When you picture what a sales manager looks like, what’s the first image that comes to mind? If you initially imagine someone who’s White and a male, it wouldn’t be surprising given the current demographics of the sales industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 86.4% of sales managers are White. In comparison, research from Zippia shows that 66% of sales managers are male.
Based on the statistics, it’s easy to surmise the only way to become a sales manager is by fitting those descriptions. But I’m here to tell you that isn’t true. I am a sales manager, and I am neither White nor a male.
As a Black woman in sales leadership, I recognize I’m a unique face not only in my position but in this industry. I feel lucky that my path led me to this point, but I’m often disheartened knowing there aren’t many people who look like me in the sales space, let alone in leadership. Black women who are sales managers shouldn’t be the exception; we should be part of the rule.
Black women who aspire to be sales managers need perseverance, tenacity and drive. But most of all, they need to be ready to overcome the barriers (both seen and unseen) that’ll stand in their way. Here are the three ways I was able to break down those barriers on my journey to becoming a sales manager.
Prove Your Worth by Being the Best
Starting a new job is daunting for everyone. We go through moments of questioning whether we’re good enough. Now, add being one of the few people of your race and gender to the equation, and you’ll really wonder if you belong. That’s what happened to me in my first post-college sales role.
While working for a hunting apparel manufacturer, it became apparent that I was held to a different standard and not in a good way. I dealt with being undermined by colleagues and dismissed by customers who assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. This led to me doubting my abilities and decisions, which gave way to me overcompensating to prove that I belonged. But I soon realized that wasn’t the answer; the answer was to simply be the best.
By being the best, I let go of all the notions and expectations placed on me and focused on being the best sales rep I could be. This meant everything from learning the ins and outs of all product offerings to working on building customer relationships so that they’d trust my expertise. By focusing on upping my game as a rep, I reaped the benefits and, eventually, became a sales manager.
Let Your Passion Outweigh the Pressure
Although my hard work enabled me to transition into a sales management role, my worries didn’t magically disappear. I would say they became even worse. My biggest worry was the intense pressure I felt of being a sales manager as a Black woman because there aren’t a lot of us in this role.
Being a unique face can cause you to be hyperaware of how you’re perceived. And I was no exception. I felt any wrong move could mean there would never be another Black woman sales leader after me. So I censored and silenced myself in order to be a good representation for all Black women. But, in doing so, I lost sight of my zest for sales.
Becoming a sales manager didn’t mean I needed to represent all Black women. The only way to thrive in the sales environment was by letting my passion for sales shine through, from getting more leads to closing more deals. As a result, my performance was elevated and I was able to be a better manager and mentor to my team.
Be True to Who You Are
Everyone has different ideas of what it means to be a leader, all with varying results. For sales, in particular, being charismatic and in the spotlight is what gets most managers noticed, rewarded and promoted. While there’s nothing wrong with desiring those things, I had no interest in being something I wasn’t in order to get ahead. Instead, I lead by letting my team take the spotlight instead of taking it for myself.
My team is the star of the sales show. They’re the ones on the frontlines moving leads through the sales cycle and converting them from prospects to customers. Because of this, I focus my leadership style on being a resource they can learn from and a support system they can lean on. As one of the few Black women in sales, I didn’t always have the support I needed to thrive, so I ensure my team knows that I’ve got their back and only want them to succeed. By staying true to myself and leading in a way that’ll encourage my team’s growth, I’m setting them up for success wherever their sales careers take them.
For any Black woman hoping to break into sales leadership, know that it is possible. By being the best, letting your sales passion shine through and being true to yourself and how you lead, you’ll make a space for yourself to become a manager. While the sales industry still has a long way to go before just one image is seen as its face, you’ll be on your way to joining that picture.