As a long-time saleswoman, Pam Lontos knows as well as anyone that there is a “Good Ol’ Boy” network out there. And many skilled women have given up, finding it too difficult to fight against the traditionally male-dominated sales network. But not Pam. As she explains in “Women in Sales: I Was One Of The Sales Boys,” today’s smart saleswoman can turn her network to her advantage.
The number of women in sales is growing, and for good reasons. Many women have interpersonal skills and large personal networks that give them a great sales advantage.
Is there a “Good Ol’ Boy” network in sales? Of course there is. There’s one in every industry. Women in business, and especially women in sales, need to recognize this and learn how to use the network to their advantage.
The reason any network exists is to promote the mutual goals of the members. If someone is perceived as not benefiting the group, they will be excluded (male or female). However, if you are seen as a positive element, you will be welcomed to join.
If you’re antagonistic or go around yelling that things are unfair, you will merely isolate yourself and put up a barrier. It will be evident to the group that giving you more power is going to cause a problem. If you show that you are a hard worker, someone who is willing to work with the group, and help them achieve their goals and the company goals, you’ll get support.
Take accountability, don’t blame the system
If you’ve been passed over a few times for a promotion, and you’re blaming it on the “Good Ol’ Boy” network, stop and ask yourself if there could be other reasons.
What skills do you need to build on to be in the running the next time a promotion comes up? Get constructive criticism from someone you trust on areas for improvement. This will increase your odds of being considered for a promotion next time.
I’ve seen situations where a sales manager’s position opens up and there are 10 salespeople eligible for it; eight are male and two are female. A mistake some women in sales make when one of the men is picked is to say, “I didn’t get it because I’m a woman.” They forget that there were seven men who also didn’t get it. The men don’t say, “I didn’t get it because I’m a man.” Instead, they say, “Next time, I’m going to get it. What do I need to do to get to that position?”
I go into companies all the time and see men who have been in sales for 10 or 15 years and are still in sales. They may be working for a woman manager who was promoted after working there for a year and a half.
Why did she get the promotion after being there only a year and a half? Because she did a good job and proved that she had the leadership ability to make the company money.
What companies want is someone who is going to make them more money.
It’s happened to me. A man was promoted to sales manager even though I was the top salesperson. So I let management know that I wanted to become a sales manager. I was surprised to hear that they were unaware that I even wanted the position, and that was part of the reason I was passed up. So I began acting as though I already had the job. This was a technique that I learned from books on how to achieve success.
If there is something you want, act as if you have already accomplished it.
I started helping the other salespeople with their sales and conducting an occasional sales meeting. I would help train the staff, and they would go out and make sales using what I had told them.
About six months later, when we lost half of our client base and the sales manager left, the men and women of the sales department went in to the general manager and asked that I be promoted. I had helped them achieve the sales volume they wanted, and they wanted me in a position to continue helping them.
At that point, nobody cared whether I was a man or a woman. They saw me as a person who was going to help their pocketbook.
When you can benefit someone else, you’ll get what you want, whether you’re a male or a female.
Don’t get caught up in ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ network games
In the business world, business games are played. I entered the world of commission sales as a teenager. I saw men backstabbing women, but I also saw men backstabbing other men. Climbing up the corporate ladder, people sometimes step on other people (male or female) to get to the top. Men backstab both men and women, and vice versa.
You have to keep your eyes open and stop yourself from getting caught up in their games. Once you involve yourself in these games, there is always a negative payoff. This can be anything from getting fired to not getting the advancement that you want.
If you come up against a “Good Ol’ Boy” network that puts pressure on you with negative comments or rejection, don’t let it appear to bother you. As soon as you do, you will be seen as weak. You must smile and act confident.
If you look upset when someone says they don’t think you’d make a good manager or they’re not going to promote you because you can’t do the job, you’re saying, “You’re right, I can’t do the job.” But if you smile and simply say, “Yes, I can do the job,” you start to convince them of your worth.
Learn to overcome rejection, but it’s not easy
Rejection isn’t the problem. It all depends on how you react to it.
Negative people aren’t the problem. Your reaction determines the outcome.
The key element in accepting rejection is easier said than done. It involves removing your emotions and not taking it personally.
Often, you’re not being rejected. What’s being rejected is the concept that you can do a good job.
If someone does act negatively toward you, you need to find out why. Get specific feedback. Although praise is definitely nice to receive, disagreement coupled with helpful feedback can be more beneficial in the long run.
The “Good Ol’ Boy” network is not as exclusively male as it has been. In my consulting practice, I go into many companies where the staff is 75% to 100% women. When I was in sales in the 1970s, there were very few women salespeople and very, very few female managers. Now, there are many women salespeople; more than 50% of salespeople are women. This group is now working themselves up into management.
A great deal of progress has been made. It has been made by women in sales who are hard working, dedicated and professional. And in many cases, they’ve started a “Good Ol’ Girl” network.
The key to changing these exclusionary cliques is for management to motivate men and women in sales to work together for the good of the company. Our changing society is helping bring this transition about.
More and more of the workforce is made up of a generation who grew up with both parents working. These people are much less involved in stereotypical views of male and female roles. A woman’s closest co-worker is often a man and vice versa.
There’s one basic truth that underlies this discussion: In-fighting hurts the company and threatens jobs. In today’s economic climate, anything that threatens your job must be eliminated. When men and women in sales work together, it benefits them and the company.