How females can enhance their career in sales.

Meet Grace Coughlan, District Inside Sales Leader, UK Large Corporate and Corporate Acquisition at Dell Technologies. 

I had the great pleasure to meet Grace during a Women in Tech Event a couple of years ago. I must say I was always truly impressed with her sales career and how she succeeded in her leadership role. 

According to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are underrepresented in B2B sales in most industries, and only 12% of that number are female sales leaders. 

Grace will share her journey of becoming a successful Sales Leader and share some career tips for any females looking for advice on enhancing a career in sales.  #InternationalWomenDay2021

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your journey in sales?

Like many young women in their early twenties, I was unsure of my career path. An opportunity arose to pursue an entrepreneurial venture that involved me ‘selling’ my business concept to investors and potential clients. With no previous sales experience and no one else to rely on to get my business off the ground, I quickly learned that sales is essentially the ability to understand your customer, their challenge/need and be able to articulate how your product/service can solve that. To be able to do so with honesty, transparency and ultimately build a trusting relationship with the customer is the essence of a good sales person. I had a natural flair for this, so when my experience as an entrepreneur reached a conclusion after a couple of years, I decided that I should pursue a career in B2B sales. At the time in 2011, technology was and still is the fastest growing industry in the world so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to join Dell Technologies as an Inside Sales Representative. My career has evolved in Dell over the last 10 years from inside sales rep to product specialist to sales coach to my current role now as a District Inside Sales Leader managing a team of incredibly talented sales account managers.

Why do you think there aren’t more women in sales?

I think previously sales was perceived as high stress, aggressive, time-demanding career choice which perhaps led women to fear that they would struggle to balance career and family life however I think there has been a critical shift of this perception in the last few years. I am proud to say in my organization we have an excellent balance of both male and female salespeople and most importantly this equal balance is concurrent in senior sales leadership positions. Dell actually has an excellent mentorship program called Stem Aspire which is a year-long mentoring program for women who are currently at University and who want a career in Technology after graduation. But making the transition from University to that first job in Technology can be so daunting they may never consider it. STEM Aspire sets out to make this transition easier. Many organizations across different industry verticals sponsor similar programs, which is fantastic.

What obstacles have you faced during your career, and how did you overcome them?

My biggest obstacle throughout my career to date has been my own self-doubt. I am aware of speaking with female peers and mentors that this is very common in women no matter what career they are in. It is known as ‘imposter syndrome’. It is an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. Men can experience this also. However, it is widely known to affect women much more. This has led to me procrastinating too much in the past about taking steps forward in my career due to fear of failure or suffering unnecessary anxiety ahead of key presentations or engagements. I have learned to internally check myself on these feelings, and now I simply ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’! 🙂

What would be a piece of advice that you can give to other women who want to develop their career in sales?

Women have a tendency to read a job spec for a promotion or a new role, and if they do not have 100% of the desired skill or experience, they will entertain thoughts that they are not good enough or not ready. My advice would be if you have even 50-60% of what the job spec is looking for, then go for it! By putting yourself out there, often hiring managers will recognise your drive and ambition to make up for the rest by upskilling on the job, which is very attractive to a potential candidate. I was given this advice early in my career by a male mentor, and he was absolutely right.

What do you think are the most important attributes to be successful in sales today? Do you think it has changed in the past years?

The most important attributes are, as mentioned, the ability to be honest, transparent and the ability to build a trusting relationship with your customer. To achieve this, you sometimes need to walk away from a sale if it is ultimately not going to benefit the customer or perhaps your business. This is key because you may not get that sale, but the customer will see you as a ‘trusted advisor’ and will endeavour to do business with you on other projects. I do think this has changed from times past when naively sales people would aggressively try to make the sale no matter what without much thought of the bigger picture or longer-term relationship with the client.

Any tactics that you would share on how you can grow your sales career and sales skills. 

In order to grow your sales career and skills, you must constantly be educating yourself. Educating yourself on industry and market trends (both your own and your customers). Educating yourself on macro-economic conditions of your market. Educating yourself on your product/service and how it can address challenges/needs. Educating yourself on sales communication techniques. Every day has to be a school day, as the saying goes. A colleague of mine once used the analogy that sales people educating themselves continuously are like professional athletes who need to constantly train and stay agile in order to win out on the pitch against the competition.