TALKING SALES 217: "Advice for women in sales"

John Smibert

            "Sales is a fantastic career trajectory role for women" - Sue Barrett with John Smibert

Why aren't there more females in sales and sales leadership?

My personal experience is that the average female outsells the average male. I also believe females make great first line sales managers. And yet in most industries that I have been associated females hold less than 23% of the sales and sales leadership roles.

I have not got all the answers, however I do know we would all be better off if we achieved a better balance.

Sue Barrett 2016 silver background American copy 400x590

So I ask sales leadership guru Sue Barrett to share her thoughts on on this subject.

Sue outlined some of the challenges females face in sales - challenges that many males would not experience and may not conceive or perceive.

She outlined how females can navigate these challenges to success in sales and how this can differ for males.

In addition, Sue emphasised the value of sales as a stepping stone for females wanting to move into leadership roles and and she explains why.

Sue believes that sales provides a fantastic career trajectory for women striving to get into senior leadership; "it's visible, it's a line role, and it's the best way for you to actually position yourself and be held accountable". "If you're courageous and capable, you will be noticed and you will be able to rise, and we'll have then more women in senior leadership roles"

This will be of value for women striving to progress their sales and leadership skills - and it will be valuable for males wanting to understand how they can help females in their career.

See the full interview below to learn more.


Sue is an authoritative thought leader and an accomplished author on the selling profession. She's also founder and CEO of Barrett and

Subscribe to future videos           See previous 'TALKING SALES' videos here


John: Hello, I've got Sue Barrett with me again - welcome back, Sue!

Sue: Thanks, John!

John: Sue, I want to touch on the subject of males, females in sales, females particularly in sales. You, being a female, would have experienced a whole host of things that maybe us males haven't experienced as you've moved through the field in sales. I'd like to really understand as a female what are the sort of issues you face that would be different to a male, and what advice have you got for females to be I guess successful in sales and position yourself in sales, sales management, sales leadership?

Sue: Okay. I think that as the world gets more complex, and we need to really transition to being able to sell solutions not just transactional products, this is where women can come to the fore. Men too, but women tend to deal with process, and they tend to solve lots of problems. When you think about putting in a new system, or products or services into a system for a client, if you can think and act like that and work with people in that way, it's really advantageous for you.

John: And would you say women have more empathy in doing that sort of thing than men?

Sue: Well, we've got to be careful here about men versus women and those sorts of things, but when we actually look at a lot of the skillsets women have had to develop over the millennia, they do have to deal with a lot more around processes and systems and feelings and emotions and are often the caregivers and all that kind of stuff.

John: But to me processes and systems are quite different to feelings and emotions, and you're putting the two together here.

Sue: If you go back to prehistoric times, in cavemen days, cavewomen days, etc., you find also with men's brains as well, they're very focused on points when they go out to hunt, and when women were looking after the little children and their families, they had to have really good peripheral vision, they had to be able to sort of deal with a variety of things, to hold things into account. While that might sound like... you'd think, "Well, they're cave people," but... And not all women and not all men, but...

John: But it's built in our DNA.

Sue: It is in our DNA, that we tend to look at the broader aspects of things, and men can be very focused on an outcome or a particular point. Now, there are men who are very good at process and women who are very focused, so please don't get me wrong there, but I think women can come to the fore in terms of how they actually can use these skills, but they've also got to be proactive and assertive. A lot of the lessons that I've actually learnt over the years, and lessons that I've picked up from other women as well, is that you have to go after what you want; you can't apologise for being who you are. But also too I found that in selling as a woman, I had to be very clear that I was there for business.

John: Right

Sue: Because I didn't want to give off other messages that might have been misinterpreted, for good or for bad.

John: Which a male could get away with.

Sue: Exactly, that kind of, that 'matey mate', that charm, that friendliness, that kind of thing. As a woman, particularly in business-to-business sales, you do have to be careful. I know that people use their charm for other means. I don't sell that way; I'm there to do business, not for anything else.

John: Okay.

Sue: So, I don't give off messages, other alternative messages that might be misconstrued because I don't want to go there.

John: Yes.

Sue: And I don't go out and try and make friends either with people. To me, in business... business is business, friendship is friendship. I can be friendly and people can like me...

John: And they can trust you. You don't have to be a friend to trust you.

Sue: Exactly, but there's no other agenda other than I'm there to help them. So, if we're careful about how we actually manage agendas, and that we're very clear about how we present ourselves and what we're do, particularly as women, I think we'll be taken much more seriously. I must say, men have been fantastic supporters of me in my business, but because I'm very clear about why I'm there, and I'm not trying to do anything else other than be there for them and to help them. And look, there's all sorts of things I've had to learn along the way, how had to stand up for myself how to say no, and just to become a much stronger person.

John: I can tell you, males have that same need to learn those same things. I think there's certainly differences in the DNA between male and female, but there's a lot of overlap too. I think that's great advice; some really good gems there for females to think about as they're developing their sales career.

Sue: If I can say one more thing... If you want to get into senior leadership, sales is a fantastic trajectory for women to get into senior leadership; it's visible, it's a line role, and it's the best way for you to actually position yourself and be held accountable. If you're courageous and capable, you will be noticed and you will be able to rise, and we'll have then more women in senior leadership roles, particularly if women use not only... There's various parts, but sales is one of those fantastic slingshots to leadership.

John: That's a very valid point. And personally, I know some brilliant sales leaders that are females, and we do need more of them I think to balance it out.

Sue: Absolutely.

John: Thank you very much for your advice, Sue!

Sue: My pleasure, John!


Past interviews with Sue Barrett:



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