Her perspective: Selling in male-dominated industries

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Women bring a unique skillset and perspective to sales. Photo by iStock.

“There’s no reason to apologize for being a woman with ambition who wants to accomplish and make a difference in life. It’s our time. Let’s make it happen,” Lorraine Ferguson says.

Coaching saleswomen is Ferguson’s career. Before starting the Sandler Training franchise in Albany, New York, Ferguson worked in sales for over 25 years in companies big and small.

Ferguson recently spoke to women and men in sales at Greenville’s “She Means Business” event on April 29. The lunchtime event also featured another expert speaker and a panel to discuss women’s unique challenges in sales as both women and sales professionals.

“I’ve really been focused on helping salespeople and sales leaders to transform their selling processes, attitudes, and behaviors,” she says.

Many challenges continue to exist for women in sales, says Ferguson, who first observed these challenges as a woman entering sales herself and now as a trainer for saleswomen.

A changed mindset

“There still are a number of barriers for women to be considered equal when it comes to their ability to sell,” Ferguson says. “And that mindset is as much within the saleswoman herself as it is within society to some degree.”

Ferguson says women in sales can take control of the situation by first changing their own self-perception.

“Women’s perception or their lack of confidence in themselves to take on risks, to step out of their comfort zones, to be assertive — not aggressive, but assertive — are all things that can hold a woman back,” she explains.

To gain confidence in sales, Ferguson suggests three things:

  1. Have a selling process that works for you as a woman.
  2. Have a mindset of what selling is and is not.
  3. Have a vision of outcomes you want from your job or personal life.

“It’s an internal fear that sabotages our success,” she says. Naturally inclined to compare themselves with others, women should first question to whom they’re listening.

“The person who we really need to be listening and believing most is ourselves,” Ferguson says. “So working on what are you saying to yourself and working on your own confidence and belief system is very, very important for women.”

Photo by iStock.

Ferguson says possessing a strong, positive belief in self is important for women because they are often required to prove themselves in the sales industry more so than men.

“There are people out there that are going to have doubts about your ability, but the reality is we are just as capable as our male counterparts to do a fantastic job at selling,” she says.

A changed approach

Due to what Ferguson considers innate behavioral traits, she says women possess all they need to become sales superstars.

“We tend to be nurturers, … relationship builders, and connectors. We are problem solvers … [and] typically good listeners,” Ferguson says of women. “All of those things define what a really great salesperson brings to the table.”

The relationship between salesperson and client is a longtime commitment, according to Karen Rattray, vice president of sales and national accounts at Pro Chem Inc. 

“In our industry, it’s not a one-time sale,” she says. “It’s a relationship.” Rattray echoes Ferguson in that women’s tendency to be relationship-builders helps them succeed.

A changed environment

Working for the specialty chemical company for over 27 years, Rattray has seen a recent change in the sales environment.

“I have seen an evolution of how women are treated,” she says. “Once you prove yourself and your knowledge, then your gender matters little.”

When she started out in sales, Rattray says a lot of men would say inappropriate things. However, she rarely experiences that now. 

“Especially with the #MeToo movement, men are very careful in what they say and how they behave,” she explains, but she says she doesn’t want men to be afraid of doing business with women.

“In my experience, men have been incredibly supportive and incredibly giving of their time,” she says.

Morgan Rabas, a recruiter for Michelin North America who began in sales three years ago, finds unique opportunities working in a traditionally male-dominated industry. 

“There’s a lot more opportunity to break the mold or do things not the traditional way, which for me is exciting because I think change can be a very positive thing,” Rabas says.

Rabas says working for a company that recognizes diversity in thought, experience, and culture is invaluable.

Rather than viewing men as competition in the industry, Rabas suggests viewing them as people who can offer support and guidance.

“It’s really kind of building and growing with [men] and maybe just helping them understand what we as women do face in sales and how they can help,” she says.

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