We often hear about the importance of getting more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and we’re seeing more and more organizations encouraging women to consider roles in these fields. Sales is also a field with a low representation of women, but we haven’t seen as many efforts toward getting women to consider roles in sales.
In fact, CEB Global reports that the sales function has the second largest gender equity gap of all corporate functions after supply chain. A recent study revealed that women are underrepresented at all levels in sales. What’s more, the percentage of women in sales leadership has remained flat over the past decade.
I recently published this article in Forbes on why we need more women in sales, citing research on how women outperform men in sales, drive the bottom line and help companies better empathize and connect with their customers. I’m hopeful that we’ll see an influx of research like this to shed light on the impact that female sales professionals can make, and that we’ll see more programs developed to help close the gender disparity gap in this field.
While developing formal programs will help move the needle, we also need to show women why sales is a viable and worthwhile path.
I myself had preconceived notions about the field when I was looking to enter the workforce and viewed sales as a more masculine profession. As I came across sales roles during my job search, I even saw some job descriptions specify that experience on a competitive sports team was a plus. As someone who can barely throw a ball, much less catch one, I can safely say that I’ve never been on a competitive sports team.
Here’s the thing — I fell into sales because of luck. When I applied for a marketing role at Microsoft, the recruiter put me in the queue for sales. She said I had great communication skills, a strong track record of success and that I exhibited empathy, a desire to learn and relentlessness in the face of adversity. All of those qualities, she said, made me a great fit for sales.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, she was right. I exceeded my sales goals, helped turn my district’s scorecard metrics from the worst performing to the top performing and won numerous awards. Most importantly, I had fun.
My advice to women: Throw out whatever preconceived notions you may have and consider making the leap into sales. Here are five reasons why it will pay off:
1. You’ll Develop Tangible Skills
Sales is a great training ground to build a variety of skills. Selling a product or service requires empathy for the customer, confidence, grit and perseverance. What better way to develop these skills than by having to build a relationship with a stranger?
Not only will you develop soft skills, but you’ll also develop hard skills like how to position, influence and negotiate effectively. Sales requires you to learn a business at a deep level, as customers expect sales representatives to be knowledgeable and have answers.
Let’s face it — we’re always selling, whether we’re interviewing for a job or convincing someone to go on a vacation. Learning how to sell, and learning how to sell well, is a great thing for a woman to have in her back pocket.
2. You’ll Set Yourself Up To Do Almost Anything
Sales is a marketable and transferable skill. Marketing, business development and corporate teams, in particular, are often looking for people with sales backgrounds. Sellers understand what customers want, and this experience can be invaluable for building programs and offerings that are relevant for customers.
Because sales helps you build a foundational knowledge of a company, there are a variety of career paths that you can take afterward. I personally leveraged my sales background to drive business development in a financing organization. Today, I’m using my experience to help build a new inside sales organization at Microsoft.
3. You’ll Make Good Money While Having A Flexible Lifestyle
Gone are the days where a woman relies on a man’s salary. Sales is attractive because it can be lucrative and doesn’t require an advanced degree. Income is typically based on performance, and commissions can be high depending on the compensation structure offered.
FlexJobs published a list of the 10 best family-friendly careers based on high earnings, flexibility and expected job growth over the next 10 years. At the top of this list was account managers, whose median annual salary is $99,000. The influx of technology has also made it easier for sellers to connect with their customers remotely, allowing for greater flexibility.
4. You’ll Be Better At It Than You Think
Studies show that women are good at sales. In fact, Xactly reports that women are better than men at sales, outperforming them by 3%.
Women have characteristics that make them a good fit for sales, like their ability to build relationships and trust. In my first sales role, I quickly noticed that many of the women on my team had different styles than our male counterparts, and often we were closing more deals because of it. We often said the same thing as the men, but in different ways. There’s nothing wrong with having different approaches in sales — it can help you come off as empathetic and understanding.
5. You’ll Have Fun
As Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson says, “80% of your life is spent working. You want to have fun at home; why shouldn’t you have fun at work?”
Not only is it satisfying to close a deal and help customers achieve their business goals, but sales is fun. Working on a deal is stimulating and gives you the opportunity to exercise creativity, solve challenges and meet new people. Every customer engagement is different, keeping your days interesting.
So ladies, if you’re on the fence about taking a sales role, don’t be. Give it a chance like I did and see if it works for you. You just might be surprised.
As the Director of IBM Global Digital Sales Development, Rakhi Voria manages a team that is responsible for the strategy, implementation, and revenue of the Digital Sales Development (DSD) function globally. Within the DSD sales force, there are ~350 Digital Development Representatives and Business Development Representatives responsible for driving client engagement, deal progression, and closure of select deals.
Rakhi previously worked at Microsoft and recently served as the Chief of Staff to the Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Inside Sales, where she played a key role in building a new digital sales force for Microsoft, growing the team to 2,000 sellers globally and the business to over $5B in under 3 years. She helped develop foundational elements of the sales model—everything from recruiting and interviewing new hires, to providing input into the programs, processes, and tools that they needed to be successful—digitally transforming Microsoft’s sales GTM.