Women Rainmakers on Wall Street:
Risk-taking, reinventing, connecting –
all keys to successful sales career
Why aren’t there more women in sales roles among Wall Street firms? What are the missed opportunities – and where are the roadblocks? What are the keys to success?
On October 20, a panel of four distinguished women executives shared their views on these questions, drawing on their experiences at several of the nation’s leading financial services companies. The executives were part of an event called “Women Rainmaking: Solutions for Success,” which was hosted by the Wall Street Women’s Alliance (WSWA), and co-sponsored by Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. and Thomson Reuters.
Sharing their perspectives with more than 150 attendees at the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square, New York City, were: Susan Gammage, head of New Business Transactions Sales, at Thomson Reuters; Frieda Lewis, managing director of Global Relationship Management, and chief diversity officer, at Broadridge; Tracy Nickl, head of Relationship Development for BNY Mellon’s Asset Servicing Americas region; and Sophia Yen, head of U.S. Insurance Strategy & Operations at KPMG LLP. Moderating the panel was Bobbi Rebell, author and anchor and columnist at Thomson Reuters.
The panelists highlighted a significant opportunity for women to pursue sales roles as a way to advance their careers and gain valuable skills. Many financial services companies, they said, are actively striving to bring more women into their sales organizations. Yet, many women may not think they have the right skills, they noted, or were turned off by the traditional image of sales teams as a “men’s club” or overly focused on the “hard sell.” The four panelists encouraged attendees to take the leap into sales, offering specific advice and insights:
· Sales is not about fast-talking, but rather smart-listening – A good salesperson takes the time to understand what the client needs and to build a trusting relationship, which is the opposite of a product push. Frieda Lewis noted that women tend to be good listeners, following their instincts to uncover the client’s problems: “They can pick up on the subtleties, which makes them more effective in sales.”
· Women possess core attributes for sales excellence – Tracy Nickl described personal attributes that have proven to “separate the best from the rest” among salespeople, including good problem-solving, being curious to fully understand motives, being thorough (to follow up and follow through), being thoughtful to capture relevant facts and offer meaningful alternatives, and pursuing work in a structured, detailed way. “Do women tend to have these traits? Yes!” Nickl said.
· Take the risk, especially if it makes you nervous – Several panelists described scenarios in which they were not sure they had the skills to succeed in a new role, or were cautioned by others to stick to familiar paths. Susan Gammage noted that men often apply for jobs even if they don’t meet the qualifications, while women are less likely to apply if they can’t check off every skill on the posting. “Go for it. You have to believe in yourself!” she said. Other panelists advised attendees to say yes to the opportunities that seem most scary and that, in fact, that the absence of fear might mean that you’re not pushing the envelope quite enough.
· Seize the initiative – and be persistent – Sophia Yen described once seizing the chance to make a board presentation, which later led her being on the board. Don’t hesitate to let people know that you are ready for the next opportunity – to reinvent yourself and grow. “If you’re not in a fast-track program, keep on asking until they let you in,” she advised.
· No time for networking? Make the time! – “The last thing people want to do at the end of a hard day is to go out to an event and network,” said Frieda Lewis. “But, particularly in sales, networking is really important. Pick one or two events a month – such as tonight’s panel discussion – and go!”
· Build success through both line and staff experience – Linear career paths may feel comfortable, but diverse, complementary experiences can help you get to the top. Tracy Nickl described how her career progressed by alternating between staff roles and profit-and-loss oriented roles. “You must be deliberate in choosing to move from line to staff, and vice versa. Take advantage of formal training, but also be willing to take a risk,” she said.
· Change your perspective, and your team’s – In sales, it’s easy to adhere too closely to methodologies, to “only see the horse path,” as Susan Gammage describes it. “If you or your team hit a roadblock, try to see it from a different perspective – not just straight on. This leads to new solutions and learning.”
· Seek sponsors and mentors – and pay it forward – All of the panelists spoke about how their careers have been helped by sponsors (those who endorse you for a post) and mentors (those who provide coaching and advice). Sophia Yen also urged attendees to build a personal “board of directors” to provide objective advice and strong support throughout their careers. The panelists challenged attendees to “pay it forward” as well, devoting their time and energy to sponsoring, mentoring or guiding other women in their careers.
The Wall Street Women’s Alliance (WSWA) is an inter-firm network of networks. Through networking events and advocacy, the group strives to create a culture that enables women to advance to c-suite roles in the financial services industry. Research has shown that companies that have more women in senior executive positions tend to have stronger financial performance, brands and reputations.
For more information about WSWA, visit: http://www.wallstreetwomensalliance.com.