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Why you should hire more women and what you need to do to attract them to your business

What started out as a short post for International Womens Day 2019 in line with their theme of #balanceforbetter, has turned into something with a mind of it’s own. The benefits of paying more to women in sales is a huge and financially rewarding for any business. However, there is very little said about it.

A few years ago, I was hired by a very well-known coach to create a team of sales people. He had been wanting to set up a sales team for some time, but didn’t want to waste time and money hiring and then firing the ones who didn’t deliver. During our first consultation he asked me the one question I have been asked more than any other when it comes to recruiting sales people.

“Who is better at selling successfully, men or women?

Before I could answer, he quickly followed that up with…

“Do you think I should engage someone with an English or American accent?”

My answer?

“You hire the person who can sell. Their sex doesn’t come into it.”

There is a misconception that men are better at selling because women have some amazing sales skills too. My client knew this, but is constantly bombarded by images of of strong sales men. He loves cars for example and the car industry is rife with Alpha males following a well trusted sales process to quickly close as many car sales as possible every month. It is a highly competitive market, but providing you diligently follow the sales process, then the sales person will consistently smash their target.

Once shown the benefits of following a proven process, men are quite happy to follow it. This is why they are great at the simple process sale, like car sales, insurance etc.

That is not to say that men aren’t able sell something more subtle, like a high value software sale. They are more than capable, but the do tend to opt for the easier route, which means they frequently suffer from tunnel vision. For a complex high value deal, this is an approach that can leave the door open for a competitor to create something a lot more appealing that the prospect simply can’t resist.

Women better understand their clients

Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I have consistently been in the top 5% of sales people and frequently the number one sales person beating a lot of my male colleagues. I achieved this success in many different markets from transport to software sales. All of which had more sales men than sales women.

So, what did I do that my colleagues didn’t do so well?

  • I hit my revenue targets
  • The business I closed was profitable
  • My customers were happy

If a sales person does those three things month after month, after month, then they will become a top performer. The fact that I was a woman had nothing to do with it at all. Or was it?

You see the third reason is essential for keeping a sales person consistently at the top. Women are simply better at understanding their customers needs, so that makes it easier to keep them happy. Let’s face it, happy customers spend lots, don’t they!

What motivates a top sales person?

There are three reasons why I was frequently “Numero Uno”. The first being that I was highly motivated to be the best which makes me incredibly competitive. Trust me, you don’t want to play me at Scrabble or Monopoly. Just ask my husband!

Secondly, I set myself big personal targets that all required a lot of money to achieve. From buying my first house I have had some amazing holidays, second homes in the sun, sports cars and even second cars when I didn’t want to take the Porsche out in the wet. No matter what the target, I know that selling successfully will always help me achieve it.

Being goal and money orientated is what helped me to be the best, and it is the same for many women as it is men.

Last, but not least I sell ethically. I know my clients will benefit from what I sell them, because I have used all my empathic skills to uncover what their real need is. I don’t assume what it is that they need and am always happy to push them towards another provider should I not satisfy their requirement.

(Becoming a go to person in my industry actually has made me a lot more money than if I had simply sold my unsuitable products to clients. However, that is another post for another time.)

This leads me onto the killer question.

If I believe women can bring so much profitable success to the sales industry, then why are there so few women in sales?

The gender pay gap in sales

Now I always advocate research. Read on and you will see that I have done my best to find proof to support this article. (Well to be honest I did have to limit my research as I still have clients to help and sales to make, so if you find some relevant research then please pop a link in the comments below.)

HOWEVER……….there isn’t a lot of research about sales people, let alone the pay differences between men and women. There is a lot of secrecy in sales about who earns what, with salaries supposedly closely linked to performance. (Well this is what I was told by my bosses when I challenged them about a colleague whose basic was £20k more than mine, despite me being number one two years on the trot! Yes they were very much the Alpha male bosses who bullied the sales team to do what they wanted, not really what the customer needed.)

Back to the proof. Since April 2018, any British company with more than 250 employees has to report their gender pay gap data to the government. So far, there is only one year of data to analyse, making things tricky, but my initial thoughts are that profits are closely aligned to the gender pay gap.

To test my theory, I thought I would choose a couple of the companies I worked for. The first is the British side of perhaps the most profitable and successful business in the world with a fairly equal split of men and women across all areas of their business, especially sales.

The second was taken over by an Asian company a little over 12 months ago. A take over is usually a sign that a company has the potential to do a lot better than they ever could have done on their own.

Look at the gap. The difference between the two is huge in terms of the gender pay gap, so perhaps there is something in my theory that paying women in sales more will improve a company’s profitability.

Difference between the mean and hourly rates

The mean hourly rate is the average hourly wage across the entire organisation so the mean gender pay gap is a measure of the difference between women’s mean hourly wage and men’s mean hourly wage.

The median hourly rate is calculated by ranking all employees from the highest paid to the lowest paid, and taking the hourly wage of the person in the middle; so the median gender pay gap is the difference between women’s median hourly wage (the middle paid woman) and men’s median hourly wage (the middle paid man).

The benefits of having more women in sales

Women hit quota at a higher rate than men – 70% for women versus 67% for men according to this infographic by Docusend

Huge opportunity to reduce attrition costs as women stay in their roles one year longer than men – According to this Gartner report .

Women are more effective across the board according to their peers, direct reports and managers – Harvard Business Review survey of 7280 leaders.

To my mind this surely means a more profitable business? Women bring a whole different set of skills to the sales floor including empathy, diligence, patience and what I call a feminine toughness.

