A strong sales team is vital to the growth of any small business. But what should you as a business owner be doing to ensure that everyone on your sales staff is performing to the best of their abilities? In this episode, Gene Marks and Cynthia Barnes, founder of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals, discuss how small business owners can help every member of their sales team reach their full potential through proper support and the right sales approaches.

Podcast Key Highlights

  • Why Do Female Sales Professionals Face Different Challenges Than Their Male Counterparts?
    • Most traditional sales approaches were created by men at a time when men made up the entire sales force.
    • While there is nothing inherently wrong with these traditional methods, having sales approaches that not only address the specific challenges faced by women, but also amplify their innate strengths, would help them reach their full potential at a faster rate.
  • What Do Small Business Owners Need to Consider When Hiring Female Sales Professionals?
    • Ability
    • Aptitude
    • Different Sales Approaches
  • Why Should I Hire a Female Sales Rep?
    • One benefit of having women on your sales team is that women sell differently, which can sometimes be a better approach depending on who their buyer is.
    • Since 57% of the world is female and most clients want to do business with someone who looks
      like them, it makes sense to hire a salesperson who can appeal to that demographic.
    • Because women tend to be more nurturing and empathetic, they have an advantage during the developmental phase of the client-salesperson relationship.
  • What Should Business Owners Look For in a Good Salesperson?
    • As a business owner, you need to look for someone who is a better salesperson than you; doing so gives you one less responsibility to worry about and enables you to trust them to do what they were hired for.
    • Make it a priority to look for salespeople with qualities that you can’t teach, such as a strong work ethic, character, integrity, and drive.
    • Although competitiveness is a good quality to look for in a salesperson, using verbiage such as “greed” or “hustle” may turn off individuals who are less interested in that top dollar and are more focused on making enough money to help others.
  • What Should I Do If I Have a Salesperson Who Isn’t Performing as Well as Expected?
    • The first thing you need to do when a salesperson isn’t living up to your expectations is to find out the reason behind it.
    • Your team may not feel comfortable coming to you with the root cause of their poor performance so it’s your job to create a safe environment where they feel comfortable divulging their problems; then, approach your employees with empathy and ask them how you can help.
    • Reevaluate your expectations; just because they’re not performing the way you’d hoped doesn’t mean you’re not still getting an ROI.
    • Sometimes it’s simply better to part ways if an individual has outgrown their position and you are unable to meet their needs.
  • What Are the Best Practices for Compensating Your Sales Staff?
    • Straight commission is great for the company, but not necessarily for the salesperson.
    • You need to provide both a base pay and commission when you pay your sales team because it’s impossible for them to perform well if their basic needs aren’t being met.
    • Consider your future goals in terms of generational wealth and then reverse engineer that.
    • Another option is to have the sales staff on a draw system, where they draw against the base knowing that they’re going to pay it back in the end.
  • What’s the Best Way to Manage Your Sales Team?
    • Set up a weekly meeting with your sales team to assess what their goals are and how they’re progressing. This approach not only puts the accountability on both them and you, but it also gives you a structure for how the meetings are going to work.
    • If they’re not any closer to their goals within five weeks, it’s time to identify the problem and propose some possible solutions.
  • What is Bounce Back Ability and Why Is It Important?
    • Bounce back ability is the resilience that a person demonstrates after they’ve encountered a setback.
    • Every salesperson needs this level of perseverance due to the sheer amount of rejection they will inevitably face in their chosen profession.
  • What Should Sales Professionals Do after They Lose a Deal?
    • Start with an objective reality check of what has happened.
    • Then, make a T chart of what you did well and where you can
      improve. Consider where there are opportunities that you can improve to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
    • Lastly, govern yourself accordingly and get back on the phone.



The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

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Gene: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. Thank you so much for joining us again. I am speaking today with Cynthia Barnes. Cynthia is the founder of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals.

Gene: Cynthia, first of all, thank you so much for joining.

Cynthia: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation.

Gene: Yeah. I’m glad that you’re here as well. I should have asked you before we started recording, where are you based out of?

