Embrace Your Inner Pitch: The Art of Self-Promotion
What really separates successful sales leaders from the pack is not just their sales results, but their ability to self-promote.
We’re all aware of the depressing disproportion of women at senior levels. McKinsey & Co. recently released "Women in the Workplace", a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America today. The study, which covers nearly 30,000 professionals from 118 companies, concluded that women make up about 45% of those entering the professional workforce. At the senior management level, that percentage drops to 37%, and at the C-suite level to 17%. In sales, at the top level – sales and marketing directors – the disparity between the sexes widens: 78% are male and 22% are female.
This suggests women face greater barriers to advancement at every level. Many believe that women take themselves out of the game due to lack confidence or not wanting to subject themselves to the politics, game-playing, and 24/7 work culture that has historically been necessary to ascend to leadership positions. In my experience, these factors do indeed contribute to the lack of women at the senior corporate table.
Lack of confidence
In the book ‘Womenomics: Work Less, Achieve More, Live Better,’ the authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay reference studies showing that women believe they must have 100% of the qualifications for a given position before they will apply; men, on the other hand, believe they only need to meet 50% of the requirements of a new position in order to apply.
According to Trang Chu, executive coach and founder of Tallgrass Leaders, women suffer from ingrained beliefs that include doubts about our abilities, which lead us to miss opportunities that could propel us to the top.
To begin a real process of change, Chu suggests: “Women also need to look at their own unconscious bias and move away from these potentially damaging beliefs. We must unlearn our current beliefs and relearn new ones. If there are no suitable role models in our surrounding environment, we have to create our own definition of what makes a great leader and become advocates for ourselves.”
This lack of confidence affects an array of other activities tied to becoming leaders. For example, according to KPMG’s 2015 Women’s Leadership Study, nine in 10 women said they didn’t feel confident asking for sponsors, seeking mentors (79%), asking for access to senior leadership (73%), or requesting a promotion (65%) or a raise (61%).
Lack of visibility
Leaders need to be visible in order to succeed and this is particularly relevant in sales where women work remotely and networking opportunities can clash with out-of-hours responsibilities. Nine in 10 working women believe their own perseverance will accelerate their journey to leadership, but they also overwhelmingly agree that female colleagues, role models, and professional networks play a critical role in advancing women’s leadership.
Reluctance to Negotiate
Women can be reluctant to ask for what they want. Indeed, in ‘Lean In,’ Sheryl Sandberg cites a study showing that 57% of men negotiate their salary when accepting a new position while only 7% of women try to negotiate.
This gender difference is further supported by Linda Babock and Sasha Dunbrooke, the authors of ‘Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,’ who proclaim that women lagged behind their male colleagues in salaries, bonuses, promotions, and perks simply because they just hadn’t “asked for it.” They were right. The impact of failing to negotiate when starting a new job is so substantial and difficult to overcome, according to the authors, that some researchers who study the persistence of the wage gap between men and women speculate that much of the disparity can be traced to differences in entering salaries rather than differences in raises.
You’ll never get what you’re worth if you don’t understand what makes you uniquely valuable to your company.
What to do?
If lack of confidence, lack of visibility, and a reluctance to negotiate are holding women back, what can women do to help themselves?
Take control of your brand
Annmarie Neal, author of ‘Leading From the Edge’ is well-positioned to comment on leadership, having previously held the Chief Talent Officer role in both Cisco Systems and First Data Corporation. Neal is founder of the Center of Leadership Innovation, a worldwide consulting firm that specializes in business innovation, transformation thought leadership, and organizational excellence.
According to Neal, you’ll never get what you’re worth if you don’t understand what makes you uniquely valuable to your company. She explains how having a strong sense of self - knowing who you are and the value that you desire to create in the world - is probably one of the most essential traits of leadership. An unusually astute sense of self translates into an ability to understand the world and the people around you on many levels and in many different contexts.
Dorie Clark, in ‘Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future’, advises leaders to use techniques such as the‘360 analysis’ to gain insight into how you’re currently perceived by others. Actively gather feedback from those you trust and acting upon what you learn should help to hone your leadership platform and narrative so that you can succinctly explain how your strengths contribute to the bottom line.
What do you wish for people to associate with you when they think of your name? Is there a certain subject matter in which you want to be perceived as an expert, or are there general qualities you want linked to your brand? Once you understand how you wish your brand to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic about your personal brand. Putting a strong personal brand on the frontline of your sales process can dramatically improve conversion rates and accelerate your career path.
“The best way to get what you’re worth is to have employers and clients seek you out specifically because of a strong reputation,” asserts Neal. “You can draw them to you by creating insightful content online that demonstrates your expertise and by having a ‘wingman’ (a like-minded colleague) to talk you up and sing your praises to others. You can do the same for him or her. You’ll get far fewer price objections when someone simply has to do business with you because they’ve heard so many good things about you.”
