How Can Women in Sales Close the Gender Gap?

By Melissa Di Donato

Last month, International Women’s Day struck a chord around the globe and inspired countless conversations about women and their career paths. Millions of women worldwide participated in rallies and protests, including female workers in Spain who organized the country’s first national women’s strike, in support of equality in the workplace.

Take a moment to look up from your computer screen, glance around your office, and see who is sitting in the sales department. You will likely notice that women make up a small percentage of the sales team. According to LinkedIn, women account for only 39 percent of the overall sales workforce – but, at director level and above, that number drops (substantially) to 27 percent. This is a huge disparity when compared to finance, communications, and HR functions.

Despite these figures, women in sales are excelling in their careers, averaging an 11 percent higher win rate than men, according to a Gong study. Being a woman in technology – and, specifically, in sales tech for nearly 20 years – I know first-hand the incredible accomplishments women can make when given the opportunity. The responsibility is on employers to recognize this disparity and identify ways to foster inclusivity and diversity as well as provide women with the right tools to advance their careers.

Breaking Down Barriers to the Boys Club

A recent Accenture study found a strong correlation between having a role model and having leadership goals. One of the biggest issues I see in sales is the lack of female mentors present to encourage other women to view sales as a viable job option. It’s no surprise that women often gravitate toward marketing and HR – departments where there are more prominent female leaders. They can look at these women for inspiration and can rest assured that, if they put the work in, they could someday join the ranks of management.

I’ve worked with many women throughout my career and know they excel when they have a role model to look up to. That’s why I encourage all female (and male) leaders to be visible, welcoming, and accessible to their female peers – and empower them to achieve what can sometimes feel like the impossible. Implementing this type of culture within sales departments is crucial; the outcome will be more female representation in the field.

One way organizations can take a step in this direction is to hold monthly coffee meetings and/or networking luncheons for women. This is a great strategy to convene women across departments to discuss the various challenges and opportunities they face in a particular role. This type of gathering encourages relationship building and creates networks and support systems. It also serves as an opportunity for women in sales to share their first-hand experience on the job, with the goal of attracting more women to join the ranks.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Once women break into the sales field, there are always obstacles to overcome. As a first step, women in sales need to own their successes instead of undermining their accomplishments by attributing them to “luck” or being “in the right place at the right time,” which I’ve seen many women do in the past.

Female sales executives must remember they have achieved success because of the smart decisions they have made. It’s time for them to reclaim their confidence to drive change. This self-positivity and confidence, paired with strong role models, is the perfect equation for an unstoppable woman in sales. With this attitude and support system, women can have thriving sales careers without having to sacrifice other important parts of life such as family time and hobbies. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t require juggling, but I want women to know they can have their cake and eat it too – even if they can only take a few bites at a time.

Women have all the right qualities to enter – and thrive in – the sales field; it’s just a matter of tapping into that potential and being encouraged by colleagues and mentors along the way. Women have an entrepreneurial spirit of collaboration and consensus. They want to create wins as part of a team and are flexible and understanding of client needs.

Women in sales are starting to have more open and honest conversations about what they want and what they deserve – and that’s a great start. With the recent traction we’ve already seen in the field, I’m positive that, within the next 10 years, we’ll see an uptick in women entering sales roles and moving up to management-level positions.

Melissa Di Donato is chief revenue officer, SAP Cloud ERP.

How to Solve One of the Biggest Problems in Sales

By Chris Beall

Following up with prospects and customers is a staple of sales. Everyone knows they “should” do it. In fact, you could argue that CRM systems exist primarily to support following up, broadly speaking.

Think about it this way. Contemporary CRMs define a “lead” as someone worth a follow-up attempt, to be converted into a “contact” (a person) at an “account” (a company) when that follow-up bears fruitsometimes when a discovery conversation is scheduled or maybe when that conversation discovers there is an “opportunity.” Opportunities are worked through defined stages until they close as wins or losses.

It all sounds very neat and orderly. Interest, followed by contact, followed by discovery, followed by opportunity, followed by closing. A nice, linear process.

The Real Flow of Your Sales Funnel

We call it a “funnel” to recognize inevitable attrition along the way. Then we do “funnel math” to figure out how many leads need to go in the top of the sales funnel to produce the desired flow of closed deals out of the bottom.

The sales funnel metaphor tells us lots of important things. But, unfortunately, it paints a picture that leaves out the most common – and, therefore, the most important – outcome of any sales interaction. The flow of the funnel makes us pay attention to the positive flow: the conversations that end in yes! The shape of the funnel tells us that no is also heard along the way.

The Proper Approach to Your Sales Funnel Math

But what about those other two sales conversation outcomes: “not me” and “not now”? Are they important to our funnel math?

