I recently had the opportunity to meet a young woman who really impressed me; she had the confidence and carriage of someone much more experienced in business, and in life. Talking with her more, I discovered what may have been a contributing factor to her personal presence – she’d spent two years in security software sales, a pretty hostile world for anyone, but especially a young woman.
Meghan Gonzalez confirmed what I had long suspected about software sales. Yes, it is indeed male dominated; up to half of the inside sales team (now called digital sales) were men, and up to 90% of the outside sales team were male. (Why do so many men and women think women can’t close?!) It doesn’t sound like a very friendly environment for someone fresh out of college and of the female persuasion. And yet, Meghan was successful. She was promoted up the chain twice in the two years she spent there, and she learned some valuable lessons about how women can succeed, even in a man’s world.
Meghan took great pains to point out that she proactively managed the situation to her advantage. She didn’t expect anyone to look out for her and she made sure her voice was heard, discovering that she found energy in an all-male group because she stood out. “It’s absolutely essential for everyone, but especially women, to make their voices heard from day one,” said Meghan. “You need to really believe that you have a right to be at the table and a right to have your point aired.” That takes a lot of work, and probably for some, more than a little daring. Meghan’s made it work for her because she believes it herself. Really, truly.
Here are Meghan’s top six tips for women who sell, especially in male dominated industries (we have a lot of those in the Metro DC area!):
1. Assert yourself immediately.
Here’s what Meghan had to say about her own experience: My first week on the job, I introduced myself with a firm handshake and professional demeanor to everyone. At a conference during my second week at the company, I walked up to a huddle of senior leaders, took a breath, greeted everyone with a smile (and handshakes all around), and asked the one person I knew in the group to introduce me to everyone else. People quickly took notice of my ambition and saw me as a leader within the inside sales organization.
2. See yourself as an equal.
When you walk into meetings, don’t pick the seat in the corner, sit with good posture either front and center, or next to one of the most senior people in the room. Don’t be afraid to insert yourself into conversations with senior leaders, as long as it’s appropriate and you have a question, idea, or unique perspective on the topic.
3. Believe in your ideas.
Spend a few minutes before each meeting preparing. Think of at least two good points you’d like to bring up and write them down. When you speak, use proper breathing technique (see tip #5) and be clear and concise. You are part of this meeting because people want to hear from you - whether it be clients or colleagues. Don’t ever take the “I’m just listening in” approach; speak up and make your voice heard.
4. Use your team’s trust in you as credibility with the client.
One of a salesperson’s most important jobs is making their client feel comfortable. That means first your team needs to be comfortable with your leadership. Assert your authority by introducing everyone, delegating questions, and keeping your cool if anything goes awry. Your team should feel comfortable with you guiding the conversation to stay on point or manage a difficult topic. Their trust in you shows the client they can trust you with their business.
5. Use proper breathing technique to make your voice heard.
In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, Allison Shapira talks about the importance of breathing in persuasive public speaking. When you want your voice to be heard amidst the many already powerful (perhaps male) voices at the table, take a deep breath and project your voice.
6. Find mentors in senior management.
It’s nice to make an impression but it won’t get you far if you don’t build on that momentum. The most important step in this process is to build a strong network that includes senior leaders within the company. One of the mentors that Meghan chose was the head of her business unit. He helped her navigate red tape, bureaucracy, and other situations that may have otherwise held her back. In the corporate world, safety is indeed in numbers, and having several senior leaders that trust you and would “go to bat” for you makes a huge difference.
7. BONUS TIP: Get comfortable with making mistakes.
Good managers (and companies) want to see their employees succeed. The only way to do that is to try, fail, and try again. Set the expectation with yourself that you will get back up after making a mistake, ask for advice or talk about it with a mentor, and do better next time. You will gain even more trust and respect within the organization and will show your team that they truly do have an assertive leader that can take them to the next level.
Good advice for anyone really.
Meghan has since moved to a new role in a new company, working with a sharp-minded woman entrepreneur who is helping her grow even further to a new professional level. Her work at Global Public Speaking LLC, under CEO/Founder Allison Shapira, inspires men and women alike to find their authentic voice and the courage to speak on behalf of themselves and their organizations. Kudos to both Allison and Meghan. But I’m guessing that just like me, Meghan will find the lessons she learned in her first job will be applied over and over again as she makes her way up the ladder. Because I’ve no doubt that this young lady will continue to go places.
You can connect with Meghan and her organization here:
Meghan’s Twitter: @MeghanMinder