear from women across our global sales organization about the challenges they face both in their daily work and in advancing their careers, and offer my advice.
As more women advance in the workplace, it's becoming clear that corporations seeking to achieve a balanced leadership agenda are better off not trying to make women think and act like men. Instead, they should be leveraging women's natural strengths. The received wisdom seems to be that women typically excel in "soft" skills such as collaboration, communication, empathy, rewards, and recognition, while men are more about performance, pushing through obstacles, and crisis management.
But a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review debunks these polarizing stereotypes. The study surveyed 7,280 leaders and ranked their effectiveness. It turns out women's advantages were not confined to "soft" categories:
"At every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts--and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows. Specifically, at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree-taking initiative and driving for results-have long been thought of as particularly male strengths."
In other words, there's no reason for women to feel any less naturally talented or suited to sales than their male colleagues. Nor should women feel they need to stand on the strengths of empathy and listening skills.
Now that we know both women and men can thrive equally in the sales environment, let me share with you some steps you can take to succeed.
1) Have a positive attitude. Great sales leaders have what I call "followership," which comes from having the kind of positive attitude that inspires others. This doesn't mean being naïve while facing complex situations. Rather, it's about putting things in perspective and reminding people we all have the tools we need to succeed. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks of having a positive attitude even when faced with incredible uncertainty -- and he should know.
2) Have a plan. It's difficult to create followership and inspire others unless you have a clear set of objectives and a solid plan to achieve them. Numbers are often less impressive than a clear and well-articulated story about how they will be achieved.
3) Set Metrics. On the other hand, if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. As my colleagues know, I'm a bit of a drill sergeant when it comes to sales metrics. People may grumble about having to produce them on a routine basis, but it forces them to come up with a plan. For a sales leader, plans and metrics are a sign of engagement.
4) Be a coach. Taking on a leadership role does not mean a sales person should step back from customer -- and staff -- engagement. Too many sales managers spend time in the office working on administrative matters instead of going out on sales calls with their staff. The greatest sales leaders are great coaches, and many, such as IBM chief executive Ginny Rometty, were once teachers.
5) Be curious. This is a big picture idea. It's important to be curious about your customers and their business, but also about the company you work for and what it has to offer. Thomson Reuters customers want us to listen to their needs, engage in dialogue, and understand the business challenges they face -- but they want us to do so as an informed participant able to bring our knowledge and assets to the table. Sales success often boils down to connecting customer needs with your company's capabilities. In the mix are curiosity, learning, and engagement. Incidentally, this also applies to the world outside the office. Stay on top of current business trends and world affairs, as these things could well be affecting your clients' businesses, and your familiarity with them could give you an edge in the market.
6) Have fun. Leadership is about inspiring people to want to come to work. Take time to make work fun.
In my next post, I'll discuss the obstacles some women face in sales -- such as less flexibility to entertain customers or their inability to meet with clients on the golf course -- and how I think they can be overcome. Stay tuned.