Step 1: Determine your area of expertise
Before you can establish or develop your expertise, you have to decide what you want to be known for. With a niche focus, you'll have more opportunities to prove you know what you're talking about, and while your potential audience might be slightly smaller, it will also be that much more relevant.
Step 2: Start writing and publishing
Once you know your area of focus, it's time to start building your reputation, and the best way to do that is to show off your expertise. Content marketing is the best way to build a brand and reputation online; if you can become a trusted source of information through your content, over time you'll become collectively known as the expert in your specific field.
Start your own blog and update it on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to start guest blogging on other reputable blogs. Just as a graphic designer has a portfolio they can display of their best logos and brochures, you should be creating intellectual property through blog posts, podcasts, videos, and smart tweets that demonstrates your expertise.
Step 3: Develop your social media profiles
Social media will give you visibility. Take the time to flesh out the details of your social media profiles, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and make sure they're consistently in line with your personal brand standards. Post updates regularly to build an audience.
Step 4: Speak at events
This will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise while connecting with new audiences. Events such as the Women in Sales Awards are an excellent way to demonstrate performance and build your online brand to boot.
Step 5: Network, network, network
On social media and in the real world, the key to sparking growth in your personal brand is networking. Engage with other individuals in your field, social influencers who have many connections and anybody else who could be valuable in helping you spread the word about your expertise.
Attend professional networking events to meet influencers in your area, and in the online world, engage in community discussions whenever you can. If you’re going to get involved with a professional organisation, make a point of taking a leadership role; the social proof of being seen as a leader will have exponential benefits. Sometimes the best leadership development (and subsequent exposure) comes from extra-curricular assignments that are beyond the scope of your day-to-day role.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
So, why are women leaving money on the table? In most published studies, the social cost of negotiating for pay isn’t significant for men, while it is significant for women. Is this something that can be overcome? Yes, but you need to explain to your negotiating counterpart why - in their eyes - it’s legitimate for you to be negotiating. Sandberg says that in her negotiations with Facebook, she told them, “Of course you realize that you’re hiring me to run your deal team so you want me to be a good negotiator.” Sandberg wanted Facebook to see her negotiating as legitimate because, if she didn’t negotiate, they should be worried about whether they’d made the right hire.
In the context of a negotiation, a handshake’s message can go far according to Francesco Gino, Harvard Business School Professor: “Across many cultures, shaking hands at the beginning and end of a negotiating session conveys a willingness to cooperate and reach a deal that considers the interests of the parties at the table. By paying attention to this behaviour, negotiators can communicate their motives and intentions, and better understand how the other side is approaching discussions.”
Bolster your confidence
Confidence is a crucial building block in a successful sales career, and embracing it fully will take you places you never thought possible.
Here are 6 bullet-proof strategies to get you there:
- Assess yourself honestly
Self-awareness is key, so make plans to tackle your weaknesses. If public speaking is not your forte, pursue stretch assignments that will hone your skills and don’t be afraid to invest in professional help. John Bates of www.executivespeakingsuccess.com, who has worked with senior leaders at NASA, Johnson & Johnson and TEDX organisers, runs a “Speak Like a Leader” Bootcamp online at www://speaking.executivespeakingsuccess.com.
- Find a mentor
Don't go it alone. Neal advises building yourself a network of supporting advisors from various aspects of your life, both within and outside your company, who will hold you true to your values and goals. She suggests 4-5 in number - and across a range of experiences; some who can guide you from your past ... some from your present ... and some that can pull you into your future.
- Dress for success
Great leaders respect and invest in themselves. That includes making the time to exercise, investing in a polished wardrobe and engaging the help of a stylist to choose clothes that are tailored, making you look professional and feel confident. Another tip is to dress for the job you want to have, not the one you already have.
- Be authentic
Trust your voice and your own values and bring your “authentic self” to the role. Being honest, open and trustworthy are key to a successful career in sales. Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘no,’ even to your boss. No one admires a “yes person.”
- Embrace opportunities to get exposure
Whether it’s a development program, a foreign assignment, or a speaking opportunity, be open to new opportunities and embrace as many of them as you can. It will bolster your confidence knowing you moved outside your comfort zone and excelled. It will also make it easier to say yes to that Ted Talk in the future.
- Fake it until you make it
Even Sandberg suffers from the dreaded “Imposter Syndrome,” where you feel like a fraud and ascribe your accomplishments to external factors such as luck. Anyone can suffer from this syndrome at some stage of their career; even Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization declared, “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”
The important thing is not to let Imposter Syndrome hold you back; you got where you are today due to internal factors as well, such as your drive, passion or work ethic.
While women believe that corporations must take action to help drive change and bridge the persisting gender gap, they are also acutely aware of the need to take ownership of their career development. When women take their success into their own hands, and when they take ownership of their achievements, development and ambition, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. Own it. In the words of the French writer, Simone De Beauvoir, “I have only myself.”
Published by permission of the International Journal of Sales Transformation ©2016 www.journalofsalestransformation.com
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