It turns out that a conversation that ends in “not me” can, if handled deftly, yield a referral: a semi-magical lead that has a good chance of being reached and being the right person to talk with. Referrals transform so-so leads into “right parties.”

In terms of funnel math, however, a “not me”  doesn’t really do anything. One “Ray Wrong” becomes one “Rae Right” – nice, but it creates no real change to how many leads must go in the top to make your sales goals.

If the obviously positive “not me” doesn’t affect funnel math much, then it would seem “not now” would do even less. After all, if someone isn’t ready to do business with us now, shouldn’t we boot them out of our funnel and send them back to the marketing department to be nurtured until ready to engage in our sales process?

You see, “not me” is treated like dark matter – that stuff that makes up 60 percent of all the mass in the universe. Dark matter bends space-time so galaxies spin way faster than they should, yet it is invisible to us and our instruments.

In other words, dark matter dominates the shape and velocity of our “funnels” (the Milky Way and all those other galaxies) but doesn’t yield new stars or even a little light to brighten up our dark skies.

Two Problems with Prospects and Timing

Why does the “not now” factor dominate and cause so many salespeople to have conversations with prospects who say they’re not ready to make a purchase right now? There are two factors:

  1. Product replacement cycles tend to be long. When we buy a product (or a service to solve a problem) we usually aren’t looking to replace it for about three years. That means an intrinsically qualified buyer (our dream client) is only in the market for our category of product for one out of every 12 calendar quarters. That means a perfectly executed sales conversation with a perfectly qualified buyer will yield “not now” almost 92 percent of the time. That’s dominance!

  2. There is only one reliable way to find out if the timing is right for the prospective buyer to consider your product category: have a live conversation. Sure, there are vendors who claim they have dark matter detectors that can tell you when buyers are ripe and ready to make a purchase. But none of their techniques based on publicly available – and, therefore, competitively irrelevant – data can compete with a skillfully managed conversation.

So, we have a 92 percent dominant sales factor – timing – that can only be reliably determined by a rather expensive measurement: a conversation. Our standard funnel treats this dominant set of potential opportunities as “disqualified” and sends them back to marketing for nurturing. In other words, they’re thrown away in the vain hope they will come back on their own when they are ready.

But what if we could capture that 92 percent instead of throwing them aside? The effect on our funnel should be massive! This is especially true if we are capturing them, and our fiercest competitor is using the standard “send them to marketing for lead nurturing” program.

It turns out that, by using one simple mechanism, we can do that: by systematically following up “not now” conversations with (wait for it…) conversations! These can certainly be interspersed with the usual email “drip campaign,” (by the way, who named this anyway? Is being dripped on really that great?), but the key is the follow-up conversation itself. An email, no matter how full of compelling content, won’t give you the answer to the question of whether “now” has arrived.

The Benefits of Following Up with Phone Conversations

The good news is that the numbers work strongly in your favor, three ways:

  1. It’s usually easier to get prospects on the phone when making a follow-up call. The “2017 Follow-Up Conversation Study,” which analyzed almost 20 million dials in 2017, found that follow-up dial attempts reach the right party 1.35 times as often as cold dial attempts. This is not because these people are psychic and know it’s their favorite salesperson calling. It’s because follow-up lists consist entirely of people who have answered the phone before. In other words, the first conversation (or cold call) yielded one additional piece of information: this person is more likely than average to answer phone calls.
  2. The same study found it is 1.68 times easier to set a meeting from a follow-up conversation than from a first conversation. The reasons for this are more subtle. First, if the timing is ever going to be better, it will be in the future – and, on a follow-up call,  the future is now! Second, the conversation is easier to get started with rapport, because you can begin where you left off – especially if you wrote your future self a mini-script based on the previous conversation. Third, it is possible that humans are more likely to listen to someone whose voice they have heard before.
  3. The combined effect of harvesting all this “not now” dark matter is that follow-up conversations are 2.26 times more efficient than cold conversations end to end – from the dial attempt through setting the appointment. This is like having your team of 10 sales professionals magically turn into a happy band of 26 without spending a penny.

To summarize, “not now” timing is the dominant problem to be solved in B2B sales. Like dark matter, it makes up the bulk of our sales conversation universe. But, unlike dark matter, it turns out there is a simple way to tame the bad timing problem: systematically follow “not now” conversations with appropriately timed future conversations.

What’s even better: Follow-up conversations are cheaper and easier to get, more pleasant to have, and have much higher yield than first conversations!

In a way, there’s nothing to solving the biggest problem in sales. Here’s the formula:

  1. Use cold conversations to manufacture follow-up opportunities – and some meetings.
  2. Have follow-up conversations to set more meetings or at least to manufacture more follow-up opportunities.

