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The Evolution of Women in Sales

Did you know women have been in sales for more than 300 years? They have defied the odds and proved their mettle in a world that belonged, and still does, to men.

Here’s a panoramic view of the evolution of women in sales over the three centuries gone by.

The Pocahontas of Sales

Born in 1700 in Georgia, Mary Musgrove spoke Creek Indian and English and hence started working as an interpreter for a trader. Her boss soon realised Mary’s potential as a Salestor and hired her for $500 per annum. She was known to be a shrewd negotiator, a successful trader and a woman with one of strongest networks in the nation.

How to Bis-sell Your Product

Anna Bissell and her husband developed an innovative carpet sweeper to combat the dust settling on carpets in their crockery and china shop. They got it patented and started selling in 1876.

In 1889, when her husband died, Anna picked up the reigns of their company and thus became world’s first woman CEO! Under her leadership, Bissell became the largest organisation of its kind in the world. By 1919, she had become the Chair Person and the first woman Salestor on the Board of a company.

A-von Idea!

David McConnell was a travelling book salesperson. He soon realised that women bought from him only because of the perfume samples that came along as free gifts with purchases. They were his most loyal customers who weren’t afraid to talk to other people about the products. One loyal woman customer brought in her own clique and that expanded McConnell’s customer base. Thus, he started hiring women as Salestors in 1886, thirty-four years before they were given the right to vote. His company California Perfume Company was later branded as Avon Cosmetics.

Un-Weill-ing True Artists

Berthe Weill was a French Art Dealer who got recognition after death when Pablo Picasso painted her portrait, which was declared a National Treasure.

An ambitious woman, Weill utilised her dowry money of 4000 Francs for opening an art gallery in Paris in 1901. She is today reminisced as a brilliant Salestor who not only gave their first breaks to emerging artists like Pablo Picasso and Henry Matisse, but also sold their pieces when they were unknown to the world. When women were still struggling to come out of households, Weill unveiled female artists like Valadon, Charmy and Marval. She was the first and the last person to display and sell Amedeo Modigliani’s nude paintings in her art gallery, which got her in a duel with the police.

Breeding Sales

Sarah Breedlove started her own hair care product line in 1905 after facing massive hair loss for years. Being black herself, she targeted the black women first to sell her products. After initial success, she expanded her business and employed a massive salesforce of 3000 African-American women, all carefully selected, trained and employed by her on a commission basis. Netflix Original Series Self Made is a worthy tribute to her contribution as a Salestor.

The Wise Salestor

Brownie Wise started her career with Stanley Home Products before stumbling upon Tupperware. She came up with the idea of home parties where women demonstrated and sold Tupperware products. It’s massive success caught the attention of Earl Tupper, inventor of Tupperware, and he asked Brownie to join him as Vice President for Tupperware Home Parties in 1951. She headed their Sales and recruited thousands of women as Salestors. She was the first woman to feature on the cover of Business Week in 1954.

The Estée Lauder Era

New York–born Josephine Esther Mentzer married Joseph Lauder and officially launched Estée Lauder Inc in 1946.

Her Youth Dew launched in 1953 sold 50,000 units in the first year and by 1984, it was selling 150 million units every year. She is lauded for being the mother of traditional selling ideas like giving free trial samples before buying and “Gift with Purchase” techniques. Some of her selling mantras were:

Telephone. Telegraph. Tell a woman.

“I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard."

She was always present for every new store launch to train the staff in selling techniques. She knew how to understand the pulse of her customers and was always crossing boundaries to meet with potential clients. Gradually, they expanded to develop brands like MAC and Clinique.

Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kathlyn Wagner started her career as a Salestor with Stanley Home Products in 1939. She was so good at selling that she was spotted and hired by World Gifts in 1952. After a decade with the company, she was passed on for promotion by a male trainee working under her for twice the salary. Irked to the core, she quit.

Against all odds, she started her business of skin lotions for an investment of $5,000 in 1963, at the age of 45.

Mary Kay Inc earned profit in its first year and sold about $1 million dollar worth products in its second year. She sold her products through events like at-home parties and hired Sales Reps on a commission basis. She did not divide the regions into territories for them, so the whole country was each Salestor’s playground.

She was named the Most Outstanding Woman in business in the 20th century by Lifetime Television.

Anneke Seley

A graduate in Human Biology from Stanford, her life took a different path when she was offered a job as the twelfth employee of Oracle by Larry Ellison. Today, she is known to be the founder of Oracles Inside Sales Operations, OracleDirect, and taking it to new heights. After a decade with Oracle, Anneke launched a series of her own businesses. She’s the author of Sales 2.0 and currently runs her own company Reality Works.

Oprah Winfrey

This self-made blockbuster-of-a-woman is known to be the richest African-American of the 20th century. By 2007, she was touted as world’s most powerful woman!

She worked up the ladder and made great sales in the entertainment and lifestyle industries. Here’s what we Salestors can learn from her:

  • “Turn your wounds into wisdom.”.

  • “Go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground.”

  • “Your gut is your inner compass. Whenever you have to consult with other people for an answer, you’re headed in the wrong direction.”

  • “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”

  • “The big secret in life is that there’s no big secret. Whatever your aim, you will get there if you’re willing to work.”


Also Read The Evolution of a Salestor

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