Did you know that the women’s right to vote is a challenge that took more than 200 years and is still not achieved everywhere on the planet? The movement began in the 18th century. But most countries only allowed women to vote starting in the early 20th century – the UK and Germany in 1918 and the US in 1920 – after decades of very painful processes. Many countries in Europe and around the world only followed decades after WWII.
I normally don’t write about gender equality and gender collaboration, simply because it’s not my research focus in my role as research director for CSO Insights. Today is an exception, because we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, and because we have the March edition of Top Sales Magazine written entirely by women contributors. Furthermore, and this is probably the most important reason: Women cannot take anything for granted, including what we have already achieved, as recent political trends unfortunately show.
In general, there are always two sides to gender equality. One is the legal part as mentioned above, with the women’s right to vote as an example. The other one is our cultural reality in all aspects of our lives. This cultural dimension is much more important, because it shapes the political and the business landscape and the decisions that are made in parliaments and organizations.
Women in sales and sales force enablement – where are the women in sales?
It’s still the sad truth that there are too few women in sales, especially in sales leadership roles. Data provided by LinkedIn suggests that women occupy 39% of sales roles, across the globe and across industries. That means there are far more women in typical female industries such as education and healthcare than, for instance, in technology or high tech. And the number of female sales executives is much smaller; the gap in sales is bigger than in other functions.
When I look at my current role as an analyst, I have to say that the number of female clients I work with is below 10%. And the few women I work with have marketing, sales enablement, sales training, or L&D roles. Just to give you an impression. Why are women so often found in enablement roles rather than in sales roles?
Women prefer a collaborative working environment
This is a personal experience as well as a perspective I hear from many women. Doing great work and creating great results in a collaborative environment seems to be much more attractive for women. And this is a prerequisite for working in a sales enablement role.
Based on our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, sales force enablement is a highly collaborative discipline that requires enablement leaders and practitioners to collaborate with up to eleven functions. It’s much more than aligning sales and marketing only. Furthermore, the need to set up collaboration in a formal way has a tangible impact on sales performance: Quota attainment is 21% better compared to organizations with “ad hoc” collaboration only.
Based on my own experience in my previous role as the VP of sales force enablement in a large IT organization, setting up collaboration in a formal way across several departments, countries, and cultures is a huge challenge that must not be underestimated. It is by no means a “soft issue” that can be done with second priority or “when we have time” (which never happens in sales as we all know). Instead, it is a mission critical task that requires a clear vision, practical smaller steps, time-consuming calls, meetings, and discussions, and process development and adjustments. Finally the different players find their “new” place in the game and recognize that they can now achieve even better results than before. Women are often, not always of course, predestined for leading those processes.
Communication, listening skills and empathy are excellent for sales enablement roles
All these skills are important for being successful in sales. And as women are often highly gifted with communication and listening skills as well as with empathy, they have great prerequisites to be successful sales professionals. Especially in the age of the customer, connecting products, services, and solutions to the buyers’ desired business results is much more relevant and successful than talking about features and functions. A value-based selling approach depends on “soft” skills and the ability to connect the dots in increasingly complex buying situations.
These skills are even more important in sales enablement than in pure sales roles. Sales force enablement as a strategic discipline with an orchestrating character requires first and foremost a lot of internal selling to various stakeholders. And as anyone who has tried it knows, internal selling demands excellent communication and listening skills. Additionally, women often have a better connection to their intuition which leads to an excellent sensor for the “corporate weather forecast” and how to adjust their approaches.
Skills once called “soft” are now “must-haves” – More awareness is needed
This trend is a great opportunity for women in sales and sales enablement roles. What’s needed in the industry and among male sales leaders is more sensitivity and more awareness of the situation and the facts at hand. Recognizing changed skill profiles has to be translated into changed hiring profiles and changed, gender-neutral, perceptions. Skills that are admired in men shouldn’t be ranked inadequate in women, as, for instance, being “bossy.” And that requires more women in sales leadership and sales hiring roles so that men AND women look together at candidates to ensure better hiring decisions.