My first-ever sales job was selling Cutco cutlery when I was 17 and fresh out of high school. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Cutco, that job is a lot of begging your family and friends to take a meeting and then buy knives (that they may or may not even need).
It doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but it was a great learning ground for figuring out how to not take rejection personally. That job taught me how to be okay with people saying no and then moving onto the next potential customer. This is a critical skill for women in sales. Sometimes we can take things personally, but that makes sales even more difficult.
1. Find a mentor you can trust.
I was able to accelerate my path to management rather quickly. I started as an SDR for a year and a half and then was a sales representative for two years. After that, I became a frontline manager for a year and a half and have been a director or VP ever since.
The reason I was able to do that is that I had an amazing mentor early on in my career. She really guided me and was honest with me about what I needed to do so I could advance.
It doesn’t really matter if your mentor is male or female. You just need them to be honest and keep you motivated to achieve your goals.
2. Try to work at companies that are intentional about diversity and equality.
When you think about where you want to move as the next step in your career, you want a company that is intentionally looking to be fair and equitable to women. Fortunately, that’s easier to find than you might think.
Many organizations have fully embraced the concept of diversity and inclusion based on gender, race, sexuality, and other forms of identity. Look for companies that have made a commitment to advancing the careers of minority groups and have a diverse executive team and board.
3. Speak up when you observe problems or cultural practices that are exclusive.
If you go to a company that is mindful about diversity and observe an inequity, don’t be afraid to raise your hand and talk to leadership about it. So if you’re concerned that you’ve been assigned to a poor territory or otherwise don’t have the same opportunities as peers, raise the issue with management. If they really care, they will recognize the problem and take steps to rectify it.
I also recommend being proactive about bringing up cultural practices that are exclusive. When I went to the first SaaStr, it was really uncomfortable to be a woman because there weren’t many other women in the room. I went to Jason Lemkin, one of the co-founders, and was honest with him. I said, “If you want to attract women, you have to create an environment where they feel welcome.” And he was willing to make the changes necessary and now SaaStr is not only focused on being inclusive for women but for all minorities in tech.
It’s hard to be the first woman or one of the first at your organization, but it really is possible for things to change. When I first started at Sage Intacct, it was primarily men. Now a significant portion of the leadership is women and the sales organization is almost 50/50.
4. If you decide to go into management, make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Oftentimes, I’ll speak to folks who think they need to become managers because they think that’s what they need to do to advance their career and make more money. But not everyone is made to be a good manager. In fact, some of the best salespeople are not great managers.
The people who make good managers are those that enjoy coaching others. They’re willing to put the team’s success before their own. Before deciding to go into management, evaluate whether that’s really what you want and where you think you can succeed.
5. Learn from a diverse array of thought leaders in sales.
I follow a lot of sales leaders on various platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), so I’ve been able to pick up a few useful nuggets of information every day. I recommend following a wide range of people—whether it’s through podcasts, books, blogs, conferences or email lists. Yes, your email box will get full, but it’s worth it for the opportunity to learn from a wide array of top sales professionals.