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Throughout the history of sales training, many different processes have been taught and utilized. A variety of authorities have created unique frameworks to capture all of the essential skills that a salesperson should possess. While many professions have a set list of standard competencies, sales is not standardized. This lack of standardization is exactly what made the gurus’ methods so essential. The sales methodology creators have taught from a place of experience, using what worked best in their respective time and industry. Though each iteration contained subtle differences, they traditionally shared a masculine viewpoint. Unfortunately, they were male writers that generally wrote for male salespeople. They didn’t take into account the unique strengths of women, or the inhibitions that women may feel.
When I started to talk about my sales coaching platform, women tended to ask day-in-the-life and authenticity questions, such as “What do I say when I enter a room?” or “How do I promote myself without sounding like a phony?”
We want authenticity! We want substance! We build our expertise by seeking the affirmations of other women along the way. However, without a standardized framework and formula for the role, or a pool of female mentors to learn from, we tend to shy away from establishing our own sales identity.
Who Are You?
Women have unique strengths that, when tapped into, have a powerful impact in selling, such as compassion, collaboration, and empathy. The vast majority of sales and leadership training has been geared toward helping women succeed by following male success techniques. We have spent years being indoctrinated into believing that fitting into a male mold is the path to success, and have therefore learned how to fit in. Research indicates that finding your unique voice and authentic self is the best path to success. Finding your true self, however, is not as easy as it seems.
Executive coaching is based on three things: knowing where you are, knowing where you want to be, and knowing how to get there. Knowing your strengths, values, and ideals will help you discern your authentic best self. Your industry and level of competitive need will also impact where you would like to be in order to succeed. In my industry, sales people need to be technical- and project management–oriented. Knowing what is expected of me, how I compare to my competition, and how acceptable my customer base is to my levels of urgency and drive helps me define my ideal.
What is Your Role?
At the same time, women have so many roles that we play. I am a mother, a wife, a teacher, a manager, a colleague, a team player, a friend, a writer, and of course a dreamer. Your true self remains part of each role that you play. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to connect with your natural identity, and I did not authentically do so until I hit my late thirties. I always felt like a chameleon, and that served me very well in a sales role. However, it always caused confusion for me in identifying where I truly existed in that picture. When I was dating in between marriages, I really felt this conflict. Having no idea what dating in my adulthood was like and really no idea of what I was looking for in a partner, I would date all types in an effort to spark some real preferences. Abraham-Hicks said that you can’t know that you want a house with closets unless you have had a house without closets. Finding out that I did not mesh well with certain types of people helped me to define who I did mesh well with. Who I did mesh well with were the types that let me be me—my authentic self, a messy and intense person who loves her closet space.
People are most engaged and satisfied when they are tapping into their strengths. Capitalizing on your strengths and shoring up (or delegating) your weaknesses is a great way to free up a tremendous amount of the energy that you spend in trying to do everything. Building up your strengths is one of the most enjoyable and valuable parts of a coaching program. As you come upon an area for learning that does not appeal to a natural strength, try to think of it as an area that you need to manage rather than own. It will help you see the big picture and focus on the areas of greatest interest where you can contribute the most. You can automate, find resources, and tap into networks that will help you shore up the rest.
I will give you an example. I score extremely high on interpersonal and emotional intelligence. I also score embarrassingly low in data and numerical areas. I can honestly say that it hurts my brain to analyze numbers. I would rather be in front of a customer then in front of numbers any day. I still had to pass accounting and finance in business school, and indeed I still need to communicate effectively in numbers. I simply ask for help when needed and take my time to absorb the information in a way that is acceptable to my resistant brain.
Identifying your values can be wildly clarifying, especially when two of your primary values are in conflict. For example, I had a sales colleague who spent years contributing to her organization in a positive way and wanted to take the next step in her career. However, a certain person would continually take credit for her work. She kept going back and forth on how she felt. On the one hand she had a high value for justice and on the other, empathy. She was so empathetic to his needs that she allowed him this injustice. In the end, she realized the value of justice was of the highest importance to her, and she left the position for one that realized that value—and paid better, to boot!
I think you will find that your successful moments engage your strengths and values, and have meaning in your network.
Next, think of the most successful woman in sales that you know. What does she do well? How does she do this? Which strengths does she have? Which values does she exhibit? Look beyond your industry now. Then, look beyond a sales role and think about other women who are successful. I often think of my son’s elementary school teacher. The way that she can facilitate meetings, teach, and treat everyone with equal respect is always an inspiration.
Now, let’s think about your ideal self. Which aspects of sales process are you strongest in? What do think you are known for? Which of these would you like to become stronger in?
Remember to always treat yourself lovingly when you ideate about your potential self, and remove any of the negative self-talk that you may encounter. If this is not an easy task for you, then I have a great trick: Imagine a beloved relative, one that has passed, is looking at you with love and seeing you as perfect. What would they say about you? How would they describe your strengths and values?
Your Authentic Self
There are many great thinkers and philosophers who have helped to bring the idea of archetypes into universal consciousness. One that is best known for this is Carl Jung. Jung believed that every story, every personality, and every character that has ever existed has assumed a role that is borrowed or worn, like an article of clothing, and then returned to the wheel of time. Kabbalah believes that each time we assume a role, or master a sephira, we evolve in a continual state of enlightenment, reincarnating through each lesson and mastering each character life by life. I’ve given a great deal of thought to this philosophy, and I ponder what my wise friend once taught me—that any belief we hold is simply a story that we tell ourselves. I have challenged myself in the stories that I believe which each progressive step that I have taken throughout my career. It was my idea to become a Director of Sales years before I actually believed that I could. My belief (or my story) changed exactly one day before I negotiated and won this title. Once you believe in your story, there is a ready pool of energy that immediately fills in the blanks. You can wear this new dress the moment you ready yourself for the role. How do you choose which one is you? How do you know which character is most authentically suited to you? That is where you can take the great Carl Jung’s advice and find your archetype.
Greek goddesses and gods provide an excellent representation of the various aspects of humanity. I have read about many of them and have found great respect for certain goddesses in particular (Athena the Wise and Demeter the Primordial Mother), but the one god that I most closely align with in my sales profession is not female—it is Hermes. Hermes is the god of communication; he was the great connector of the underworld and the world of the gods.
Rena Cohen-First is a Sales Person, Sales Director, and Sales Coach who has succeeded in the Food Ingredient Industry for the past 17 years, selling to the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the world. She has taught online business and leadership classes as an adjunct instructor, studied Professional and Executive Coaching, completed her MBA and Served in the US Army. She resides in San Diego with her 2 children and husband. Follow her on twitter @