The future of sales is feminine

When I got my first telesales job in 1986 selling coffee to businesses, the commercial world was male dominated. As was sales. Selling was about competing, fighting for orders, outmanoeuvring competition and maximising the profit in each deal. But the top salesperson was female.

My first field sales job in 1988 I was number two above six other reps all ten years my senior. Number one was Ann Calverley, one of the best salespeople I have ever worked with. Also female.

Women have always managed to compete in a man’s world and win. The converse is not so clear.

But selling has changed. Especially in large, complex, high-value bids for long-term contracts. The world in which I coach is not the same as when I started. In the last two IBM pitches I’ve worked on, one has been in competition to, the other in partnership with KPMG. One day they’re your competitor; the next day your collaborator.

This is typical of large, multinational, tech-orientated bids where it’s unlikely that any one organisation has the perfect solution. We’re running a bid in Ohio for a construction client, in collaboration with their largest competitor because neither has the resources to build the new children’s hospital alone. So slagging the competition off isn’t going to help when you need them.

And people have changed. Millennials aren’t solely motivated by financial reward, so you can’t just buy sales talent. It’s not that they’re not interested in money but, just as it’s almost impossible now to hire a young trader in the City unless you have a secure bicycle park and showers, they’re looking for stimulation and quality of life.

They’re interested in why as well as what and are increasingly intolerant of top-down communication, especially in digital-tech industries where they may have more to contribute than senior managers.

Winning large bids needs people who can collaborate, often within their own matrix organisations, and nurture talent, recognising and bringing out the best in people. I’d contend that collaboration and nurturing are feminine traits, not male – mummy not daddy.

Change is inevitable – adapt or die – because winning is everything

Can our brains change? We adapt to our socialisation. If you encourage someone to compete, they become competitive. If you encourage them to collaborate, they become good team players. Male and female brains are different precisely because we treat boys and girls differently. We hold them to different standards and have different expectations, so they develop different thinking styles. But if you change their environment and reward system, you can change the way they think and act.

I’m living proof that by changing my perceived gender I have changed the way society interacts with me and therefore changed the behaviour of people with whom I interact. This in turn creates different responses in my brain. This changing perspective is making me a better salesperson, a much better coach and, most people tell me, a better person. It’s also helping me and my clients win more bids.

You can change. I’m not suggesting that you need to be female to be a great salesperson or that we need to replace our male reps with women, but I am suggesting that we need to look for and develop more feminine skills in our sales teams. Listening, collaborating, nurturing to win.

In 1984, a successful salesperson could talk a good game, was competitive, tenacious, outward looking, confident, resilient, and easily motivated by money and prestige.

The 18-year-old me was perfect – male, confident, and full of drive and ambition.

But increasingly you need people who can listen, collaborate, nurture, is reflective, supportive, and motivated by group and project success, not personal pride.

The 48-year-old me is perfect – transfemale, confident, and full of drive and ambition.

Change is inevitable – adapt or die – because winning is everything.

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