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Women in Sales – The XX Factor with Sarah Fricke of CEB

sarah fricke

If you’ve been in the inside sales, Saas sales, or startup sales world then the name CEB is probably not unfamiliar to you. You might also know them by their bestselling book about sales, The Challenger Sale.

If you have not had a chance to read The Challenger Sale, we would definitely recommend putting it on your 2016 rotation. It’s a fantastic and powerful view of the strongest sales personalities and how to work them into your current sales structure.

A few weeks ago, Sarah Fricke from CEB, reached out to us and wanted to compare notes on a few items. We had never actually spoken or even connected. When we finally got a chance to speak it was like speaking with an old friend. Our path’s had similar stories in terms of sales, inside sales, and sales consulting.

From the perspective of The Harris Consulting Group we felt it was a natural fit for us to ask her to participate in our Women in Sales, The XX Factor series. We were very excited that Sarah said yes. Sarah, welcome to The XX Factor. 

Question: How many years have you been in sales?


Question: Can you please describe the “aha” moment when you decided you wanted to be in sales?

I was born sales woman from an early age. My family loves to tell the story about when I was 7 and I begged for months for the Jerry Garcia Beanie Baby. For my birthday that year my aunt purchased the Beanie Baby for me, by January I had purchased a tag protector (yes that was a thing) and a tiny guitar for him to hold. By February I was bartering with my brother to give him the beanie baby for his Razor Scooter. From that point I think my parents knew that I was going to grow up to be one of two things…. a lawyer or a rock star sales woman.

This went on throughout the rest of my childhood. All the way through selling the car my dad purchased for me when I was 16 back to him when I turned 20, for above market value might I add.

When I graduated from college and went out into the “real world” I went looking for what I knew best, a challenge. My “aha” moment was an interview with a rather large firm in New York City where half way through the interview the hiring manager said, “Sarah you seem like a sweet southern lady. Why do you want to be in sales?” From that point forward I knew my role was to shatter this perception that women, specifically southern women, are too “nice” for sales. I have accepted this challenge and never looked back.

Q3: What can you tell us about the single biggest sale you ever closed ($, sales cycle, company/ industry, etc.)

When thinking through my pipeline throughout my years in sales I actually don’t think about my largest deal but rather the hardest deal. It was early in my career when I was selling a change in business model moving from the publishing business to memberships. I was tasked with breaking into a new vertical which was under penetrated by even the existing business model, Healthcare.

I knew nothing about Healthcare policy so the first meeting I shared that I was new to the game and wanted to learn about their field…. The executive spent an hour briefing me on his top three policy objectives and I just kept asking more questions. –

  • What is your largest obstacle when getting a bill through Congress or the House?
  • Why do you wake up and fight for healthcare policy every day?
  • Who in your office is involved with policy creation?
  • How you’re your team work together to make buying decisions?

I left saying thank you for the time and promised to send along resources that I felt would be helpful – I did so over the course of the next few weeks and set up a follow-up call. During that call the executive said “I’m taking a chance on you, I liked your style”. We hung up the phone with his commitment to move forward but I took one more step and sent an email out to his team asking them what upcoming initiatives they had in play and what I could pull together from our presentation center (one of the products) to assist. I cc’d him and sent another email just to him with an outline of the service plan I had begun to draft (with some outstanding questions for him) and a contract. He signed the contract in 30 minutes for a two year contract – $88,000 total deal.

Which women in sales do you admire most?

Which women in sales do you admire most?

  1. Sheryl Sandberg “Careers are jungle gyms not ladders” Point in case.
  2. My mentor, @Val Voci, for being the first woman to say out loud to me “stop and observe the great things you are accomplishing”. Women are known for putting themselves down and we need to remind each other to focus on what we have accomplished.
  3. @Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post for all the work she has done advancing a work life balance and her ability to share her own personal struggles and triumphs.

I’d be remiss if I did not also mention four additional women I’ve followed my entire career, Jill Rowley, Trish Bertuzzi,  Jill Konrath and Lori Richardson.

If you could go back and give your early career minded self-advice about a career in sales, what would that be?

Be true to yourself. Throughout your career all types of mentors (which includes formal mentors, parents, friends, people who you don’t want to talk to and your mother’s uncle’s cousin) will have an opinion about where you are and what direction you should take next.

Mentors (of all types listed above) are amazing and per Jill Konrath’s post on this very blog you should have them early and often. That said, know who you are and what you want to accomplish and go forth. Take advice that might change the path a bit but don’t change your end destination without considerable thought.

What advantages do you think women have in sales over men?

  1. Networking – Let’s face it ladies, we are naturals. Walking into a networking event there are always the clicks of people who know each other from their jobs, being at the events previously etc. Whenever there is a new guy you can tell because they hang by the bar or barely walk into the room vs whenever there is a new women she scopes the room and pinpoints 2-3 people she’s going to speak to that evening, without a plan of conversation she goes up, shakes their hand and introduces herself.
  2. Intuition – They call it “women’s intuition” for a reason.
  3. Multi-tasking – Women are known for juggling many tasks at the same time and still being able to produce excellent results. Throughout my entire career I have noticed this most in the women I managed vs. work side by side with. Obviously this is because I have been tasked with pipeline reviews. Women in my experience may have the information in multiple places but can multitask through the meeting and be able to pull everything needs where the men in my experience have needed to take notes and come back to me. Multitasking doesn’t mean organized but this shines through when it comes to a bit of disorganization.
  4. Patience – It’s a virtue that women possess! Slow and steady wins the race. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been around a boardroom table where everyone is talking over each other and no one is taking the time to listen to the others. Women are some of the best around the boardroom because the patiently wait their turn and when the smart man (or another woman) around the table calls on them they have all the knowledge as they’ve been listening to everyone else as they waited.
  5. Listening and Questioning Skills – As we approach the holiday seasons I have been spending a lot of time in and out of stores. What has been interesting this year is many of the stores that sell only women’s clothing are hiring men (just my observation and I am not stating men should not work at women’s clothing stores) and this has changed my buying experience. As I walk around the store I get asked more than once if I need help but when I say yes I am pointed to a corner of the store with the item instead of walked over, asked a few additional questions what “what’s the event, what color will I be painting my nails etc.” and when I arrive in my dressing room I only have the items I picked out, where as previously the sales associated took note of our conversation and would pull together a full outfit for me to try on.

What advice would you give to men about working with women in sales?

I don’t think I could say it better than this article so I will re-share from the Wall Street Journal – Women at Work – A Guide for Men.

I add this to it:

  1. Go in with an open mind.
  2. Reiterate the woman you are reporting or working with is your boss, not your mother. Just because she is caring and asks follow on questions does not mean you should do an emotional dump on her.
  3. Sometimes women may be asking questions to understand the story, they are not usually poking holes at your statement but rather looking to understand all angles.
  4. Don’t get frustrated.


Sarah, those are some amazing stories. Thanks so much for sharing and going very deep into the explanations. So much great advice for anyone in sales, men in sales, women in sales, inside sales, experienced sales people or someone just starting a career in sales.

Thank you again for sharing your wisdom!

Other Women In Sales Interviews:

Social Stuff:
Twitter: @sarahfricke
Instagram: Sarahpfricke

Twitter: @rharris415 /
Website: The Harris Consulting Group

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