Now women aren’t always perfect at selling, but then again men aren’t either. We all know that diverse teams are way more successful, so why is it that so many businesses still fail to address the balance of men versus women?

Why are women still suffering from an in balance?

Again I turn to some of the research I found whilst preparing this article.

Women lack faith in their abilities – Findings comes from a well quoted Hewlett Packard internal report that says men are 60% confident about their ability to do a job, but women feel the need to be 100% at everything on the job description. Women are more likely to seek perfection than men, which could explain why they need to tick more boxes. When I first started selling I found that I could easily procrastinate over a difficult task, which often meant I ended up convincing myself that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Experience has taught me that unless I give it a go then I will never know, this means I frequently achieve what others call impossible.

This view is further supported according to other McKinsey and Co research. 

“While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mindsets that limit opportunity.”

Women are hired for different reasons – Also according to another McKinsey report, it was found that men are often hired or promoted based on their potential, women for their experience and track record. If women have watched that occur in their workplaces, it therefore makes perfect sense they’d be less likely to apply for a job for which they didn’t meet the qualifications. So does this mean that men are super confident in their ability to do a job they might not be totally qualified for, or are women constantly looking for excuses?  Either way it is the employers responsibility to encourage everyone and anyone to apply for a role that they consider themselves even just 50% capable of doing. In my experience, very few newly promoted employees are trained into their role meaning that there is frequently a lot of “training on the job”.

Women are convinced this is still a tick box exercise – Women don’t need another report telling them that they believe their company only pays lip service to any attempt at levelling out the gender diversity playing field. In the Women in the Workplace 2018 report by LeanIn.Org, approximately half employees thought that their business took gender equality seriously, and even if they have articulated a business case to move forward with change, only 13% have actually taken the next step of calculating the positive impact on their business. When you see an obvious lack of women in sales, let alone sales leadership, then it is no wonder that employees still feel their organisation is just putting ticks in boxes.

How do you get women into sales in the first place?

  1. Breakdown the perception of sales as a male dominated industry – One of the biggest reasons that women are put off sales is the perception that you have to be an Alpha woman to compete against the Alpha males in sales. Women in sales do not need to behave like a man in sales, to be successful at selling. Women bring a very different set of skills to selling and businesses need to embrace that, not try to mould a female sales person into a male one.
  2. Communicate the benefits of being a woman in sales – Money is not just the main reason for a woman to be in sales. Let women know all the fabulous reasons why sales is a brilliant profession to be in. From recognition through to flexible work patterns, sales can offer a whole range of benefits that can attract as many women as men. A business just needs to communicate that to them.
  3. Eliminate the bullies from your sales teams – Sadly, sales does attract bullies. They always seem to appear in competitive environments when they feel under pressure. A well used tactic is to divert attention away from themselves to someone who appears weaker and less able to challenge. Women never do well in a bullying environment, so focus on getting rid of the bullies to ensure the rest of the team can shine.
  4. Go out and target the best women in sales – Cultivating women internally can be a slow process. Therefore, if a business wants to make a real difference to its gender gap in sales, then it needs to get more savvy with their sales recruitment strategies. Spend some money on head hunting the very best women into your business. Bring in female sales coaches who are better able to use their empathic skills to bring out the best in everyone in the team, male or female. Don’t be afraid of pro-actively increasing the number of top women in your business. Quickly recruiting the very best, will very quickly deliver an excellent return on investment in the short, medium as well as the long term.
  5. Promote female success stories in your sales teams – Raise the profile of female success in your sales teams. Of course, you need to only give credit where credit is due, but actively pursue and publicise female success. I saw a request on LinkedIn recently from an all-male executive team who wanted recommendations for a sales speaker to do something different at their forthcoming sales conference. This was a large firm of estate agents led by an all male team, so suited and booted they could easily been advertising a luxury goods brand of suits and watches. Out of the dozen or so recommendations, only one female sales coach was mentioned and none of the exec team appeared to like that comment. That is not doing anything different and speaks volumes about the many male dominated industries who talk the talk, but never walk it!
  6. Get creative with your sales incentives – Women are motivated by money. We have children to support, holidays to go on, cars to buy and homes to create a future in. However, women aren’t purely motivated by money like men mostly are. Men behave like the hunter that nature created them to be, which in sales tends to relate to focusing on the money. Women view incentives very differently, so a business that focusses on a creative and flexible compensation package, will be the business that attracts more women in sales.
  7. Have the guts to implement equal pay in sales – If sales is all about recognising great performance then how come so many men have bigger base salaries than women? There is a lot of evidence to suggest women are just as good at selling than men, so what is the problem with rewarding them the same? It comes down to the sales leaders not having the guts to change the way it has always been because they are simply not experts in business transformation. Bringing more women into a sales team is very transformational, so many sales leaders tend to stick with what they know. In many cases this means hiring someone similar to themselves, which in many cases is another Alpha male motivated by status and money. Pay women the same as men and word will soon get out that your business is the place to be successful. The Alpha type will pull up their socks and the women will bring sales skills to the team that lead to sustainable and profitable growth.

What you need to do next

If you are a woman who wants to be in sales, or progress further in sales then I know you can do it. If you want to discuss what else you can do then let’s talk. Grab a free 20 minute consult with me right here.

If you are a business who needs to address the balance between men and women in your sales teams then we need to talk too. The longer you delay addressing the gender balance in your business, the longer it will take to achieve sustainable business growth. Paying more to women in sales will help you get there a lot quicker too!