Cynthia: I’m in Raleigh, North Carolina. What about you?

Gene: Very nice place. Well, we’re doing this in the studios in Hartford, but I’m actually from Philadelphia. So that’s where I live, but Raleigh’s beautiful, North Carolina. I have to say, if I were to pick any state to move to, I’m not kidding, if I didn’t want to live in Philadelphia, I think North Carolina’s absolutely beautiful.

Cynthia: Well, you got to stay with those Eagles, they are on fire. So…

Gene: They are.

Cynthia: Yeah.

Gene: We’re recording this recently after the Phillies just lost the playoffs, so the city’s been mourning now. But you know what? Let’s not talk about Philadelphia sports, because it’s going to depress me, let’s talk about something that’s more interesting, which is you and sales as well. So first of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and also why you founded the National Association of Women’s Sales Professionals and what it’s all about.

Cynthia: Okay, let’s see. I am a sales person at heart. I’ve been selling since Girl Scout cookies were $1.50 a box, and I love sales. Sales to me is influencing decision-makers, whether they’re internal customers, external customers, or my 11-year-old niece to say yes. So influencing decision-makers to say yes is in my blood, it’s ingrained in who I am. I actually love it.

Cynthia: I’ve been selling everything from freight brokerage through third party logistics companies to hair club for men hair systems. So, I’ve sold a lot and a lot of different things and I love sales. In 2016, I thought about going into another vertical, because I was kind of bored with what I was doing, and I said, “I can go to another vertical, learn how to sell something else, but am I really going to be fulfilled?”

Cynthia: So, I thought the true measure of my success when I get to the end of my days is not going to be how many times I reach the top 1%, it’s actually, I believe, going to be measured by how many others I helped reach the top 1%. So, I decided to found the NAWSP as a way to help women in sales reach the top 1%, whatever that looked like for them.

Cynthia: So we provide our members with training created by women for women, development, professional development, which teaches the mindset of the top performers, mentoring, coaching, and access to employers who are laser-focused on helping them achieve the top 1%. So, that’s…

Gene: Yeah, that makes complete sense. Why women? I mean, tell me why you think that a woman sales professional may have some unique challenges as compared to their male counterparts?

Cynthia: That’s a great question. Traditional sales approaches were created by men for men at a time when men made up the entire sales force. Nothing wrong with them. I reached the top 1% using them and so did a lot of my female colleagues. My hypothesis though back in 2016 was, regardless of the sales approaches, if we had sales approaches that addressed the unique challenges we face as women while amplifying our innate strengths, how much faster could we reach the top 1% in comparison to those sales approaches that were traditional-based?

Cynthia: So that was my hypothesis, and what we have found is that when we address those unique challenges, women can overcome those obstacles easier, faster and navigate that top 1% even better.

Gene: Okay, so I run a business outside of Philly, so we have 10 employees and I have a couple of salespeople that work for me, and I’m also in sales as well. Our audience are business owners as well, Cynthia, okay, so there is a vastly growing number of female sales professionals that are out there.

Gene: What considerations should a business owner be making when hiring a female sales professional? In other words, what more do you think, what advantage does a female sales professional can bring to a company that may be a male sales professional doesn’t? As a person hiring, what kind of considerations should I be making? Why would I want to hire a female sales rep versus a male sales rep?

Cynthia: I think we have to look at ability, we have to look at aptitude, and we have to also realize that different styles, different approaches are not wrong. So just because a seller, female or male, sells differently than what you would, that doesn’t mean that their approach is wrong. So, that’s the first thing we have to understand is that different does not mean wrong. As long as your seller is ethical, moral, and legal in their style and approach, how they get to the end result really shouldn’t matter as long as they’re maintaining your brand. The advantage of having women on your team is women sell differently and sometimes it’s a better approach based upon who their buyer is.

Gene: Right.

Cynthia: So if 57% of the world is female, it makes sense that people want to do business with those who look like them.

Gene: Right.

Cynthia: More and more buyers are saying, “Do you not have any sales reps who look like me?”

Gene: Right.

