By Cynthia Barnes
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
National Association of Women Sales Professionals (NAWSP)
According to recent data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 48.4 percent of retail salespersons. Yet, despite this nearly equal representation, there is a distinct lack of women-centric sales training available.*
You might assume that most sales training is gender-neutral, but that’s not true – traditional sales training was written for men, by men, at a time when men completely dominated sales roles. Most sales training has hardly changed in the last 40 years, failing to take into account the significant shift in demographics.
Not only do these training programs neglect to consider the unique characteristics, nuances and strengths of saleswomen, but they also fall short in addressing areas where women are more likely to struggle than men.
With almost half of salespersons being female, it is not unfair to say that most current sales training is unfit for purpose. The great thing about sales is that it is skill that makes the difference, not gender ¬- but that doesn’t mean men and women have the same requirements for training. Businesses that don’t recognize this fact risk failing half their workforce and missing out on valuable income.
The Consumer Economy Is Female
There is a strong financial case for women-centric sales training. Statistically, women are more powerful than men in deciding where money is spent and what purchases are made. The BMO Wealth Institute reports that women control 51 percent of wealth, and their influence over spending outstrips this – women report having control or influence over 71 percent of household spending, and some experts put this number closer to 80 percent.
This huge influence means that it is essential for businesses to hire, train and retain female sales staff who naturally better understand how women like to shop, and how to approach them and build relationships.
Building On Natural Strengths
If you’ve ever been to sales training, you’ve probably come across a teaching and thought “isn’t that obvious?” Typical sales training delivers a basic grounding in many areas for which women already have natural talents. These areas of strength, such as intuition, patience and relationship building, are skills that may not come naturally to many men.
Spending time training salespeople in skills they have already grasped is not only a waste of time, but it is also a lost opportunity. Women-centric sales training gives businesses the opportunity to offer more advanced training in areas at which women already excel, building upon their existing strengths to take them to the next level.
Women Are Natural Networkers and Relationship Builders
For many customers of both genders, sales is an ongoing relationship rather than a one-off transaction. Women have strong emotional intelligence and excellent listening skills, both of which make them natural networkers and fantastic at building strong relationships with potential clients.
In particular, women shine when the sales cycle is slow enough to build up a strong relationship with the client. Women-centric sales training can help your saleswomen build upon their natural relational talents and apply them more effectively to the sales environment.
Traditional Training Can Play Down Valuable Strengths
One of the biggest problems with male-dominated sales training is that there is a focus on one particular sales strategy. Instead of trying to make every salesperson the same, businesses must take into account that salespeople of different genders (as well as cultural backgrounds, ages and other characteristics) have different strengths – and that’s a good thing.
In many male-dominated industries, a woman salesperson has a distinct advantage. Not only does she stand out, but she brings a fresh approach that customers love. This advantage is lost when businesses try to train every employee to act like a traditional “alpha male” salesperson. There’s still room for that style of salesmanship, but many customers prefer a quieter, less intrusive approach, and your women salespeople can provide that.
Working on Weaknesses
Training designed for males does not address areas where women are (on average) weaker than men. Unless the women in your organization are catered to effectively, it is unlikely they’ll be able to reach their potential, and your business will miss out on the opportunity to profit from a top salesperson.
Women are less likely to put themselves forward for a promotion, pay increase or new opportunity. This has nothing to do with ability – men are simply more willing to pursue advancement, even when they might not be ready for it. In the case of a promotion, for example, a woman is more apt to wait until she is confident that she completely meets the criteria before speaking to the manager. Men, on the other hand, will often put themselves forward when they meet just 60 percent of the criteria.
Women-centric sales training can address this, helping women to see that by waiting to speak up, they are hurting both the business and their own careers. Businesses need confident, authentic women who will add their voice to the discussion.
This is also important when closing a sale; building relationships are important, but if you can’t give the customer a decision to make, your sales performance will be poor.
Dialing Down Perfectionism
Many women are perfectionists, and as a result they often play it safe. No-one likes to be embarrassed or make a mistake, but playing it safe doesn’t make sales. Men are naturally more aggressive and more likely to take risks. In many cases, this alone will clinch them the sale.
With appropriate training, women can learn to take risks by first starting to do so in a safe environment. The results can be spectacular – your saleswomen will build strong relationships and simultaneously seek the sale.
*Statistics up-to-date as of July 18, 2017
Cynthia Barnes is passionate about women sales professionals. She created a movement by founding the National Association of Women Sales Professionals to create support and community to help women break through barriers and succeed exponentially in corporate sales roles. With over 12,800 members and growing, she has her finger on the pulse of women in sales. While her commitment to women in sales takes her around the world, she is proud to call Southeast Michigan home. Connect with her on Twitter @cynthiambarnes