Problem solved. Must be time to go back to figuring out that dark matter thing.

Hear Chris Beall speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference March 12-13 in San Francisco, where he will present “What Every Sales Leader Must Know about the Artificial Intelligence-enabled Salesperson” with Bruce Lewolt, CEO and Co-founder, BrainX and

Chris Beall is CEO of ConnectAndSell. He has been participating in software start-ups as a founder or at a very early stage for most of the past 30 years. His focus has consistently been on creating and taking to market simple products that can be used successfully the first time they are touched, without taking a course or reading a manual. His belief is that the most powerful part of any software system is the human being we inappropriately call a “user,” and that the value key in software is to let the computer do what it does well (go fast without getting bored) in order to free up human potential.

Why You Need Strong Customer Relationships More than Ever

By Sharon Gillenwater

You’re in sales. You’ve got a product to sell. Boom. Done. Then on to the next deal. Your technique? You use the sales enablement tools on which your company has spent millions to help you be more productive. At least that’s what your organization hopes is happening.

Why Is Sales Productivity Down by 36 Percent?

But consulting firm Accenture has studied this approach. What they’ve found is that – instead of being more productive – you’re too distracted by the information free-for-all. Sales productivity, they say, is down from 41 percent to 36 percent over the past five years. And 55 percent of you find using these sales tools more of an obstacle than a help. Even more say they have too many sales tools.

Well, that’s not a surprise to us. According to a May 2016 Gartner survey, worldwide CRM software totaled $26.3 billion in 2015, up 12.3 percent from the previous year.

But, while these tools can be very useful in managing and generating customer data, we’ve found that pricey systems alone can’t drive more sales. Instead of supporting a strategy, they sometimes become the strategy. They are touted as enabling salespeople to make more calls and send more emails – but most of these communications annoy and are ignored by buyers and disappear into the void.

The Shift to “Outcome Selling”

And it’s not just you. Customers are more demanding, more impulsive, more disjointed, and less predictable, says Accenture. In response, you try to change. You’ve been told to sell personalized experiences. Okay. But how do you identify that fleeting moment when your customer is ready for advice – ready to be guided? As Accenture notes, “In the land of evergreen customer relationships, the deal is never done.” In other words, there is no longer a single moment to capture.

So what’s the answer? Accenture claims sales zeitgeist is necessarily shifting to outcome selling, which emphasizes post-sales interactions and services to deliver on what had been promised initially. We used to call it “upselling.”

Here’s the bigger lesson: If the deal is never done, the only way to successfully practice outcome selling is to understand your customer, track your customer, and engage your customer.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review acknowledges this, too. The authors, from L.E.K. Consulting, point out that, for an outcome-centric company to carry out marketing’s promise, sales organizations must know the customer well enough to understand the specific outcomes it seeks. It requires a strong partnership between sales organizations and customers. And it requires business intelligence.

And that should be good news for you. After all, salespeople enjoy putting their people skills to work to nurture relationships. The people part of selling has become so forgotten that your buyers will actually find it refreshing to hear from you – but only if you’ve educated yourself about them and their needs.

The Value of Strong Customer Relationships

Give salespeople a good current backgrounder on the decision makers they need to know – in tandem with what their CRM can offer – and turn them into listeners. They can then learn from customers what is driving the decisions and how your business can help. It’s just good old-fashioned sales.

CA Technologies’ CEO Mike Gregoire touted this strategy during the company’s October 2016 earnings call:

“From the earliest point of contact with customers through the many years that follow, we have vastly improved how we are showing up…CA’s brand familiarity and consideration continue to move higher – particularly among business decision makers. Our customers are giving us higher scores on product quality, and customer satisfaction continues to trend positively.”

This, he said, is key to driving long-term sustained growth.

Consistent with what Accenture is saying is the key to winning in sales, successful vendors are keeping an eye on the long game: customer outcomes. Because Fidelity National Information Services emphasizes creating operational efficiencies for clients to run and grow their businesses, president and CEO Gary Norcross told analysts in November 2016 that, “Despite continuing macroeconomic pressures, our sales teams continued converting opportunities to new wins and cross-selling and upselling to existing clients.”

These two vendors get their customers. They aren’t just selling; they’re connecting and learning about what their customers want to achieve now and over time. It’s then up to sales to provide the expertise to recommend what can help them get there – again and again.

It’s like that NBC public service announcement, “The more you know.” The more you know – about the people, their concerns, their goals, what the company strategy is, who is making the decisions, and what their competition is up to – the more you can offer to help them reach their desired outcomes. Instead of getting distracted, focus on that.

SharonGillenwaterSharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

Mindset Shifters: How to Get What You Really Want in Life

By Jim Cathcart

Think of your mind as a transmission with multiple gears. Each gear is designed for a specific range of performance. First gear is for starting out; fifth gear is for highway cruising at higher speeds. This can be a fascinating thought exercise when you apply it toward a goal.

What is something you want? Write it down right now. Anything: a state of health, an amount of money, an item you’d like to own, an experience you’d like to have, an honor or award you’d like to receive. Just write it down right now or say it aloud.

Wants are the activators of the mind. Emerson said, “Desire is possibility seeking expression.” In other words, things that are possible for you appear in your mind as wishes, desires, or wants. So, the mere fact that you want something is an indication that it is probably possible for you. Not without help or resources or growth, but possible nonetheless.

Once a want is identified, the mind starts presenting you with the obstacles or challenges you’ll encounter. This is done to assist you, not to stop you. But most people treat these as worries and they shut down the achievement process. Remember, your mind is your friend. It’s on your side, trying to help keep you safe while getting what you want. When you start to see obstacles…welcome them! Those are your “to-dos” on the path to success.

To shift your mind into the appropriate “gear” for the task ahead I have listed several concepts you can use to see things from a different perspective (aka mindset). Try these out on the thing you want. You did write something down, yes? Do it now please.

As an example, I’m going to assume you want to become a multimillionaire and you’re not one yet. So the challenge is:

“How do I become a multimillionaire within the next 10 years?”

Once you have your “want” isolated, apply these to it:

  • Combine
  • Separate
  • Reverse
  • Multiply
  • Reduce
  • Magnify
  • Minify
  • Color, Texture, Shape
  • Substitute

Here’s how this might go. How can I COMBINE something with what I’m already doing in order to achieve more? Can I add someone else to the team? Form a Mastermind with a group of fellow achievers? Form an alliance with another company? Gain a license or affiliate agreement to add something to my offers? Can I group other goals with this one and achieve all them at once?

SEPARATE. What if I make my financial goal a separate activity from my career? Could I invest in real estate on the side or start a multi-level marketing side business? Could I take just one of my job skills or talents and use that to make my millions? Should I stop associating with people who discourage me from succeeding?

REVERSE. I’m seeking money but how can I make money seek me? Can I start with the assumption that I’m already a multimillionaire and work backwards? Can I offer a great service or product that would attract more money to me?

MULTIPLY. What if I did five or 10 times more than I’m doing now? Who else could add to or double my impact? What about getting more people on the team? Going after multiple markets at once? Having many parallel operations?

REDUCE. How about just “picking a lane” and doing only one thing? Which parts of my efforts are not paying off much – and could I discontinue them? Can I focus just one intense part of each day on this task? Could I reduce my goal into sub-goals that are more easily achieved?

MAGNIFY. Can I do things on a bigger scale? Go for the gusto of a massive enterprise or global endeavor? Instead of focusing on my job, how about focusing on my industry or profession itself? Not my community but my state or nation?

MINIFY. What if we do a micro strategy and make this a bunch of little successes, then weave them into a bigger success? How can I offer a Volkswagen “Bug” when others are building Pontiac “land yachts” that get 10 miles per gallon? How about focusing on personal computers (like Apple) while IBM is going after corporate installations (mainframes)?  

COLOR, TEXTURE, SHAPE. Is there a different look, feel, size, or function that could be better? Ford initially only offered one color, black, on its Model T and sold millions. USA Today started printing their newspaper in full color and quickly became successful.

SUBSTITUTE. What could be done instead? What if we replaced the traditional wooden back of the guitar with carbon fiber? What if we used private owners/drivers instead of buying fleets of taxis (Uber)? What if we improved the train connections instead of trying to redirect automobile traffic? What if we offered TV news all day long instead of comedies and dramas too (CNN, Fox News)? What if we had characters from our cartoons as the hosts and guides in our theme parks instead of other personnel? (Disney)

Each of these examples involved achievements in the millions of dollars but the successes weren’t rooted in brilliant scientific breakthroughs. Instead, they were achieved through a different mindset – a new approach to the challenge. You can do this every day. Do as R. Buckminster Fuller, the da Vinci of the 20th Century, did: he posed the questions, “How can I look for God’s fingerprint in what I’m examining?” “How can we make the world work better for all the people with only the existing resources and do so through spontaneous cooperation?” That produced breakthroughs of global proportions. Einstein used this technique when seeking the Theory of Relativity, E=MC2. He said he envisioned himself riding on a beam of light at “light speed” and asked, “What would I see?”

Wow. Well, you needn’t change the universe – but it’s OK if you do. Just apply these new gears to shift your mind into more powerful ways of achieving your goals.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is the original author of Relationship Selling and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at