Cynthia: So if your sales staff is one race, one gender, and you want to diversify or reach a whole new market, you’ve got to take into consideration what if they’re looking for someone who looks like them, who shares their experiences, who understands their challenges? Because as a black woman, I may or may not be able to identify with a white man when it comes to building my business. I have hurdles and challenges that a white man most likely will not encounter.

Gene: Yeah, it’s a great answer. We’re learning that, and we’ve been learning that, particularly recently that having that diversification is super important. There’s good business reasons for doing that, because clearly, like you said, I mean, if there’s customers that we’re reaching out to, people really like to be sold and also relate to people that they feel comfortable with or that they know, and that’s just being human.

Gene: I do a lot of writing and I was doing a piece about the funeral industry, which has had this significant growth in female owners of funeral homes, right?

Cynthia: Really?

Gene: Which kind of fascinated me and then it kind of makes sense, because females tend to be more nurturing or more empathetic, and I think those are traits of a salesperson that I think a female salesperson can bring to a company. Does that make sense?

Cynthia: It does, it does. Sales has become, in my opinion, very transactional. We’re trying to find the ROI of every single sales training. Those of us who grew up in the sales arena of developing relationships where we would meet a buyer or prospect for coffee, we would take them out to lunch, we would stop by their office, that face-to-face knee-to-knee time, we’ve gotten away from that in this virtual world.

Cynthia: Yes, we had to because of COVID. Now that we’re able to meet back face-to-face, people haven’t taken advantage of that. Women are nurturers. We have high levels of empathy, and I can totally understand where a woman could thrive in the funeral industry, because if anybody needs empathy, it is someone who has just lost a loved one.

Gene: Yeah, I agree. I agree. All right, so let’s put aside genders right now and let’s talk about straight sale. Okay, sure. So I’m looking to hire a salesperson. What should I be looking for in a good salesperson as an employer? What traits do you feel like when you’re looking to hire somebody, what do you think stands out to you that this person is going to be good at their job?

Cynthia: First of all, I want them to be better at sales than me. I can teach them my product, my service, no problem. There are certain things I can’t teach, like work ethic, character, integrity. I look for those things and I look for drive. There’s an old saying that A managers hire A employees and B managers hire C employees. So as an A manager, I want to make sure that my staff is better at their respective role than I am because it takes the lift off of me and enables me to trust them to do what I hired them for. So the first thing I look for are those character traits.

Gene: I’m going to add into that as well. Tell me if you think I’m wrong in this, but I look for greed. I like salespeople that want to make money. I actually think it’s a good thing when salespeople, even prospective people that want to hire are beat me up on compensation or what their commission is or how much they’re going to make and what their quota is. I think that’s a good thing for a sale. I want my salespeople to be greedy. I want them to make more money. Does that make sense?

Cynthia: It does. It does. And as long as you realize not everyone is motivated by that top dollar. Some people want to make enough money to be able to help others. So using words like greed and hustle and crush it, that may turn off some people who say, “You know what? I really want to come in and make a difference.” Yes, I’m highly competitive because you want salespeople who are competitive. We just have to be careful around the verbiage we use to attract the male or female and find out. We have to ask enough questions. What is it that you want? They may want money to change the world. They may want money for a Lamborghini. But as leaders, when we find out what that drive is, then we’re able to feed that drive and motivate them through that.

Gene: Yeah, that’s a great point. And the other thing is that I say I certainly, I do want a greedy salesperson. You’re right, maybe the verbiage needs to be worked on, but at the same time, as greedy as I want somebody to be, you mentioned earlier, they need to have character. They need to have ethics. The last thing I want is a salesperson selling a customer products that aren’t right for that customer just because they want to make a commission, and we all get that. So there’s a limit to the greed thing. You know what I mean?

Cynthia: Absolutely.

Gene: If I have a salesperson, Cynthia, that’s not performing at the level that I would like him or her to be performing at, what suggestions do you have for improving that?

Cynthia: Find out why.

Gene: Okay.

