Why International Channel Sales Needs More Female Trailblazers

By Kathryn Read

Export sales rep, area sales manager, international sales manager, international business development manager…whatever the title they all describe the task of international channel sales. Things have changed since I started out but in total I still meet relatively few women in international sales roles.

What differentiates an international sales from your home market equivalent?

I’m going to generalise a lot here (sorry), and say that in most companies, the international sales team is responsible on a day to day basis for so much more than just sales.

As soon as you go into international channel sales, then for most companies, you as the salesperson are the only one who actually visits the market and interacts face to face with the clients. That means that you are then in a “bridging function” to convey their market knowledge back to your HQ & the specialist departments there.

In practical terms, that means that you don’t just need to understand the mechanics of sales but also have a foundational understanding of:

  • Product management
  • Marketing
  • Training
  • International finance and Payments
  • Logistics and Operations
  • Contracts
  • Regulatory Issues for your industry
  • Market Analyses
  • Intercultural Competence

It sounds like a lot - and it is. It doesn’t mean though that you have to be a specialist in all those areas, but you need to understand enough to manage discussions with the client without continual back up from the specialists in the office.

Do men like to keep the best jobs for themselves?

For all the talk of equality, it can sometimes feel like that! I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of destinations that might not all count as exotic holiday destinations, but which offer opportunities in international channel sales - places like Nigeria, Iran, Israel or Kazakhstan.

Over the years I’ve heard so many questions from men such as:

  • Isn’t it dangerous for a woman to be travelling alone in those countries (most are no worse than London or Paris)
  • Don’t you find it too exhausting to be a “road warrior”? (No, it’s the most energising and simultaneously exhausting job I can think of)
  • Doesn’t your husband mind? (Let’s just put that down to ignorance…& not go into it)
  • What about your children? 
  • I won’t go into the more offensive questions…

Realistically speaking, the only one of those points which affects women more than men is the one about children. Yes, if you have small children and it’s not practical for other family members to cover for you regularly then that can be a reason to change to an office based role for a while. 

What makes women so well suited for international channel sales roles? 

The flippant answer is: who doesn’t love some travel? Realistically speaking it is a tough role though both physically and mentally if you’re away from home for weeks at a time, but we women have to be tough to get anywhere in our careers still so that’s not a hindrance.

Just to deal with a couple of the questions from above, I feel that women are used to thinking about managing their personal safety anyway and therefore tend to be kind of street savvier than men in that respect. And if you picked a partner who objects to your choice of career, well…? 

There are 3 main qualities that make women supremely qualified for this kind of role & where in my experience, they are often better suited than men.

  1. Managing complex projects where it’s important to keep track of details - international expansion is always linked to a lot of moving pieces, and the details mean the difference between success & failure
  2. Strong relationship building skills. Success in international channel sales depends on the strength of your relationships. 
  3. Intercultural skills. Women are often better at listening and asking non confrontational questions in order to get to the root of problems as well as being curious enough to learn about other cultures & understand WHY certain decisions are made. 

Airline Business Lounges are still full of men

Whilst the numbers of women in international sales have increased in the last 3 decades, we’re still in a clear minority, except perhaps in the world of fashion and cosmetics. 

Of course an international sales role isn’t as exotic as our friends may think, but nor is it as dangerous as our mums believe. So if a lifetime of travel, learning and growing a network of amazing humans around the globe appeals then you’d probably enjoy this kind of a role.

Yes, it can be exhausting but the rewards more than make up for it.

Kathryn's Bio

Kathryn Read is an international sales and marketing consultant with over 25 years’ experience developing niche products in emerging markets. She helps small and medium companies to break through international barriers, creating successful entrepreneurs and a thriving global marketplace. Kathryn firmly believes that business is done between people, and therefore places her focus on building strong relationships that form a solid foundation for doing business. When she's not travelling around the world, Kathryn enjoys playing clarinet in her town's wind orchestra or sharing her love of the outdoors with her Scout group.

You can connect with Kathryn here.

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