I am often asked for my view on why sales is an industry dominated by men and whether more public discussion is needed to help change this culture?
I would like to say it’s a good question: sure, the opportunities of a sales career should be shouted from the rooftops. But, to be honest, I find the gender-centric focus of the question outdated, even exasperating. Too often, the context, tone and stock conclusions of debate of this issue are stale and misleading. This is true of media coverage too. By restating the perception that women in sales are an anomaly, the media is being counterproductive.
Sales have changed. In 2013, the world of slavishly cold calling targets and hoping to deliver results with stock messaging and outmoded approaches has all but disappeared. However, there are industry voices – many of them leading sales people – whose thinking remains out-of-date. It’s more than frustrating to hear commentators unwittingly keeping alive the notion that sales is still a lonely, counterintuitive place for a woman. In today’s more flexible, more mobile work environments, that is rarely the case anymore. Since I started my career in sales many moons ago, women have been driving and benefitting from important changes in the way sales people and organisations operate.
So, while neat stereotypes and binary notions about gender are often wheeled out for discussion, they bear little resemblance to the everyday reality for sales people. But they do still have a potent capacity to direct the career choices of graduates. If young graduates are left with the impression that a sales career means working in uninspiring environments with a hierarchy of men who close deals over rounds of golf, then a great disservice is being done to them, to us and to our economy. The sales industry has moved on significantly, so should the discussion.
Today, six out of every 10 graduates in the US and Europe are women. During the past decade, many of these educated women have been quietly redefining common sales practices and career possibilities. The uptake of mobile devices and social media to aid sales is part of this story. The new tools and channels have given salespeople an unprecedented flexibility to develop customer relationships and grow their markets from anywhere at anytime.
Moreover, steadily increasing numbers of professional saleswomen are slowly giving rise to the workplace discussions we need, focused on opportunity and collaboration in the workplace. Women are emerging as strategic leaders, lending a new perspective to the boards and management levels of many companies. Team-centric structures have swept away ‘lone-wolf’ sales practices and women are a natural force in this collaborative environment.
With all this positive change occurring, it’s too bad that analysts and the media still give airtime to outmoded theories about women being risk-averse and not well suited to selling. These ideas imply that women are unlikely to have the instincts needed for senior positions. Of course this is not true but, again, it has the potential to dissuade smart, ambitious graduates regardless of gender.
Some women (like some men) like to keep their heads down and simply get on with the job and I wonder if this does not have something of a ‘Catch-22’ effect? Many women’s contributions to sales innovation may have gone unnoticed by the media.
I would like to see more role models emerge, who can impart a realistic picture of women in sales today – ambitious, successful and stereotype-free. Given the number of women winning awards at this year’s British Excellence in Sales & Marketing Awards (BESMA), it seems that plenty of inspiration is emerging. Good role models are essential to developing a fresh discourse on sales’ evolution and to encouraging the work of talented people who drive business and economic growth through innovation. These and an attractive, supportive working environment will nurture future sellers. So let us steer the discussion towards what we have to offer the next generation of sales rock stars.
About the author:
Candice Arnold is EMEA sales and marketing director at OpenSymmetry. She can be reached at email@example.com.