Cynthia: Your team may not feel comfortable coming to you with the root cause of their poor performance. So we have to create a safe environment where they feel comfortable divulging what the problem is. There are times when socioeconomic events may cause us to underperform. There may be trouble at home. There may be so many different factors of why someone is not performing to the level that we know that they’re capable of. The best thing we can do as managers is put away the quota hat and put on the empathetic hat and ask, “Hey, what’s going on? I noticed that this is this and this. Know that you can talk to me about anything. What is said here, stays here and know that I’m here to help.” If you approach someone that way, they’re more likely, maybe not, not in that conversation, but they’re more likely to be vulnerable and say, this is what I need, and let them know that you are willing and able to provide them with tactics, strategies, tools to help them overcome the unique challenges they face, regardless of gender, regardless of race. Be that friend that wants to help them.

Gene: That’s great advice. It’s funny, I have a client that has a salesperson who is, she’s like a middle-aged salesperson. They hired her five, six years ago. She’s not producing what they were hoping that she would produce. However, so the owners of the business were frustrated at that, but then they did take a step back and looked at her numbers as well. We’re like, we’re still getting a good return on investment with her. Like, okay, she’s not at that certain level, but based on what we’re paying her and based on the amount of sales she’s bringing and the margins that she’s generating, it’s still worth it. So just to add to your comments about finding out why, it’s also a matter of setting expectations, but also taking a step back and seeing if that salesperson is still generating profits for your company and it might be good enough for your business.

Cynthia: It might be and it might not be. Sometimes we outgrow a position just like we outgrow our friends, people outgrow their partners. We’ve got to figure out, well, what is the real problem? Does she need training that is supplemental to the training she received? Does she need a different culture? Whatever she needs, if you can’t provide it or you’re unwilling to provide it, then maybe the best thing to do is to part ways so she can go and find something that fuels her soul and you can get someone in that seat who is more in line with your goals.

Gene: Fair enough. What are your thoughts on paying salespeople, Cynthia? I mean, are you a straight commission person? Do you believe in salary and commission? If you’re going to hire somebody for your company, or if you’re advising a client and they’re looking to hire a sales professional or a sales team, give me some of your thoughts on compensation for salespeople.

Cynthia: I like having base plus commission because straight commission is great for the company, not necessarily for the salesperson. Life happens, we all go through ebbs and flows. If a sales professional does not have their basic needs met, i.e., the mortgage, rent, car note, all of those things that keep them up at night, if they’re not being paid, they will not perform for you. They can’t because their foundation is cracked. So by providing them with the base, no matter what it is, at least hopefully it’s enough for them to say, you know what? My basic needs are met. Now I can aspire to be more, but you can’t go to someone and say, well, I know you’re a million dollar producer if they’re three months behind on their car note.

Gene: Right. Yep. That makes sense. That makes sense. And when you mentioned commission, do you recommend to clients, should people pay commission off of top line sales or based on gross profits? Do you think that there’s sort of a sweet spot?

Cynthia: I think it depends on the company and don’t do what your neighbor’s doing. Do what is in line with your goals and future goals. So seven generations from now, what is going to help you get there? And then reverse engineer that. Sometimes we think of 30, 60, 90 days, five year plan. No, you’ve got to think about generational wealth. What is it that we are going to do today that is going to result in that seven generation wealth plan?

Gene: Yep, that makes sense. I was doing a piece for the Philly Inquirer a couple of months ago, and I interviewed some sales managers about this topic, about compensation, and one of them said something really interesting that I’d love your thoughts on. He said for his, and he’s been running sales teams for, I don’t don’t know, 20 years, 25 years. He said that the rule of thumb that he has is that the quicker the close time for the sale, the higher commission and lower base. So in other words, if you’re selling a product, you mentioned this all depends on the company that you are, the products that you’re selling. So if you’re selling a product that has quick close time, say you meet a customer and you can actually close them that day or in a week or whatever, which means there’s a little bit more higher volume.

Gene: He says you could pay a lower base salary and then just give them more on commission. Whereas, if you’re running a company that has a much longer sales duration, say you’re selling high-end equipment where maybe you’re only selling a few deals a year and it takes you 12 to 18 months to close a deal, well, in that case you should have a much higher base salary and a lower commission because people have to pay the bills in the meantime. What are your thoughts on that? I mean, that kind of made sense to me. I’m calling anything to add to that?

