How and Why It’s So Worth It To Build a Diverse Sales Team
Hello everyone! Welcome to the BBC Youtube channel. Want to know what Andre Walker’s most valuable management lesson was 25 years ago? At the time, Walker spearheaded the customer service for a publishing company named Standard Rate and Data Service. He was still working on his first managing role, and he had been proud of the team he had put together. While he hired great employees, his mentor posed a question that has stuck with him for the rest of his life. If you want more of this content, subscribe to the BBC Youtube channel and hit the notification bell.
Walker surveyed the floor and said that he saw people who were energetic and dedicated go-getters. He reminisced, “She said, ‘Let’s walk around again and describe the people.’” The idea of African-American people shocked him. He had employed two African-American men and two African-American women in their 20s. Someone just like him, who reminded him of the people he might see at a wedding or a school reunion.
Walker added that the diversity problem with sales teams is important to illustrate our tendency to hire people who look like us. Walker’s team, who is white, is an example of this. As of now, Walker is the director of sales enablement at the tech recruitment firm RK Management Consultants in Austin, with a team that includes an older white Texan woman; a Latina woman followed by a white Millennial man.
It wasn’t until his previous experience that Walker realized how easy it is for a sales team to end up looking like their manager. That’s why Walker is constantly walking into meetings where almost everyone at the table is a middle-aged white man, in their 50s, or 60s. Also contributing to the lack of diversity on tech sales teams today is their history: sales tend to be dominated by white, cis men.
While more women are in tech than in any other industry specialization, the field remains predominantly white– 79% of salespeople are white according to the 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report. As we covered in our recent story on Built-In, lack of diversity creates challenges for people from underrepresented backgrounds and a cycle where people of that background often struggle to find professional mentors who can guide them.
The good news is that more companies now recognize the need for diversity and there are numerous specific steps sales leaders at all levels can take to create more diverse and inclusive teams. Conduct a diversity and inclusion assessment of your organization. This will help identify areas for improvement along with the next steps. Build connections in your community by getting to know people beyond those you have previously met. This will expand the pool of potential candidates and help build connections.
Creating an environment where people feel safe to speak their minds is important, especially because this fosters a team that can work together more efficiently. Microaggression training and employee resource groups help create a collaborative and cohesive work environment. Start with a career in sales, to learn how to manage a team and be prepared for promotion. The success of the role may not accurately translate into other roles. Beat employees with the same performance, compare your evaluation process to industry standards and make sure everyone is evaluated fairly.
Paria Rajai, the founder of ModelExpand and a diversity consultant, hears two common myths from managers across all teams about diversity and inclusion. The first myth is reported that there is a pipeline for people to get hired across all kinds of organizations. The second myth is that meritocracy is the main factor for people being hired. The former alleges that there are no sufficient candidates from diverse backgrounds, while the latter affirms that diverse candidates aren’t qualified for the roles. Neither theory holds water.
If a company wants to increase diversity and inclusiveness, the first step is to do an internal survey about the demographics of the team and its hiring funnel. The survey should identify biases in the process that may be preventing diverse candidates from leveraging. Considering this data, you can say “We have an issue with X, Y, and Z.” And that will help you define what diversity is, which will help you set goals for the company.
Historically, a company might create opportunities and choose which demographic it wants to serve. If a company isn’t diverse or doesn’t create opportunities for certain groups, they might identify this by looking at their culture survey. It can help determine where the company may be favoring certain groups and how to fix the aforementioned issues.
To create effective and achievable goals, be sure to set deadlines, set specific, actionable targets, and detail how to achieve them. When a certain company expands its recruitment network to include diverse areas, it doesn’t take long for them to realize there was no pipeline issue. The hiring process can be worked on so that companies can recognize the flaw in the meritocracy myth. Rajai also mentioned that a recent study from MIT revealed that companies that use merit-based systems are more likely to discriminate than non-merit-based companies because their leaders often don’t take the time to understand how their decisions might be affected by bias.
While leadership at the company can prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts, it is not fully up to the managers that make recruitment decisions. This is why they need to team with the recruiter and contribute to the goal of fostering diversity and inclusion. The realization that mattered to Shelton Banks led to his work at rework training, a nonprofit dedicated to diversifying tech. Banks’ curriculum involves giving candidates in Chicago’s underrepresented communities the tools they need to succeed in sales. “If you want to be diverse and inclusive, you have to step outside of your box.”
Sales are all about relationships, which is why Banks have managers from companies that hire salespeople to come into their training program and help the candidates themselves. They also take it one step further: rather than just train candidates for sales jobs, banks use these managers to coach them personally during their training as well so they can be successful faster. Hiring managers remove hiring bias by teaching relevant skills based on your current needs, giving you an invaluable network in their industry.
According to Banks, regarding volunteering, there will be candidates who exclaim that a candidate is pretty cool. Now they know this person as an individual and they look at them through a different lens. There is less biased thinking of like, ‘I don’t think this person has potential.’” Try reaching out to other organizations in your field of interest. The Chicago Urban League, Women in Tech, and the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce are just a few examples.
For Walker, building a varied hiring pipeline is all about taking time to learn about different cultures and becoming curious about their values. Walker said, “Some organizations have wonderful sales programs, but do you understand the person you’re working with?” Hiring managers can find great resources that were previously unseen in the workforce. With sales being such a competitive field, expanding your resource pool is important for increasing the odds of finding the best talent.
