It’s Time to Crack the B2B Sales Gender Diversity Code

By Mary Shea, VP, Global Innovation Evangelist at Outreach.

  • 1 month ago Posted in

Diverse organisations deliver better business results. As Millennial and Gen Z employees wield more influence in the workplace, B2B buyers and sellers have fully realised the importance of having diverse sales teams. In a recent B2B buyer survey conducted by Forrester on behalf of Outreach, 74% of respondents said sales teams need to be diverse and reflect the world around them. In a B2B seller motivation survey conducted by Dynata on behalf of Outreach, 90% of respondents agreed a diverse sales team was generally more successful.1 Fostering inclusive cultures and devising strategies for recruiting, retaining, and ensuring diverse sales talent thrives is top of mind for B2B sales leaders.

As a former principal analyst at Forrester, and Outreach’s Global Innovation Evangelist, I have been tracking the monumental changes in B2B sales for ten years. Generational shifts have paved the way for the rise of social consciousness in the workplace. Once exclusively the realm of B2C brands, B2B chief executives must now clearly articulate their company’s values and take a stand on social issues. Sales leaders agree too, as 82% of respondents in our chief sales officer study said they expect their CEO to take a stand on social issues.

On the buy-side, 73% of respondents said they would reconsider a business purchase if the supplier’s values did not align with their own. Similarly, a staggering 79% of B2B sellers reported that their employer’s stance on social issues had a mostly positive impact on sales and customer retention efforts.2 While the data are clear, many business leaders struggle to create inclusive environments and build diverse teams.

A Perfect storm of challenges

In the Fall of 2020, I led the research team and wrote an article covering the state of women in B2B sales published by Northern Illinois University’s Journal Of Selling.3 The study revealed that in addition to dramatic underrepresentation in B2B selling organisations women sellers dealt with a host of other challenges – including conscious and unconscious bias, being left out of decision loops, and pay inequity – all things not typically faced by their male counterparts.

As the pandemic intensified, there was no shortage of predictions on how women in the workforce would be disproportionately impacted. Companies like McKinsey, Accenture and others sounded the alarm bells. At that time, women made up 39% of global employment yet accounted for 54% of COVID-induced job losses.

Today only 25% of B2B sellers identify as women — an 8% drop since my article was published 24 months ago. And the data is worse in management, as only 16% of sales managers identify as women.4 In addition to lack of representation, sales leaders still haven’t cracked the code on leadership approaches, management styles, and corporate policies that resonate with women. Our B2B sell side research showed that female sellers were 11% less likely to be satisfied with their company and 9% less satisfied with their actual job duties, day-to-day tasks, and interactions than their male counterparts.5

Diversity starts at the top

Commitment to diversity and inclusion starts at the highest level of an organisation — its Board. Yet according to a 2022 UK Spencer Stuart Board Index, only 17% of the top 150 companies with a premium listing on the London Stock Exchange achieved gender parity on their boards.6

More work needs to be done to diversify boards, but once companies do add more women, it helps to focus on the number three. To create meaningful impact, you need at least three women, not just

one. This means the commitment to diversity is more than symbolic. With three diverse voices, not everyone needs to agree, and it’s more likely for those diverse voices to be heard.7

Pick and retain diverse talent

I am excited about the role technology plays in equalising the playing field. HireQuotient is a talent assessment platform that drives efficiencies in the candidate evaluation process and helps its customers eliminate bias when making hiring decisions through its anonymized role-based skill assessments. Varicent, a sales compensation management technology provider makes its Gender Pay and Diversity apps complementary to its customers. The Gender Pay app highlights median pay by role and gender and the Diversity app highlights ethnic and racial diversity by roles and levels and monitors voluntary and involuntary departures.

Sales leaders must also ensure they have strategies and formal programs to ensure underrepresented sellers can thrive, and advance within their organisation. This involves creating a work environment that minimises biases, encourages mentorship, and allows for affinity or Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to flourish. In our B2B seller survey 91% said Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE+I) programs were valuable or extremely valuable.8

At Outreach, one of our core values is “we find value in diversity and inclusion.” We embrace that internally through our nine ERGs that provide a safe space for our employees to interact, support each other, and engage in social activities. Our ERGs include but are not limited to colleagues from former or active military families, disabled and LGBTQIA+ people as well as employees with a variety of cultural backgrounds (Outreach Black Experience, Mosaic, and Adelente).

Earlier this year we launched a program we call RISE. This program was originally created to help our female sellers gain the necessary tools, access, and experiences to rise up through the ranks of the sales organisation. Building on the success of RISE we have now launched RISEUP, a similar program designed to cultivate the “unlimited potential” of a select set of high potential Black employees.

B2B companies must seek out Board and executive team members with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. With the collective perspective they can then cascade values, expectations, and policies that foster diversity and inclusivity. Diverse corporate structures and sales teams don’t occur by chance; they happen when every member of the organisation intentionally focuses on the end game.

Endnotes

1. Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Outreach, April 2022

Base: 212 B2B directors and above that influence purchasing decisions across North America and UK organisations in various industries

2. Source : Seller Motivation Online Survey conducted by Dynata on behalf of Outreach, June 2022.

Base: 1201 (922 male and 279 female) Global B2B sellers and managers

3. Source: Zoltners, Andris P., PK Sinha, Sally E. Lorimer, Tania Lennon, and Emily Alexander (2020), “Why Women Are the Future of B2B Sales,” Harvard Business Review". Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/05/why-women-are-the-future-of-b2b-sales

4. Source : Seller Motivation Online Survey conducted by Dynata on behalf of Outreach, June 2022.

Base: 1201 (922 male and 279 female) Global B2B sellers and managers

5. Source : Seller Motivation Online Survey conducted by Dynata on behalf of Outreach, June 2022.

Base: 1201 (922 male and 279 female) Global B2B sellers and managers

6. The 2022 UK Spencer Stuart Board Index covers the top 150 companies with a premium listing on the London Stock Exchange.

7. Source: Konrad, Alison M., Vicki Kramer, Sumru Erkut, “The Impact of Three or More Women on Corporate Boards”. (https://www.wcwonline.org/Publications-by-title/critical-mass-on-corporate-boards-why-three-or-more-women-enhance-governance-executive-summary)

8. Source : Seller Motivation Online Survey conducted by Dynata on behalf of Outreach, June 2022.

Base: 1201 (922 male and 279 female) Global B2B sellers and managers

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