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What Makes Women Succeed in Sales – and What Holds Us Back

Nine women standing on the edge of a swimming pool with their arms stretched out like wings and the sun is high in the sky over mountains behind them.

A Harvard Business Review article entitled Why Women Are the Future of B2B Sales cited that 86% of women reach quota while 78% of men do.

In celebration of Women in Sales Month: what are the traits that make women successful in sales?

And how can all people adopt those traits to get better in sales –  and as humans?

But let’s not stop there. Let’s also look at the shadow side of each of these traits.

Why? Because the shadow side of those positive traits is what can lead us to hold ourselves back.

[Note: I’m not attempting to tackle the topics of pay disparity and unequal representation in leadership roles here. Instead, this is about exploring the innate traits that help us excel and where we might limit ourselves.]

3 Traits that Make Women Succeed in Sales

1. Emotional Intelligence: women have an innate tendency to lead with a high EQ. This enables them to be attuned to their buyer’s emotional experience, and to respond accordingly. The ability to display cognitive empathy is a superpower in sales.  (Salespeople with high EQ tend to outperform their peers with low and medium EQ by 50%).

2. Acute Listening Skills: we all know the importance of asking great questions in discovery – but you also have to be able to listen carefully to the answers! Women tend to be great listeners, welcoming the perspective and input of their buyers. When buyers feel listened to and understood, they’re more likely to consider the option being offered to them.

3. Desire to help: sales is fundamentally about helping people solve problems. Years ago I thought I could never be in sales because “I’m just not pushy like that.” (I clearly had a lot to learn.) Years later when I understood that sales is about helping people, I was all-in. And I noticed how many other women in sales succeeded because they loved helping people. Even now, if I ever get tripped up by fear of failure, all I have to do is remind myself to focus on helping my buyers. That becomes a win-win for everybody.

 Now: for every strength there can be a shadow-side if it isn’t balanced out. Let’s look at what these are for each of the traits I listed above.

The shadow-side traits:

1.     Because women tend to have a high EQ, they have a keen awareness of how other people feel. This is a strength – unless they worry too much about their sales efforts being perceived as pushy (like I just mentioned). So the shadow side of having a high EQ is the fear of being pushy. I’ve heard many women in sales mention this fear. How do we overcome this? Focus on the buyer’s problems, and on how to help.

2.     As excellent listeners, women tend to consider the perspectives of other people – often before their own. Because they listen so well to others, some women tend to second-guess their own expertise and insights. How do we overcome this? Just as we listen to others, we must listen to – and honor – our own expertise and insights too.

3.     With a strong desire to help, many women are diligent and thorough in their sales process. This puts them ahead – because they put in the work. But the shadow side of the desire to help is perfectionism and overworking. That’s a recipe for burnout – which helps no one. So how do we overcome this? Recognize the fine line between dedication and overworking. Know the signs of burnout so you can course-correct before any damage is done.

Now, I’d love to hear from you: what other traits have you recognized in successful women in sales? And what are your thoughts on the shadow side of our strengths?

[Note: my thoughts above are generalizations. No two women are exactly alike. No two people are exactly alike.]

"What Makes Women Succeed in Sales – and What Holds Us Back"



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