Recently, my good friend and sales prospecting expert to SaaS companies, John Barrows looped me in on a conversation he had with a woman who attended one of his recent sales prospecting sessions. I’ve changed some of the Q&A a bit, but wanted to share the main points of the conversation around how successful women need to “be” in order to be a successful BDR, AE, SDR, or other sales position.
I'll first say that I was in sales as a BDR, although we didn't call it that then, at a time before the John Barrowses of the world where it was MORE aggressive, pushy and unprofessional a lot of the time. I was often the only woman or one of a few in tech sales roles, which I've been in my entire adult life. Now I am in a position to have talked to women in various stages of their sales careers - here are a few insights on what I’ve learned over the years as a top seller and in working with hundreds of others:
Q: Often, phone tactics are very centered around being direct and deliberate, and pretty assertive. From my experience on the BDR floor, some of the women who are most successful on the phone actually do so by being coy and overly friendly with prospects, and I was wondering if you could comment on this?
I am (and have always been) a very direct person - but that does NOT mean aggressive - it is assertive. If I believe my services could possibly help you or your company, it's upon me to follow up - in various ways - utilizing a number of strategies - until we at least talk. At that point, if you are not interested and I feel you have a valid reason, I will move on. I may reach out to you later - or not. That is a very direct, assertive style that I have seen many men and women use successfully, not just myself. I'm sometimes relentless.
When someone says "coy" I immediately think of shy or flirtatious - I NEVER used that style. My suggestion is to be genuine and be able to look in the mirror every night and feel good about your approach and strategies. For me, "overly friendly" only gets you so far - better be ready with insight that helps your buyer to advance and improve.
With that said, I've been called, "nice" or "too nice" (someone who clearly didn't "get" my approach) and I subscribe to the idea of kindness, which I believe women are equipped to offer freely without feeling weak. I find that male sales leaders often don't understand that women are different in our communication style - we "sell" by simply having interesting conversations with buyers that help solve their issues and if you can get good at moving the discussion forward, to closure, you've got a new deal. I've often felt that my male counterparts "went in for the close" as if it was something they do to someone. My style is to simply see a sales opportunity through, and get a "quick no" rather than a "slow no" if it wasn't to be.
Q: I personally don’t feel too comfortable with that tactic (being coy and overly-friendly), but my goal is to get the best results I can, so what would you recommend?
The very best advice, which I am pretty sure John will agree on, is to be AUTHENTIC. Be you - but also work to improve - and use "A-B testing" like John suggests - try one way, then another. Sales is a craft, and just like woodcarving or making awesome pottery, there are some scientific things that have to happen to create a finished product, yet many artistic ways to get to the result from a piece of wood or clay to a finished work of art. Outreach to a buyer, seen through, overcoming objections, adding value, and an opportunity coming to closure, to me is a pure craft - with lots to learn over time.
Q: On a more general note, how is selling strategy different for men and women and what are some differentiators I can leverage?
Most women are natural communicators, good listeners, and naturally empathetic - three huge traits essential for success in selling. We have emotional intelligence - and sellers with high Ei achieve higher sales revenue. We can build relationships and collaborate as if they are "super powers" - not to say guys can't, but often are more on the bravado / machismo side of the spectrum. I have worked with amazing colleagues - more men than women because, well, I was in tech, like you - so not to dis the guys, but we now know women have natural skills and traits that when they understand them and put them to good use, really pay off. And they don't have anything to do with being overly friendly, flirty, or coy.
Final thoughts - just like someone on your sales team is super funny (right?) and uses humor to move buyers forward, not everyone can be funny and have that work well - being friendly is something I would expect from most reps - male or female - but "overly friendly" is not something too many people can pull off, either, and not how most of the top women I have seen - this year, or 20 years ago - sell.
I loved that John replied to my comments to his female SDR class attendee with this:
"Thanks for this Lori. I agree with all of it -
There’s a big difference between being direct and being rude, assertive and aggressive, confident and brash. I would do everything you can to figure out your style and how to be direct without being rude, assertive, or aggressive and have confidence without having an ego."
Lori is one of the “nicest” people I know but has obviously been extremely successful in sales so there is hope. – John Barrows, https://jbarrows.com/
Lori Richardson helps mid-sized companies grow revenues by solving key issues in their sales department - like recruiting, retention, diversity hiring, process, pipeline and leadership. She speaks at CEO groups on topics of sales growth. Clients include companies in the technology, telecom, manufacturing, distribution, and professional services industries. Subscribe to the award-winning blog, follow her on Twitter
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