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Are Women in Sales Less Trainable?


Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

woman in salesBefore I get into trouble for the title of this blog, let me 1.) explain from where it comes and 2.) direct you to another of my articles where I wrote that women make better salespeople than men.

Objective Management Group recently evaluated a sales force of 24 women.  While working on the analysis, one member of our staff remarked that it seemed that "women were far less trainable than men".  I asked her to explain and she said that the women, most with names like Heather, Allie and Alana, were not trainable, while there were only a few women that were trainable, Agnes, Ruth and Beverly.

In considering what she said, it occurred to me that the problem had little to do with their gender and much more to do with their ages.  Based on popular names over the years, Agnes, Ruth and Beverly were probably older and more likely to be career salespeople.  The larger group, all representing untrainable female salespeople, were probably much younger and more likely to be undecided about their future in sales.

So, this blog's title really could have been, "Are Young Women in Sales Less Trainable?"  But, it goes even deeper than that, requiring an understanding of the difference between a trainable and untrainable salesperson.

Trainable salespeople have both strong desire for success in sales and strong commitment to do whatever is necessary to achieve sales success.  When either of those elements is found to be lacking, the salesperson will not have enough incentive to change.  When the incentive to change is lacking, you will observe salespeople resisting the sales training lessons, being disruptive or not participating in training sessions, and claiming that the training initiative is wasting everyone's time.  Why do executives protect these salespeople?

When executives recognize the same things that we identify for them, it's a confirmation.  However, when we identify a hidden issue that is surprising to executives, many simply don't want to believe it.  They are in denial!  After all, how can a top performer lack desire and/or commitment?!

There are many explanations for this scenario, but I'll share the three most common:

  1. A CHANGE - When they were top performers (a "lagging" indicator), they did not have a desire and/or commitment problem.  Therefore, this is is a new development ("forward looking" indicator) requiring further exploration by the executive.  In most cases, executives learn about new personal issues, changing goals and values, and/or other problems of which they were not previously aware.
  2. TALENT AMONG IMPOSTERS - The salespeople in question managed to achieve top performance, despite their commitment/desire issues, because they possessed much better skills in comparison to the other salespeople.
  3. LONGEVITY - The salespeople in question managed to achieve top performance, despite their commitment/desire issues, because they have been in the industry so long and they have developed strong relationships with customers who like them and want to give them business.

Ultimately, the issue has nothing to do with gender or even age.  It's simply about commitment and desire for sales success and whether a company has managed to hire the right salespeople in the right roles.

© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Apr 03, 2012 @ 10:27 AM


I fully agree! I've seen it hundreds of times before and usually management protects them and doesn't invest in those who actually do have the desire and commitment to succeed. That is why the turnover of sales people are sometime so high in certain companies.

posted on Tuesday, April 03, 2012 at 12:36 PM by Jacques

Phew... for a minute there I thought this was going to be sexist. It turns out it is only ageist (not sure if that is a word). 
I agree with the final point, and I think our sales managers have always been very consistent on the fact that passion, commitment and determination are things we have to hire because we can't train them. 

posted on Wednesday, April 04, 2012 at 4:13 AM by Ray Lincolnhol

As someone who coaches women entrepreneurs and often gets involved in the hiring, training and firing of sales people, my experience is that all sales people fall into 3 categories: born-to-sell, learn-to-sell, couldn't sell water in the desert. With that said gender doesn't come into it and age does only because those that are still in sales at a later age were more than likely in the first category - born-to-sell. My opinion is that trainers need to reach out to young women in a different way and wilol mhave greater success if they provide mentors in the process.

posted on Wednesday, April 04, 2012 at 5:54 AM by Vicki Donlan

@Vicki, good points, it is not gender--it is professional desire, skills and those points made above. In my life as a successful sales woman, I have had only one who actually knew how to motivate and encourage--in the larger companies, often it's a "churn and burn mentality" in regards to sales people. The inability to truly reward an outstanding sales person consistently is directly proportional to the CEO's ego signing paychecks, and if he starts to see that number get too large, bells go off, if not in his head in the accounting department. I can't tell you how many times I have seen great salespeople--male or female either fired or demotivated through some inflated northeast growth curve, increasing goals beyond what could be considered attainable. This topic is really beyond gender.

posted on Monday, April 09, 2012 at 5:38 PM by Karen Popp

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