Why Women Excel at Sales

Organizations with greater gender diversity outperform those that are not diverse, yet women are still severely underrepresented in sales. According to research in Gartner, women only represent 39 percent of the sales force and make up a mere 19 percent of leadership roles. Yet, despite this, women in sales do incredibly well. A study by Xactly found that sales companies with 45 percent or more women achieve higher revenue compared to companies with sales forces comprised of fewer women. Researchers examining the complex differences between the sexes have identified several areas that help account for the marked success achieved by saleswomen. Here are several attributes that help explain why women achieve more in sales:

Interpersonal Skills and Collaborating

In research by the consulting firm ZS, cited in HBR, women succeed in sales by excelling in different capabilities than men. While men tend to focus on improving and driving outcomes, high-performing women in sales excel at connecting, shaping solutions, and collaborating, customer-focused capabilities that add value to the buyer’s experience. Today, with the emphasis on consultative selling, which emphasizes long-term personal relationships and partnerships over short-term transactions, it’s easy to see how building relationships and working with clients to discover solutions helps sales professionals achieve more. This ability helps explain why women make such successful sales pros.  

Active Listening

Although something of a stereotype and the basis of countless marital arguments, women may well make better listeners after all. According to the book “Brain Sex,” women possess greater connectivity between the hemispheres of their brains, which gives them increased sensitivity in non-verbal cues and a natural desire to focus on people and relationships. Women see and remember more and are better at receiving the social cues of body language. All sales professionals understand the value of active listening, the combination of verbal and non-verbal communication, to uncover a client’s hidden needs. An advantage in this area might contribute to the success of women in sales.

Emotional Intelligence

As noted in the book “The Power of Perception: Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and the Gender Divide” by Dr. Shawn Andrews (cited in a Forbes article by same author), women score higher than men in areas of empathy, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility. Also, as emotional intelligence is often seen in terms of maintaining relationships, managing stress, and using emotional information to guide one’s thinking, if women do in fact  score higher than men in emotional intelligence, these attributes foster the connections with clients that form lasting partnerships.

Expressing Empathy

In addition to emotional intelligence, research in Psychology Today suggests women are better at emotional empathy or the ability to feel what another person feels. In general, emotional empathy fosters rapport and chemistry. If men tune out the emotional, women stay with the feeling. As so much of sales is driven by uncovering the problems and anxieties that plague our clients, one’s ability to relate to and empathize with what our clients feel goes a long way to building the trust needed to form lasting and productive relationships. We all want to work with people who understand our unique situations. Being naturally in tune to expressing empathy could help account for the success of saleswomen.

While research into the differences between the sexes continues, we must not read too much into the data. After all, whether based on survey questions, neurological evaluation, or some complex algorithm, we will never find any trait or attribute that applies to all women, all men, or all anything for that matter. Human beings are complex creatures, shaped by indeterminate genetic and environmental factors. This allows for countless exceptions and unique personalities in sales. These days, when diverse clients require diverse sales teams, one thing that seems certain is that sales organizations and their clients would both benefit from more women in sales.

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