Highlights from This Steve W. Martin Sales Research Originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review. This is the first of a series articles on the Similarities/Differences between Salesmen and Saleswomen. Follow Steve W. Martin to receive future research articles.
My recent research on the “The Persona of Top Sales Professionals” was based upon a study to determine the personal attributes, attitudes, and actions that influence sales productivity. Over 1,000 sales professionals completed an extensive 43-question survey on various subjects including sales strategy preferences, quota performance history, and a wide variety of questions to better understand their values and personal beliefs. About 78 percent of participants were men, while 22 percent were women.
When the research data is analyzed by gender, it provides an interesting frame of reference on the similarities and differences between men and women in sales. These reference points have been grouped into three subject areas: sales strategy, belief systems, and career orientation (You can read the entire research report here). In this article we review sales strategy, which includes topics such as how the members of each gender decide which deals to work and the relationships they have with customers.
SALES STRATEGY | Similarities - Prospective Customer Perception
Study participants were asked to select two qualities they thought customers admired the most about them. The results were nearly identical for men and women. The top three responses were “trustworthiness,” with 56 percent of mentions for men and 58 percent for women; “professionalism,” with 37 percent for men and 34 percent for women; and “follow-though,” with 31 percent for both men and women.
SALES STRATEGY | Similarities - Reasons for Losing Business
To gauge why salespeople think they lose business, study participants were asked to select from five different possible reasons. Two of the answers were predicated on the salesperson personally accepting responsibility: “I might have thought I was in a better position than I actually was” and “I was outsold.” Fortyseven percent of men and 40 percent of women selected these two answers.
The other three answers placed the blame for losing elsewhere. They were “It wasn’t a truly good fit for my solution in the first place,” “Something outside of my control made it impossible to win,” and “The competition’s solution or company was better.” Fiftythree percent of men and 60 percent of women selected these answers, where the root cause of losing was not their fault.
SALES STRATEGY | Differences - Client Relationships
Women develop more intimate relationships and bond with their clients. For example, when asked how they work with their clients, 44 percent of women versus 34 percent of men selected “Feel personally responsible and dedicate myself to ensuring their success.” Twenty one percent of women versus 17 percent of men selected “Develop very close personal relationships with my clients.”
Men are more likely to have superficial relationships with clients. Twenty-nine percent of men versus18 percent of women indicated they “Have cordial relationships with their clients because we are both very busy.” Twenty percent of men compared to 17 percent of women “Keep a general pulse on what’s happening with clients after the sale.”
SALES STRATEGY | Differences - Deal Pursuit Risk
Deal pursuit can be defined as a salesperson’s natural propensity to work on certain size deals that is commensurate to his or her appetite for risk. For example, it is riskier to pursue large deals. Conversely, with medium-size deals, the purchase decision is typically made by a small number of decision makers, most likely at a lower level of the organization.They usually occur in a shorter period of time and involve less risk.
Overall, 57 percent of men and 58 percent of women indicated that it was true or very true that they would rather pursue a medium size deal that has a higher probability of closing than chase a much larger deal with a lower chance of closing. However, when the results are analyzed by category of response, we see that men and women may have deal-pursuit-risk-aversion tendencies. Twenty-three percent of women versus 15 percent of men were more likely to be highly risk averse and selected very true regarding their preference for medium-size deals, while 18 percent of men versus 11 percent of women would rather pursue a riskier large deal.
SALES STRATEGY | Differences - Working on Deals
Now, let’s see if the study results reveal tendencies about which gender is more logical and which one isnmore instinctive. When study participants were asked to choose a response to, “When working on deals I tend to…,” 41 percent of women compared to 32 percent of menselected, “Follow my instincts.” Forty-one percentof men compared to 36 percent of women selected,
“Focus more on situations where I know there is a high probability of winning.” Twenty-four percent of men compared to 19 percent of women selected, “Take calculated risks when pursuing accounts.”
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