I’m a firm believer that selling is everything - in business and in life. Whenever young people ask me for career advice, I tell them: get experience in sales. It will prepare you for so much to come in the future: from getting support for your ideas, to raising money, to negotiating for a raise or a promotion. I’m also pretty sure it can help you on job interviews, dates, and even getting your children into nursery school.
Yet for many women, sales doesn’t feel natural. Further, as a woman, the transformation to salesperson may run counter to deep inner cultural patterns you’ve absorbed.
Executive coach and author Peggy Klaus has seen this phenomenon often. “It has a lot to do with societal norms and stereotypes. One of the old myths is that's un-ladylike and feminine to be pushy and ask for things, especially in business which was traditionally a man's domain,” says Klaus. “Putting yourself out there and letting your desires be known makes you look ambitious and greedy.”
And yet, Klaus insists, women must step out of their comfort zone to find success. “Even if you’re an introvert, you can be good at it. You don’t have to love it -- but you need a compelling reason to do it. So just do it, and you can go back to being an introvert on your own time,” advises Klaus.
With that advice in mind, here are 10 tips for women on how to use sales skills to win in business -- and in life:
1. Prepare yourself: You’re going to hear "no" a lot.
One of my favorite managers of all time used to say, “Every sale starts with no.” This is a really important truism to internalize if you’re putting yourself on the line to pitch you and your company. People say no for all kinds of reasons, and so when you hear not, transform it in your mind to “not yet” -- and then start to think about how you’ll convince them sooner or later.
Again, this can be a harder muscle to flex for women, so the more accustomed to it you get, the better off you’ll be -- in sales and in many situations you’ll face in business and life.
“Women are pleasers,” says Klaus. “When we do something that someone doesn't like, we feel like failures - it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, we have to prompt ourselves to realize, ‘I may not get everything right - and that’s ok.’ You need to reset expectations a bit.”
2. Cold calling: It’s a numbers game.
Understand that sales truly is a number game, especially at the start. You’ll need to cold call - or email - 100 people to get 20 meetings which may land you with 2-3 customers in the beginning. So instead of worrying about who’s saying yes and who is saying no, spend a lot of time thinking about how you can fill the top of the funnel with hundreds of prospects.
And, when you’re cold-emailing, get creative. Experiment with your subject line and your message. Remember that your prospect is probably getting 5 or more similar solicitations in his/her email every day. So figure out how to make yours stand out.
3. Map out a clear and compelling pitch.
Make sure your pitch is very clear and well practiced. And make sure it starts with a clear use case. In the first 60 seconds of your communication - written or verbal - you want your prospect to understand well what your proposition is, who is using it, and why. Bring your customer to life to help the prospect visualize your raison d’etre. Give it a test run on your friends, colleagues and advisors so you can be ready to put it in front of a prospect.
“Keep it simple. How would you explain this to your grandmother?” advises Dave Imperiale, VP of SNP Communications, who works with executives at companies like Google and Spotify on sales skills.
4. Take baby steps. Make sales calls the first goal.
Don’t try to boil the ocean! When you’re just embarking on the sales process, start by focusing on scheduling sales calls - in person (preferred) or by phone. If you can get a chance to get in front of someone and tell them your story, you’ll probably have a much greater chance of making the sale. And, if you focus on getting sales calls -- which should lead to sales - you will feel a greater sense of progress and accomplishment when you get these sales calls on the books.
5. Be prepared for your sales calls.
Do your research on your prospects before talking to them. Check them out on LinkedIn. See if they’ve written articles anywhere. See where they went to school. See you if you have contacts in common.
When you’re on a sales call, it’s really helpful if you can find a way to connect with the person you’re speaking to beyond the topic at hand. Build a personal rapport. Everyone you’ll talk to is so busy, and if you can humanize yourself by finding a common ground, your prospect will be far more ready to listen.
6. On the call, do more listening than talking.
Women have been shown to speak more than men -- nearly 13,000 words a day more! And yet, the most important thing you can do while you’re out on a sales call is to listen. Get your points across succinctly, and ask lots of questions of your prospect. Make the discussion interactive. And let your prospect set the pace!
In addition, try to gather information to help you refine your pitch. Solicit feedback about your product or service so you can make adjustments that will make your proposition more “sellable.”
7. Email THE SAME DAY to say thank you, and reiterate your value proposition.
I’m a big fan of same day follow-up. It shows your prospect that you are really eager to get their business, and you’re really on top of stuff. And, if you do it right away, the conversation will still be fresh in your mind.
When following up, play back key points from your discussion. And share a recap of the key reasons the person should buy from you.
8. Follow up. Then follow up again.
Woody Allen famously said 80% of success is showing up. But I’ve actually found that in sales 80% of success is following up. Persistence is critical, and can be especially tricky for women who can feel nervous about being too aggressive. Don't hold back - follow-up can often be the difference between winning and losing the business.
9. Be OK walking away.
If you’re hearing “no” -- or simply hearing radio silence -- it’s ok to walk away. Often, giving your prospect some space is a good idea. You may never know why the lead went cold...but it may often have nothing at all to do with you!
So walk away -- and put it out of your mind. Assume the time wasn’t right and move on to the next name down the list. Don’t take it personally! (Which is just so hard for women to do.)
10. Follow up again
...but don’t forget to check back in 2-3 months later. Perhaps you’ll catch them at a better time. And, your follow up will remind them that you care about winning their business.
More than anything, it’s important to think of the sale as solving a problem for your customer. As Imperiale says, “if you can think of what you’re doing as helping someone, it will feel like the halogen is shining less on you.” And that may be just the thing that can transform you into a fantastic female salesperson.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.
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