Women in Sales Awards, November 5th, judging day in London! Throwing light on successful women in sales, who are still a rare species, especially in the technology industry, is a very worthwhile initiative and deserves our support, if we are really serious with gender collaboration and role models. That’s why I agreed immediately, when Afi Ofori, Zars Media’s agile managing director asked me earlier this year to act as a judge for the first WIS Awards. Women from all over Europe were nominated by their companies in different categories and industries, more on that here. All about the judges, click here.
So far, I didn’t write specifically about women in sales. I was always more focused on the question “What are A-Players doing differently and what can we learn from them to improve entire teams?”
Nevertheless, I’m more than aware of the differences between women and men at the work place and the challenges of successful gender collaboration in general. Over many years in different industries, building several teams in different consulting, sales and sales enablement roles, I could always prove in facts and figures, how quickly performance and outcomes increased in mixed teams.
What were my expectations regarding top women in sales, their specific success factors, based on my own sales perspective and my sales enablement perspective? What would they do differently, and what would be the same compared to top sales men? The key words in my mind were: Attunement, empathy, meaning, collaboration and relationship building.
Let’s see what I learned. Overall, in many industries, and in different sales roles, these main success factors were always the same:
- Value creation first, early along the customer’s journey:
Not a single sales women said, that she would sell a product. All these top sales women were focused on how to solve customer problems and how to help them to master their business challenges. One account executive in the technology sales category said “I almost never talk about the technology we provide. I use my relationships to get a deep understanding of their underlying business problems. For me, the only way to create specific value for them. And that’s why they see me as a partner, not as a supplier.” Many of these top women were focused on finding a specific area, where they could create unique value for their customers, just based on their intuition. What we always find with A Players: They do the right things, but it’s really hard for them, what they did exactly and how. Ask Michael Schumacher, why he was such a brilliant Formula 1 pilot. He will always have a hard time to explain his genius.
- Collaboration – internally and externally:
In all my interviews, collaboration was a key success factor. First, collaboration internally across the value chain, especially with sales operations, service management, product management and delivery. “I know there are process gates where I have to handover to other teams. I do this, but I also make sure, that I never delegate my customer’s outcome, because I own it.” On collaboration across the customer’s network, all these top sales women, like any A-Player, enjoyed to increase and to develop their customer network, especially toward the lines of business, simply to create more value. “Because I need so many stakeholders to help them to make a decision, I collaborate with them across different functions to create context and to create consensus.”
- Strong relationships – leading the customer network:
Even if there are voices out there who want to tell us, that relationships are no longer that relevant, all these top sales women – and they all had brilliant quota overachievements year by year – built their success on strong relationships, value-based relationships. There was not a single woman who denied the relevance of strong relationships for their sales success. All these top sales women created and maintained deep, strategic relationships focused on long-term value creation and based on providing new perspectives and context in an increasingly complex buying environment, where buyers are not always better informed, but often still confused, but on a higher level. “The value, I actually create for my customers is to provide context and perspective across the customer’s network”, and “I crack new accounts the same way, I build my relationship network across different functions and hierarchies”. Mentoring was an additional, very interesting aspect. “I really enjoy to be a mentor within my customer networks. This is how I help them to develop a shared vision of success”.
That’s female leadership. Excellent.
To sum up a great initiative, which will end December 3 with a fantastic dinner at The Savoy, London, to honor the winners in each category, what else needs to be mentioned?
First, attitude is the foundation of success, not only in sales. All these women proved full commitment, a very strong focus to overachieve their goals regularly, they gave their best in each situation and all the time, and all of them were always fully responsible for their successes and their failures. Nobody ever blamed the economy, the weather, the politics, the customers, the CRM, the sales process, their managers or whatsoever. All found their own way to give their very best and to win on a given Formula 1 course – and they proved that they are absolutely brilliant “sales pilots”.
Second, I was really surprised how humble all these women were, when it came to the question “Why should I win this award?” It was a very female approach to answer: always the team was named first, just as they hadn’t done anything…
Sheryl Sandberg talked about this interesting phenomena. Ladies, just imagine an man’s answer… Your outstanding performance can just be stated as it is: Brilliant. Period.
I’m looking forward to the future of women in sales in general and awards like this one. It would be great to see an award for women and for men and both on a global level.
One can dream. And I’d feel much honored to be a judge again…