Cynthia: It does make sense. It does make sense. It goes back to that providing what they need to survive while they get ramped up or close the deal. And you can also have them on a draw system, where they draw against the base knowing that they’re going to pay it back in the end.

Gene: Makes sense. Yep, that does make sense. Okay, other questions. I have so many more questions for you, so I apologize. It’s fascinating to talk to you. Metrics. Okay, good sales teams that I have come across have, they have pipeline reports out of their customer relationship management system or CRM system. They do forecasts, they have open quotes, they’re managing activities. I mean, I see this all over.

Gene: One of my clients is a sales manager and he’s looking at all this scheduled appointments that his sales team has, and then he’s going into the minutia what their activities are. I have other people that are just the opposite. They just let their salespeople do what they ought do, and it’s all their they’re month end numbers that kind of proves it.

Gene: So number one is how do you approach managing a sales team? Are you more of a laissez-faire, let these people go or you more of a micromanager and connected to that, is there any specific sort of reports or metrics as a sales manager that you think that sales managers should be using when managing a team of professionals?

Cynthia: I think there’s a fine line between being a coach and being a manager. The manager looks at the numbers, the coach looks at the development of the teammate to be able to develop them to become a better seller. Yes, we can take a lot of time looking at the numbers and the metrics, but what is that really getting us? That’s getting us awareness. We know where we sit. We can do forecasting P&L reports, we can look at projections. I think the majority of our time needs to be spent on coaching our staff to become better sellers. The numbers are going to be the numbers. But when you sit down in that individual business meeting with them on a weekly basis, I would love to see you say, “Well, who are your type five prospects and where are they in the sales cycle? If you bring that same five every single week for a month and you’re no further ahead with any of them, then there’s a problem. You can identify, well, what’s the problem in that.

Cynthia: When your teammate, your subordinate comes to you and says, “Here are my top five. It’s also their responsibility to say, here’s where I want to go with my book of business and a follow-up is here’s where I need your help.” So if you set the standard that they need to come to the table, their weekly meeting with the top five prospects that they’re working on, where they want to go, what are their aspirations, whether it’s career aspirations or money or whatever it is, and then they need to tell you where they need the help. That puts the accountability on them and on you. And you have a structure of how the meetings are going to work, and you can look at forward progress. But going over the numbers, the numbers, not everybody responds to numbers.

Gene: You’re right. You’re right. And it’s so true, some of the salespeople that I meet or the sales managers that I meet are more accountants than sales managers, where they are just getting in their pipeline reports and then their closed deals during the week and just analyzing it based on the data. And I get that the data is important. People say we need to be data-driven, but salespeople do need to be coached, and it’s kind of the 20/80 rule. There’s this 20% of salespeople that they need that extra sort of TLC. They can be really superstars, but you can’t just come back to them and say like, well, your numbers are behind Cynthia’s numbers. You know what I mean? That’s not helping anybody. It’s like, okay, well, what deals are you working on and how can I as a manager, help you close those deals and get more deals?

Cynthia: Yes.

Gene: Cynthia, what is bounce back ability?

Cynthia: Bounce back ability is the way, it’s a mindset. It’s how we in a profession full of setbacks, how do we look up, get up and level up?

Gene: Yeah.

Cynthia: Because sales is the only profession I know where you are rejected nine out of 10 times. Yet as sales professionals, we get up the next day and we go back for more rejection. If we’re not careful, then all of that rejection can affect us in negative ways.

Cynthia: So bounce back ability is your ability to take setbacks and use them, turn them into ways to thrive. Aaron Rogers, for example, first play of the game, tore his Achilles. Instead of him tossing in the hat and saying, “You know what, I’m done. This is a sign from the universe.” He’s doing five hours a day of physical therapy because he says he wants to come back this season. That is a mindset in a trait of top performers. They don’t let their circumstances define them. They define the circumstances, and that’s bounce back ability.

