A sales manager once told me that he could tell which men would be successful in sales and which would fail just by watching how they behaved in a bar. If they were “chasers” (that is, chased after women), he knew they could sell. If they couldn’t get a woman to talk to them, he wrote them off as unsuitable for sales.
It sounds to me that his observation is the foundation of a whole lot of problems in sales. So what does that mean for women in sales? It means you might have to re-evaluate how you approach your own selling, and how you respond to inappropriate conduct from colleagues and clients.
The art of polite persistence in sales
From my perspective, this sales manager wasn’t entirely wrong. What I think he misguidedly meant to say was that someone who is persistent in getting what he wants is more likely to be suitable for a career in sales. I agree with that. Certainly, all sales don’t close at the first meeting or telephone call—persistence is what often gets sales results.
What I advocate is what I call “polite persistence.” It’s knowing the right interval between phone calls to try to reach a prospect. It’s trying different times of the day to be more likely to reach a prospect at their desk. It’s knowing when to leave a voicemail and when not to. But simply being persistent isn’t enough to be successful in sales. The sales manager offering his assessment was failing to recognize an important aspect of successful selling—it’s the understanding of boundaries.
In sales you have to know when to stop contacting a prospect. There’s a difference between polite persistence and hounding a prospect to the point of becoming a pest. You have to know the difference between helpfully guiding a prospect to make a buying decision and aggressive assertiveness that causes buyer remorse. As people are learning from the recent #MeToo movement, there is a difference between giving a sincere compliment and engaging in behavior that borders on harassment. But the problem is that some men don’t seem to know the difference. What’s a woman in sales to do?
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Dealing with harassment in your own career
I believe that some women are overly sensitive today. When a man holds the door open for the person behind him simply to be polite, some women react by saying, “I can open my own door.” Ladies, we know you can open your own door; that’s not the point. Would you ever slam the door on the person behind you? Most people wouldn’t and that’s what holding a door prevents.
Instead, I think women have to be able to tell the difference between what to ignore and what to challenge. I’ve written before about being conscious of avoiding situations that have a high probability of introducing inappropriate behavior. Yes, you can avoid being put in those situations.