By Isabella Hanna
“We’ve all sold something in one shape or form— from convincing our kids to eat their vegetables to making our case for a social outing. At the end of the day, we are all salespeople,” opened Jenifer Tagliaferro, MBA, Vice President (VP) of Sales at Koda Health.
It’s no secret that the stereotypical persona of a car salesman has tainted the public’s perception of the sales profession. Nonetheless, what some fail to realize: this persona is perpetuated by the systematic belief that selling requires “cunning” aggression– a virtue largely associated, held, and reserved for men.
Consequently, when Tagliaferro launched her career in sales, she worked at invalidating two industry-wide biases: (1) what the typical demeanor of a salesperson should look like, and (2) how a female salesperson should conduct herself.
“When I first got my start in sales, I made it a point to set the tone as to how I would treat my clients,” began Tagliaferro. “I knew I wasn’t going to be your ‘typical’ salesperson; pushiness doesn’t come naturally to me. Even when I tried to act more aggressive, it felt odd to both me and, I feel, the clients.”
Her stance, however, was not met without pushback. According to Tagliaferro, there were companies she had worked for that adhered to specific “guardrails,” supposedly dictating one’s selling success. For all intents and purposes, these guardrails reflected the almost universal expectation to “sell like a man.”
“I had managers tell me, ‘You aren’t going to be successful if you sell this way,’ but I was actually more successful when I was authentically myself,” she explained.
For Tagliaferro, the challenge imposed by her managers only drove her to exceed their expectations. She continued, “One of the best things about sales is that your work is easily quantifiable…The smarter and harder you work, the better you do.”
As an account manager earlier on in her career, Tagliaferro had to sit in during sales calls, which is where she discovered her affinity for connecting with others to problem solve and reach agreeable solutions. It was only when she finally transitioned into a formal sales role with a pharmaceutical company did she grapple with the prevailing gender biases within the field.
“I remember early on in my sales career that if I were entering a meeting or call with a male counterpart, the clients would oftentimes direct their questions or concerns to him,” revealed Tagliaferro.
While the sales industry is increasingly more inclusive of female sales representatives nowadays, making up 48.7 percent of the sales labor force, this differs greatly from the percentage of women who hold leadership positions, which is only 26 percent . Despite studies showing women-led teams perform better, the labor force is predominantly managed by men.
“Those first few interactions motivated me to prepare more; in other words, if I was going into a call, I was going to know every answer… I never wanted to be perceived as less knowledgeable,” she expanded. “Not only was I defending my personal style of selling, but I was actively working against people’s assumptions about my competence.”
This feeling of needing to overcompensate is not unique to Tagliaferro. Both anecdotal and empirical evidence show that women feel they must pursue more education and greater work experience to earn equal recognition in the workplace .
“Not to mention that aggressive men are perceived very differently than women. As a woman in sales, you tread a fine line between being assertive enough to get the job done while also not coming off overly aggressive, which is a balance men don’t often need to navigate,” she said. Essentially, whether a woman conforms to the hypermasculine stereotype, or she decides to forge her own path and style, either avenue is not without resistance.
In every role she’s held, Jen has redefined the meaning and success of a salesMAN. What made her approach unsettling to others is what made her a perfect fit as Koda’s VP of Sales.
Having joined last April, Tagliaferro reflected on her time thus far with Koda as she heads the start-up’s sales department.
She started, “As I was looking for my next adventure, I came across Koda and was instantly drawn by its solutions; it’s a tool that makes so much sense, both for the well being of the patient, as well as the financial well-being of health systems and providers.”
“I met the team and thought to myself, ‘This is such a fantastically smart and kind group of people– I want to work with them.’”
“Prior to Jen joining the team, I was leading the sales efforts with prospective clients, and, as a physician, that doesn’t come naturally to me. When I met Jen, I knew she could take Koda to the next level,” elaborated Desh Mohan, M.D, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Koda Health. “With her background in value-based care, she deeply understands the need for solutions that Koda provides. Her unique approach to sales is invaluable in driving Koda’s growth– not only from the sales side but to the company as a whole.”
Tagliaferro oversees the success and quotas of both the department and her people. Their personal and professional development is at the forefront of her considerations.
“I feel so fortunate in this role as I get to help offset others’ learning curves, especially fellow saleswomen, sharing what I can so that they get further faster, ” Tagliaferro expressed.
“Since my transition from healthcare as a registered nurse to sales, Jen has been instrumental in my professional development, providing me with the necessary training and resources to succeed in this field,” confirmed Briana Hogan-Spraggins, Sales Development Representative at Koda Health. “Her leadership style is inspiring as she takes the time to teach and guide me while simultaneously motivating me to achieve the best results possible.”
She closed, “Jen’s approach allows me to be creative and express my individuality in my work, which has been a refreshing change of pace. All in all, she’s an exceptional leader and mentor.”