Gene: That is a great answer and you’re so right about being in the profession of sales like I am. It is… You face rejection quite a lot. One of the ways that I found to try and temper that is the more deals that you’ve got potentially, potential deals, the more you can absorb losses. If you have two deals you’re working on and then you lose one, you’re like, oh my god, that’s half of my deals. Right? You’ve got 20 deals in the pipeline and you lose one. You’re like, okay, well, I’ve got 19 more that I’m following up with. That’s a form of bounce back ability, isn’t it? Deal with it.

Cynthia: It is. It’s controlling the controllables. Just like you said, if one falls off out of 20, okay, that’s going to sting a little bit. But if one falls off out of two, that could derail your quarter.

Gene: Yes.

Cynthia: So have more irons in the fire and nurture them as if they are your most important client.

Gene: It’s funny because you say, we said at the beginning of this conversation how sales impacts all of us, not only in professional, but our personal lives. And I actually talked about that with my kids and they graduated college and they were putting out applications for jobs, because I learned it through my own sales experience of like, listen, you want to have applications out to 30 companies because you’re just going to get like 5% of them. So if you just focus on one company and put all your eggs in one basket, you really are…

Gene: And then it’s a mental health issue, and you just do a down and about, and that’s it. So speaking of that, and then we’re running out of time here, but on the mental health side, Cynthia, I mean, you talk about bounce back ability and rejection in the world of sales. What advice do you have for a sales professional when they lose that deal, even if they have 30 more in the pipeline? What advice do you have to get yourself back up on your feet like Aaron Rogers did and get back in the game again? Do you have any sort of tools that you’d like to share?

Cynthia: I have systems.

Gene: Okay.

Cynthia: And James Clear, the author of “Atomics Habits” says that you don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems, and if you don’t have systems in place, you are subjected to the emotion of losing a deal, making a deal and making decisions based upon an emotional state is or can be detrimental. So when a deal falls through, I have to make sure that my mindset does not go down the rabbit hole of negativity.

Cynthia: So the first thing I do is I say, okay, reality check a deal, fell through. No emotion, it is what it is. Then I go through, let’s make a T chart of what I did well and where I can improve. Where are the opportunities I can improve to make sure that it doesn’t happen again to the best of my ability? That reality check lets me know, hey, I did do some things really well because my mind is going to tell me, and my inner critic is on my shoulder saying, you’re not good at this. This is a wrong profession for you. Just yammer, yammer, yammer. When I write down what I did well, that helps me get a better grasp of reality. Will there be opportunities for me to do better next time? Of course. But taking that time to actually to sit down and look at it on paper, it’s very, very helpful.

Cynthia: Then I govern myself accordingly and I get back on the phone. They say, the best time to get a new customer is right after you’ve landed a deal because you are invincible. You feel on top of the world. Getting back on the phone after you’ve lost a deal or heard a no is so hard. But you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to have that discipline. Is it comfortable? No. Is it necessary? Yes. So if you have a system, whatever that looks like for you, that’s what works for me. But I get right back on the phone and I make a phone call.

Gene: Cynthia Barnes is the founder of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals. This is your website, Cynthia is Cynthia-barnes.com. That’s where we can reach you, correct?

Cynthia: Yes, yes, and also on LinkedIn.

Gene: And also on LinkedIn as well. So if you search on LinkedIn, again, it’s linkedin.com/Cynthia Barnes. You’ll find her there, or you can search as well. Cynthia, thank you, great advice. Next time we talk, and I hope there is next time, I need some selling advice and closing deals and just sort of black and white in the trenches type of sales strategies we can talk about. But this information has been great for all of us that are running businesses and looking to hire people and pay people and manage sales teams. So thank you very much for your time.

Cynthia: Thank you. Can’t wait to come back.

Gene: Good. We’ll look forward to having you back, everybody. You have been watching or listening to the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. If you need any advice or tips or help in running your business, please visit u at sba.thehartford.com or smallbizahead.com. Thank you very much for joining us. We’ll see you again next time. Take care.

Gene: Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. You like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your ratings reviews and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. So thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again soon.

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