Smart Moves: Women win out over men in the sales game

Selling is now all about good relationships. By Nigel Piercy, David Cravens and Nikala Lane
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The Independent Online
Recent years have seen a transformation of the sales function in many organisations throughout the world. It's stopped being all about hitting sales targets and has become more concerned with customer relationships.

The days of the "lone-wolf road warrior" driven by short-term sales volume and commission are over - the most effective sales organisations are those that emphasise building relationships with customers. Correspondingly, the role of the sales manager has also changed. The modern manager monitors, directs, evaluates and rewards the sales force's work, not just its adherence to budgets and targets.

The number of women in sales positions has also expanded dramatically. Until recently women have frequently been seen to lack the skills of "good" salespeople. They have often been stereotyped as less effective than men in doing deals, meeting targets, and being committed to their work. Women have often been perceived as better at the "motivational" and "human relations" aspects of selling - secondary and less important skills than those of men. It is, therefore, not surprising that relatively few women progressed to management in sales organisations. We recently conducted a survey in a large British company, involving replies from 214 salespeople. We found there were significant differences between male and female managers in the eyes of their sales team.

Our findings were that female sales managers:

t are better than men in terms of monitoring, directing, evaluating and rewarding their sales forces;

t build teams with greater commitment than men;

t reduce people's anxieties about their job by working more closely with them;

t encourage higher levels of job satisfaction among their teams; and

t manage their teams so that staff turnover is reduced.

Our findings suggest that women may have superior management skills compared with men and thereby produce better results. There are probably a number of factors at work here.

It is likely that the women who win management posts are exceptionally able, and would be expected to produce superior results. However, it does seem that many women have superior management skills. The stereotyping of women in sales as only being good at the "soft" or relationship- oriented areas of sales may be a double-edged sword.

If the stereotype holds true it may mean that women have greater aptitude in the very areas that drive higher effectiveness in the modern sales organisation. Far from the female sales manager becoming an "organisational man", the challenge may be for the male sales manager to learn to become an "organisational woman".

The new demands being placed on the organisations to increase profitability through better customer relationships may be hard for traditional salespeople and managers to take on. In our study it appears that female sales managers achieve impressive results. This is an important issue for sales organisations, which should concentrate on training and appraisal.

It is unlikely that our findings will be equally true for all companies. However, it is important for managers to find out how their sales staff feel about their managers.

Professor Nigel Piercy and Dr Nikala Lane are from Cardiff University; Professor David Cravens is from Texas Christian University