As a 20-year-old college graduate (many years ago), my first job was as an account representative in the advertising industry. My father had a very successful career in sales that led to senior leadership positions, and he encouraged me to stay on the sales path, emphasizing the appeal of a flexible schedule, lots of variety in my work and a level of control over my income.

This is one of many times I’m glad I took my father’s advice. He was the first executive in his company to hire women in sales and leadership positions, and he supported my sales career. Looking back, his early advice has proven to be true. I have enjoyed a 30-year sales career, and am still going strong.

Sales – A Game for Entrepreneurs

What are attributes required to be successful in sales long term? Broadly, they are:

  • Boldness
  • Skill
  • Resilience
  • Discipline
  • Humor

In addition to having the right temperament for sales, there are the requisite skills and training all sales people need: prospecting, opportunity management, sales call management, negotiations, account and territory management, etc.

However, over the long term, it’s a different kind of capability and aptitude that enables success in sales. More nuanced skills become necessary, including: understanding human behavior and how people make decisions, navigating the political environment to determine the right strategy for success, understating influence, collaborating with disparate groups to move forward on an initiative, knowing when to act and when to hold back, knowing how to push toward a final decision, and knowing how to learn from losses.

Sales is essentially an entrepreneur’s game.

Building Credibility is Key

The unique factors for women in sales may include gender issues, family issues, health issues and job change or job loss issues. As a woman in sales, I’ve felt that my gender was an asset in many ways. However, there are very real gender issues in a sales career. A woman needs to be able to handle herself professionally no matter the circumstance while being aware of subtle gender issues at all times.

For example, in a client meeting where the majority of participants might be middle-aged or older men, a women’s ability to read the dynamics within the group is critical. In this environment, a woman needs to quickly build credibility, identify opportunities to contribute value by speaking or asking questions that are relevant and take the lead on moving the conversation forward in a collaborative manner. The ability to ask the right question at the right time can be significant in managing and directing the conversation. Resistance comes in many forms; understanding why there is resistance within an individual or group, and working through it is a skill worth developing. Within this environment, understanding any potential bias toward women is important to determine how to respond to resistance.

Lastly, work-life balance is critical. Sales requires travel, entertainment, long hours and a lot of uncertainty. Managing health, fitness, and relationships positively enables sustainable performance. A sales career can be financially lucrative and personally rewarding. I am passionate about mentoring young women to pursue a sales career in the face of challenges. For a young woman who wants to have a family, the right kind of sales position can be an ideal career choice.

About the Author: Susan Mahoney is an independent performance consultant with Miller Heiman Group. Follower her on Twitter.

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