Pioneering Women in Sales: Barbara Pletcher

Oct 10, 2023 | Blog

Pioneering Women in Sales: Barbara Pletcher

In my nerdery, I’ve found some incredible pioneers who built the sales profession. Specifically, one you’ve probably seen me highlight a few times is Lucinda W. Prince

Picture of Lucinda W. Prince

Lucinda W. Prince – ~ 1910

Prince set up sales schools for women in 1905, brought the curriculum to colleges and even high schools by the 1910s, and was one of the most sought-after teachers and speakers on the subject through the 1920s.

But today, in honor of Women in Sales month, instead of going back 110+ years, let’s just go back 50+ years…and introduce you to another lost name in the annals of sales history.

Meet Barbara Pletcher

In 1979, a columnist was doing research for an article, and attempting to find a trade association for women in sales. She called Barbara, as Barbara had written the 1978 book Saleswoman: A Guide to Career Success.

Unfortunately, Barbara’s response was, “Nothing like that exists’.

The conversation inspired Barbara.

Barbara Pletcher, from the October 1981 edition of Specialty Salesman Magazine

She had worked in sales most of her adult life, and also as a college professor studying sales from the marketing lens. She noticed a severe lack of women in the sales profession. Combine that with the realization that most successful corporate executives have a sales background, there’s an even bigger problem for women in the workplace. If women are going to play a big role in corporate management and the boardroom, the investment starts with sales.

Barbara also realized that traditionally, women hadn’t seen sales in this way – that the women she taught in college “saw sales as the road to dissolution, not corporate success.”

“One student out of every 17 was interested in sales; everyone else wanted market research.” To her, this interest was one of the professional woman’s biggest mistakes. Women took jobs where they could be a specialist, where there’s job security, instead of the generalist type of less secure work found in sales.

In June of 1980, she arranged a meeting of saleswomen under the name “National Association of Professional Saleswomen”. 198 showed up. And by the end of the meeting, 154 signed up to be annual members.

Within one year, the association had 3,000 members and 22 regional offices. 

The NAPS’s charter: “To promote women in selling through affiliation, education and professionalism”. She designed NAPS to combat the prevailing viewpoint and myth of the sales profession for women, as sales “paves the way for womens’ success in the business world.” 

Picture of Pletcher's book, Saleswoman

The book, Saleswoman – A Guide to Career Success

On a monthly basis, NAPS published a 12-page newsletter, updating members on developments in the field, suggesting books to read, and basically provide guidance that they likely couldn’t get anywhere else. Regular seminars – teaching members everything from “upgrading one’s sales skills to taking a male customer to lunch.”

Monthly meetings provided much of the affiliation, although Pletcher didn’t believe that formal networking should be a part of the program. She felt a need to ensure NAPS wasn’t viewed as the path to “whisking employees away from their employers”. 

Their first annual convention took place in June of 1981 in Sacramento, California, followed by additional events that were to take place in Palo Alto, Atlanta, Houston, and New York.

Membership cost $36 per year, but she also offered an “associate membership” for just $18 per year. This was for individuals who weren’t in sales…yet. Barbara saw that many nurses and teachers were brilliant and had great communication skills but had a negative perspective of the sales profession. This was their introduction, and their way in.

“We’re saying to the world, we’re tired of apologizing for being in sales”.

Since I found her story, I’ve been trying to track down additional pieces. I find no other records of NAPS as an organization and believe Barbara A. Pletcher is still around somewhere…I’d love to speak with her!

I don’t write these stories to pander…I truly believe that I got lucky early in my career. My first sales manager in the tech space was a woman named Sue Hatton. She gave me my foundation of sales done right. Her boss’s boss was Debra Eberlin Rosen, who also embodied that lens. Throughout my career, I worked for amazing women sales leaders, and even today, one of my best buds also serves as an accidental mentor. Samantha McKenna embodies sales done right through her organization, #SamSales Consulting. She’s helped me in my own business more than she even realizes.

Why bother studying history? It’s easy to see that history doesn’t stay behind us. The individuals and lessons from the past help us avoid past mistakes and even predict the future. It’s my hope that we can illuminate these pioneers, but also learn from these stories to ensure we aren’t still talking about this issue in another fifty years…as we still are today!

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I speak and teach revenue organizations on how to leverage transparency and decision science to maximize their revenue capacity. It’s what I do…teach sellers, their leaders, and really entire revenue organizations the how we as human beings make decisions, then how to use that knowledge for good (not evil) in their messaging (informal and formal), negotiations and revenue leadership. I wrote a 3x award-winning book (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘺 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦), and have a newish book out (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘓𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳) now that just won its first award!

Reach out if you want to discuss The Transparency Sale sales methodology, or really…anything else (sales kickoffs, workshopskeynotes, the economy, history, etc.)! Email or call 847-999-0420.

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