The gender flap

Author: 
Paul Nolan

Lori Richardson learned her first lessons about sales at an early age. In the 1980s, she boldly stepped into the male-dominated world of technology sales because she was a single mother who couldn’t make ends meet as a teacher. She was a leading sales rep who serviced national corporate accounts before shifting to building sales teams and running a corporate university for a Boston-based company. In 2002, she founded Score More Sales, the B2B sales consultancy and training company she still runs today. With this issue’s cover story focused on women in sales leadership and B2B sales roles, it seemed timely to have Richardson share her thoughts on a wide range of topics.

Her interest in sales at an early age

When I was growing up in Seattle, my grandmother ran an upscale women’s clothing store that competed with the likes of Nordstsrom. Working with her, I learned about the importance of not discounting, referral selling and building a business.

Her early years in B2B sales

I sold the first Apple computers, along with IBM, Hewlett Packard and other technology equipment. My very first job, I don’t remember anything being discussed about being a woman. It was my second job that I ran into having to sell the senior vice president on why I should be the first woman in outside sales and why he should hire me. He was incredibly sexist and racist, but my male friends said if I could just get his support, he would support me the rest of the time. That was mostly true.

The more things change…

Here we are some 30 years later, and I recently had a conversation with a CEO in the last week who is leery about hiring a woman for an outside sales team. I thought, “Wow, Groundhog Day!” It’s amazing that we haven’t come that far if I’m actually still having a conversation about not thinking that way.

About women and confidence in sales roles

I’ve onboarded hundreds of sales reps, and I find that women are just more vocal about their lack of confidence in some situations. I don’t think men have false confidence, they just don’t verbalize it as much.

The role of higher education

In the past, we haven’t had sales degrees. We have some now. But traditionally there hasn’t been one, and a lot of women I have spoken with said they went into marketing or something else because that’s what they got their degree in. I would like to make sure that young women are aware that sales can be an awesome career choice.

Parents influence what a child does in college more than anyone else. How many parents would say to their daughter, “I think you should get a career in sales”? There are still stereotypes from the past, which amazes me. That’s one of the reasons why I’m interviewing 100 women sales leaders. If they share more stories of success, young women can see that is an option to have a career in sales, improve business and improve the world through selling. (Editor’s note: You can find Richardson’s series of interviews with female sales leaders on her blog at ScoreMoreSales.com.)

Mentors versus sponsors

I like the idea of mentors, but there’s more to it. A sponsor in a company is much more powerful. Mentors can give advice and ideas, and that can be very important. But a sponsor is someone internal who has more power – who can advise, but who also recommend you and help advance your career. They can put you on the right team, put you in the right group and send you to the right events. I think a lot of men have had sponsors for years. Women have gotten mentors to help them maneuver within a company, but it really takes a sponsor to make things happen. A lot of times that sponsor is male just because there are more men higher up in organizations.

The growing corporate awareness of women’s sales skills

I get calls all of the time from CEOs who want more great women on their sales team and are having trouble getting them. I run into a lot of CEOs who have told me, “My best reps have been women.” I don’t lead with that because I don’t think it should be an “us versus them” conversation.

Innate skills women bring to sales

Women can be very collaborative. That’s one of the things we bring to the table. It doesn’t mean men are not collaborative. More collaboration is better in the selling environment in 2016, so that lends itself to the fact that it would be a good time for more women to step into leadership roles.

Companies need to walk the talk

When women come into interview for a sales job, if they don’t see any women in senior roles in that company, they may not be able to see themselves advancing in that job. There are a lot of subtleties that people don’t often talk about.

Ultimate objectives

The goal isn’t to put everyone into boxes, but to share alternative experiences and points of views. All of my peers – women who are sales experts or sales leaders – we want to be thought of first and foremost for our expertise. None of us leads with being a woman. We lead with what we know, and it happens that we are women.