Three Ways Women Can Break through the Confidence Gap

July 15, 2014

Leaping tall buildings, flying across oceans, saving the town from evil . . . who comes to mind? Unfortunately for the many women who aspire to be sales superheroes, it’s still Superman.

LinkedIn’s recent Women in Sales study put into numbers a troubling trend that’s been all too apparent to me for some time: there are a lot of smart, capable women in sales, but relatively few break through to C level. As a top inside sales trainer, I regularly interact with the sales leadership teams of top global organizations. And the sad truth for women with big career plans is that most of these teams are composed primarily of men.  What’s going on here?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg famously pointed out that people who find success at C-Level have one thing in common: confidence. The authors of Womenomics found that even women at the top levels suffered from self-doubt — a “confidence gap” born out of the exclusion, stereotypes, and double standards that women have faced for most of history in the work world.

But I have good news. In today’s new normal, the wired, digitally dynamic Sales 2.0 environment, everything is being shaken up. The old selling rules are changing fast, and so are the old perceptions about sales being a “man’s world.” That’s why I wrote my two books—one for teams and one for managers— to help salespeople and their leaders navigate these changes.

Women, listen up: As the recent Matt Lauer debacle shows clearly, women are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore! Sales organizations everywhere are desperate for talented people who ready to take the new normal sales world and run with it. If you have what it takes to succeed, there has never been a better time than now to assert yourself with confidence in the sales profession!

Here are three powerful ways that #WomenInSales can burst through the confidence gap, grow their careers, and keep changing minds about who belongs at the top:

1. Don’t wait for things to be just right. Jump in!

Check out Lydia Dishman’s recent piece for FastCompany on Bonita Coleman Stewart, VP of partner business solutions at Google. Her advice: “As women, we are so harsh on ourselves . . . It’s been written many times that we think we have to have all the skills to take a leap. I think we have to lighten up a bit.” Research and preparation are important, but getting in touch with your prospects is even more important. Be bold, be yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out, even if you think you still need to learn more. Trust me, there is always going to be more to learn, but this moment will never come again.

2. Find your internal supporters and gather them around you

Kimberly Weisul, at Inc., recently wrote about the gender gap in venture capital financing. Facing skepticism from the male-dominated VC world, women have begun turning to Kickstarter to find supporters and resources. In sales, your partnerships and mentors have a huge impact on your sales momentum and career progression, so don’t waste time with doubters. If you think someone else in the office would make a more effective partner than your current draggy, do-nothing cubicle neighbor, make a move. There’s nothing like taking action and building your own support network to give yourself an empowering shot of confidence that lasts.

3. Find mentors who speak your language

Last month Clair Whitmer wrote about how women’s professional development groups have made a big impact for their members in male-dominated professions like software development. One key to their success is the tendency for men and women to communicate differently while learning — women confirm, question, express small doubts, and speak out when they don’t understand something. Men keep quiet because they don’t want to appear weak. Telling someone when you don’t understand something is actually very useful especially if you’re talking to the person who speaks your language and is willing to share her knowledge wealth. The dynamic Sales 2.0 profession is all about learning and growing — with confidence.

Stay up-to-date with leading advice from other inspiring #WomenInSales, and share your thoughts with us in the LinkedIn Sales Solutions Group and by using the hashtag #WomenInSales on Twitter.