Women in Sales: No Apologies

By Lorraine Ferguson

Women in financial services—as in other fields—often share with me the fear that they are not treated with the same degree of respect as their male colleagues. In response, I must ask them a difficult but essential question: What are you going to do about it?

Even as generations of professional women have battled sexism in the workplace, it’s become clear that through our own behavior patterns, we may find the key to surmounting certain obstacles. We all have behavior patterns—we grow familiar with them and we simply carry them out.  For instance: Don’t you find yourself doing basically the same things each morning at the start your day? There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as we review the routine strategically from time to time—and understand that while some patterns of behavior can bring us comfort, not all are in our best career interest.

When calling on prospective clients, do you find that they sometimes don’t seem to take you seriously? Has this happened more than once? Have you noticed self-doubt kicking in when this happens? If not, this story is not for you.

If so, let me challenge you to accept the idea that you can change this state of affairs. You must take action and break the pattern of behaviors and attitudes that are working against you. Only you can do so. The patterns I am referring to are your self-perception, what you choose to say and do, and the techniques you choose deploy as a woman in the banking industry.

Begin by examining what you believe to be true—which is not actually true.

For example, many women have been taught that being assertive is unfeminine and that it is important to be liked. For some, this belief might manifest itself in the way they conduct themselves with their clients. After all, they tell themselves, banking is a relationship business. So they walk on tippy toes when interacting with clients and prospects. They go out of their way to please, ever fearful they might say or do something to upset someone, and thereby lose business. They even fear losing business they don’t yet have. The result is a “very nice” woman—someone who is liked, but not perceived as an equal player.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I see plenty of successful women replacing these traditional beliefs and behavior patterns with others that serve them better. You can do the same.

Do the opposite of what your prospective client expects.

Consider that in our eagerness to please, a typical response is to “tell” our prospect why they should do business with us.  This, by the way, is exactly what the prospect expects us to do.  Imagine, for example, a prospect calls you out of the blue, saying, “We really feel your bank is a good fit for us.  So many companies we work with tell us they are happy with your bank’s services.  How do we get started?”

The traditional response is to show delight and eagerness, and to confirm that your bank is indeed the best bank.  Unfortunately, you lose an opportunity to build respect and equal stature when you respond in this way.  Be honest with yourself. You know nothing about this person. You really don’t know for certain that your bank is a good fit, do you?

Break the pattern.  It may sound like this:

“Ms. Prospect, thanks for giving me a call, and I appreciate your sharing that.  May I ask, what tells you that we’re a good fit?”

This approach is honest. It begins a productive two-way conversation.  It proves you seriously want to listen and understand. And it positions you as an equal partner.

Another example of breaking an over-pleasing behavior pattern relates to an in-person meeting with a prospective client.  At the onset, it is important to take control of the meeting and establish a clear mutual agreement about exactly what will transpire during, and as a result of, the meeting. If you want to be treated equally, you must come to the meeting as an equal.

Here’s an example:

“Pat, I appreciate your inviting me in today, and I want to be sure we are on the same page regarding our time today.  I understand we are meeting to explore whether there would be a reason to do business together.  Obviously, you have questions for me about our services and how we have helped other businesses.  Naturally, I have some for you.  I want to have a better understanding of your business, what is important to you in a banking relationship, challenges you are experiencing.  We agreed to an hour.  I usually find by the end of our conversation, it is clear whether there is any reason to work together.  If there isn’t, that is fine, just tell me (or I’ll tell you).  On the other hand, if there is, we can compare calendars and schedule a deeper discussion, inviting others who would be involved in this type of decision.  Does this work for you?”

Get to the truth.

Successful women find the courage to ask the questions that get to the truth of the matter, even if the truth is uncomfortable.  This does require taking risks, and it does require that you step out of your comfort zone.  Consider this mindset:  You would be remiss in your responsibility if you did not ask the tough questions.

It is no longer enough to be nice, or to have a nice relationship. We are now required to be business people, and that means working from facts.  If you want to earn the respect you deserve, it means asking the questions others are afraid to ask.

Get into the habit of being honest with your client by telling them upfront how you feel. For instance: “Chris, I am going to have some questions for you today as we work through what you are hoping to accomplish.  Some of them will be uncomfortable for me to ask, and for you to hear.  Can we agree to not let our discomfort get in the way of what we are here to accomplish?”

This kind of exchange gives you a much clearer picture of what’s happening next in the conversation and in the relationship. It makes it easier for you to follow a process—a roadmap. As women, identifying the roadmap of what lies ahead gives us confidence. Learning and embracing a business development process that is conversational, applies no pressure, and assumes equal business stature as its underlying philosophy keeps you in control. And it will bring you more business.

Lorraine Ferguson is author of The Unapologetic Saleswoman: Breaking The Barriers, Beating The Odds. Ferguson is a dynamic trainer and coach who accelerates growth in companies by focusing on the right behaviors, attitudes and techniques that drive success. She has brought the Sandler Selling System to hundreds of selling professionals and businesses.  Companies and individuals have transformed their business development ability by working with Ferguson.