Meet the woman striving to bridge the diversity gap in sales
Is women in sales a missed opportunity? Long-time salesperson Chitra Singh thinks so. Chitra addresses this with her platform Sales Womentoring, which mentors women in sales skills.
Saturday October 08, 2022,
6 min Read
Unconscious biases and preferences have led to a glaring gap in sales roles, with no diversity in the domain, especially for women.
There have been plenty of discussions about women in leadership, technology, science, and more, but when it comes to sales–there are more questions than answers.
Perhaps, this is why October is now marked as Women in Sales Month.
Yes, there is such a thing, and vouching for it is Chitra Singh, Founder of—touted as India's first women-only sales focussed community—as she sits down for a chat with HerStory.
“The philosophy behind Sales Womentoring is simple. I want to encourage women in corporates or universities to proactively choose sales roles, remain in sales, and excel to reach leadership positions,” says 53-year-old Chitra, who has had over 30 years of corporate experience as a sales professional in various banks.
She also wants to enable women entrepreneurs to overcome their fear of selling, and sell confidently. “Besides, I also want to focus on removing this notion that sales as a profession is not suitable for women.”
Chitra says the platform is trying to focus on increasing the talent pipeline of women in sales and address the issue of women salespersons opting out around mid-carrier into so-called safer roles. “This simply leads to not enough women sales leaders, and that has to change,” she emphasises.
Chitra launched the Sales Womentoring platform in 2021 to “elevate and position sales as a profession of pride and choice,” as she puts it, adding that she slipped into sales accidentally, only to witness a phenomenal growth in the domain.
Recalling her early days, Chitra says that, as a science graduate, she had very few options. In the early 90s—fresh out of college—she joined Johnson & Johnson in Mumbai as a medical representative, and met with doctors and chemists and learnt to sell to discerning customers.
“I sometimes made calls at 11 pm and waded through knee-deep water in Mumbai rains. I learnt all I know about selling in those first few crazy but immensely fulfilling years,” Chitra recalls, who later pursued an MBA and joined ICICI Bank as one of the first women salespersons.
After eight years, she left the bank as the regional sales head and later worked at Kotak Mahindra Bank, Jana Small Finance Bank, and as an independent sales consultant before deciding to launch the Sales Womentoring platform.
“Throughout my corporate career, I came across many women leaders, but when it came to women in sales leadership, there was no one I could look up to. That's when I realised it's time we encouraged more women to be in sales,” Chitra says.
However, that idea went into the backseat for a while, as she decided she needed to make more money before starting up. That’s another thing that drives Chitra — encouraging women to be financially independent to have the freedom of choice in their personal and professional lives.
She remarks that women often stay in toxic relationships and workplaces because they think that they have no other choice.
What started as a solo initiative, the Sales Womentoring platform now has the support of 30 mentors from around the world.
“I met them all on LinkedIn, and we all wanted to work towards the same objective of getting more women to sell confidently. Be it entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, students, or corporate employees — we want to help them get over their fear or inhibitions,” Chitra highlights.
These mentors include Priya Sachdev, a long-time sales practitioner; Neetu Bansal, a business coach; Manish Tiwari, an expert in B2B Sales and a coaching enthusiast; Tanushree Nair, a leadership coach, and more.
The community offers two membership plans — a basic free membership plan and a premium one. The basic membership entitles members to group mentoring (by the core group of mentors), experiential learning, and networking.
“Members can access webinars held every fortnight, which are part of experiential learning and free workshops. For our paid networking events, members with the basic membership plan have to pay additionally,” informs Chitra.
The premium plan is priced at Rs 6,000 per annum and includes power mentoring sessions — six sessions with a mentor of choice and six free sessions. Members who are not on the premium plan can avail of these individual sessions for Rs 1,299 per session, says Chitra, who also plans to launch certification programmes soon.
The programmes are open to all women, irrespective of their occupations, and do not have eligibility criteria.
According to Rekha Pandey, Sales Leader and Client Partner at a corporate, and one of the women who benefitted from the Sales Womentoring platform, the programme helped her gain immense confidence to apply for leadership positions in her organisation.
“I had been looking after key accounts for a while, and when the opportunity for leadership roles opened up, I was not sure if I would be up to it. That’s when I joined Womentoring, and the mentorship and support I received there helped me have that confidence,” Rekha says.
She adds that she is still in touch with the community and always seeks out mentors and counsel whenever faced with challenges.
Entrepreneur Ishita is a holistic beauty and wellness guide and founder of Arezou—an aromatherapy-inspired self-care brand. Her work involves speaking to customers regularly, educating them about aromatherapy, and selling them the brand’s services/products.
“Being part of this community makes me feel empowered and open to the idea of selling confidently. The community provided me with that much-needed support of breaking out of my inhibitions, being proud of what I do, speaking about my work confidently, and marketing/selling my services unabashedly,” says Ishita.
Chitra’s constant advice to the women on board is — a salesperson is like an actor — you show up, deliver your lines, provide value to the audience and customers, and don't make excuses.
She adds, “That's the first lesson I learned: we are not here to make excuses. We are here to add value.”
Moving forward, Chitra plans to start generating revenue by tying up with corporates to sponsor programmes for their women employees. More recently, she also tied up with the women-centric jobs platform Jobs for Her to upskill and train women in sales skills and build a talent pipeline.
Speaking on the strengths that women bring to the sales table, Chitra says, “The listening-to-speaking ratio in sales has to be 60:40, and as a salesperson, you have to listen to the customer requirements. Women are natural collaborators, storytellers, and nurturers, meaning we look for solutions and collaborate effectively,” Chitra.
Edited by Suman Singh