When it comes to culture, sales teams are often one of the most close-knit types of groups within a company. This is due to team outings or events such as baseball games, wine-and-cheese celebrations, and cold-calling competitions. Those activities can give you the bonds that you need to survive in a high-stress environment, where it’s a race to meet quota month after month. However, these bonds and the isolating climate they can create may also lead to microaggressions. If you’re not thinking about your inclusive culture as you interview candidates and assess them, people will quit.
The only way to have an inclusive and productive sales culture is by not only focusing on recruiting different candidates but also taking steps to ingrain these differences into your company from the beginning. Sonja Gittens-Ottley, head of diversity and inclusion at Asana, explains. “If you’re not thinking about inclusive culture — from the time that you’re assessing candidates to the time that you’re interviewing candidates to when they start — people are going to leave,” according to Gittens-Ottley.
To address this, each manager at Asana engages in training on how to manage and address microaggressions. Employees also learn from training led by Conscious Leadership Group to understand how to approach issues related to diversity and inclusion. There are also groups where the Co-workers can go for support.
These steps will create spaces where employees feel supported and able to speak out when necessary. As to Christmas, it’s important to balance the types of activities people want to partake in. Walker and his team try to conduct an anonymous survey about what’s necessary and what their motivations are when it comes to the different holidays so that they can put on a celebration that’s inclusive for everyone. It’s also worth noting that some challenges arise from a lack of immediate control, such as when you’re interacting with potential customers. As salespeople, you may encounter microaggressions or overt racism.
Constantly hearing overt racism has negatively impacted sales reps who are Black. One situation was when customers didn’t want to lower prices because they were afraid that it would invite more “urban” people and deter white clients. For the emotional toll that others may experience from those experiences, there is no planning to address it.
With the diversity and inclusion platform Crescendo, Head of Diversity for Looker Cornell Verdeja-Woodson explained that leaders who have any say in the hiring process must first consider who is in power and what their roles are. There should be no ambiguity about what decision a sales manager carries out.
When it comes to silence, Verdeja-Woodson advises against it. “Silence is an act of acceptance,” according to Verdeja-Woodson on the podcast. “Not saying anything doesn’t make you neutral — it makes you part of the problem.” Many times, sales managers are placed in rework training thinking they’re great coaches when they don’t perform well and learn that they’re not effective.
Banks hope that to avoid the tedious process of manual sales and the lack of repeatability with them, organizations need to overcome those challenges and learn how to use a blueprint that resonates with prospects. The blueprint can help make a sale quickly.
In the rework training model, managers are learning how to adapt their coaching style to resonate with the students and provide feedback on individual differences. There can be a situation where feedback is geared toward individual differences and there is no sales strategy involved, which ends up being unproductive. Banks stated, “When you get to know the individuals, you’re able to see that coaching is done differently.
The most successful managers come through and begin to see that perhaps they are not as effective as they presumed. Then they learn that coaching isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and they need to adjust for the individual.”
Banks recommends hiring individuals who have previously succeeded as individual contributors, instead of training them and placing them in a managerial role. This gives managers the knowledge to make their team members successful and prepare them for their current roles. Wood gives the example of one team that plays basketball by asking each player to make a pass to their partner, rather than passing the ball from player to player in order.
This allows for better passing and creativity. Companies should consider a hybrid sales leadership role for high-potential employees. In this type of position, high-performing employees are responsible for selling and supporting teammates. If they successfully prove their ability to help teammates succeed in this capacity, then they can move up into a manager role.
Lacking diversity in a workplace can also contribute to this because feedback could be different. Banks said one of the candidates managed to receive a high score in an interview. However, when he asked the manager who trained them if they would be willing to hire the same candidates, Banks said he was told there’s more for them to learn. “It meant you had no feedback for this person. They did a perfect job,” according to Banks. “The lesson to be learned for the volunteer was that you don’t have to change your approach. It doesn’t mean you don’t give feedback because you’re fearful of how it’ll be taken.”
Relying on subjective feedback from a manager was a common problem for Banks during his time in tech. Many times, when he did get feedback it was negative. Managers must take the time to provide fair and constructive feedback. As a sales leader, it can be hard to determine what actions are being done more than others. Audits can help you make sure everyone is being evaluated and rewarded for their efforts.
These experts agree that human bias can overshadow skills in a performance evaluation; for example, a person with more experience or those who worked long hours in the past might be considered better even though they are underperforming. Rajai said when women were allowed to collaborate on sales solutions and form friendships with clients, they surpassed expectations and outperformed their male counterparts. Because of this, she went on to say that there is a safe place for women at Slack where they can feel confident.
“As a sales leader, you want to do an audit of what you are evaluating,” Rajai stated. “Are you favoring certain actions over others?”
Business leader Walker often pairs employees in a sales competition where they can use their skills to build on each other’s strengths. He recognized that there was one coworker he had never partnered with before this year. So, he took the time to learn about her background and interests and then worked with her on building marketing strategies and sales initiatives to operate those causes in tech recruitment.
The goal is to increase the company’s overall profits, but what would be helpful is if you had people who were different from each other to exchange ideas and foster growth. The company might also want to consider hiring more employees.
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