SalesTech Star

Want Better Sales Performance, Increase DEI Commitment

The workforce and the marketplace continue to experience dramatic demographic shifts that include more women, BIPOCs, and younger workers (e.g., Millennials and Gen Z) to name a few. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 78% of sales people are white. Women make up 50% of the U. S. workforce but only 39% of the sales workforce, and only 19% of leadership positions in sales. This lack of representation across gender, race, ethnicity, and other demographics can send a strong message that certain people are not welcomed in the sales profession. 

As President of SDS Global Enterprises, a global workforce and culture transformation consulting firm, we’re experiencing a significant increase in outreach from companies needing help in attracting more diverse talent and building a more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming workplace culture where ALL talent can thrive. Many of them are in Sales and Marketing (especially in pharmaceutical, financial services, sports, real estate, and technology) and they admit that they have a “diversity problem” [or lack of diversity]. Their sales forces are dominated by white men, and they know that they are not reflective of the changing demographics, their customers, or the communities in which they do business.

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The question you may be asking is “why is this important to them now?”

I asked the same question because it’s always been an important business issue. I’ve been in the Human Resources and DEI field for over 20 years and as a Chief D & I Officer I’ve been pushing the business benefits of DEI in every company I worked. However, it was not always met with support, or the belief that DEI has an impact on the bottom line. But today, it couldn’t be more be a more clear and compelling case. Sure, the international protests and calls for greater equity, inclusion and justice following the murder of George Floyd increased the focus on DEI. So did the significant disparities and/or lack of access to health care, education, socio-economic and job opportunities that were revealed during the global pandemic equally contribute to the recognition that we have a DEI problem. But before these incidences, the business case was still compelling.

Just look at the buying power of people of color and millennials, which is well over $4 trillion annually. According to Catalyst, a global consulting firm for women in the workplace, women controlled an estimated $31.8 trillion (USD) in consumer spending in 2019. For sales and marketing firms to overlook this reality would be a “going out of business strategy.” If this isn’t compelling enough look at the studies that reveal the impact of DEI.

Studies from the Harvard Business Review, Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey and Company show diversity has a strong correlation with organizational performance.

McKinsey’s most recent report, “Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters,” revealed that organizations with diversity of gender are 25% more likely to be more profitable than their peers. It also shows that organizations with diversity of ethnicity are 36% more likely to be more profitable than their peers. The World Economic Forum’s report “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 4.0” suggests that companies with diverse employees have “up to 20% higher rate of innovation and 19% higher innovation revenues.”

Similarly, the Boston Consulting Group revealed in its 2018 study on How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation that increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance. In both developing and developed economies, companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams report a greater payoff from innovation and higher EBIT margins.

Moreover, sales and marketing organizations want to attract top talent; they want to innovate and solve complex problems; they want to increase market share through a positive customer experience; and they want to drive sustainable performance. These are compelling enough reasons to embrace DEI as a business strategy, so no more asking “Why is it important?” or “What’s the business case?”

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The real questions now are “What can we do about it?” “How can we realize the value of DEI in our sales and marketing teams?”

Here are a few tips and strategies you can implement:

  1. Adopt hiring practices and strategies to attract underrepresented sales professionals. Yes, they are out there. Cast your net wide and target organizations, colleges/universities, and events that cater to a high percentage of diverse members, students, and attendees. 
  2. Don’t assume that you have to lower your standards or hire less qualified salespeople just because you are seeking more diversity. This tends to be the proverbial response when recruiting diverse talent and it is rooted in privilege and bias. Assume that talent comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, gender, and ethnicities. 
  3. Review your job descriptions for sales and marketing positions to ensure that they contain inclusive language such as salesperson vs salesman. Avoid descriptions that tend to appeal to men versus women such as “aggressive” “competitive,” or “expert,” and when describing the tasks of the ideal candidate, use “S/he” or “you,” versus “He should possess…”
  4. Provide additional training such as Behavioral Interviewing, Emotional Intelligence, Unconscious Bias, and Cultural Competence to all sales staff, especially those who will be conducting the interviews and making the hiring decision. This will help to minimize the tendency to hire others like themselves, to avoid asking illegal and inappropriate interview questions, to be aware of how biases can play out in the workplace and in providing service to customers and clients, and how to foster a culture of inclusion, belonging, and respect.
  5. Embed DEI into your values and hold leaders accountable for living them out every day.
  6. Provide mentoring, coaching, and other forms of development for all new hires and ensure that their onboarding and orientation process gives them a level playing field and sets them up for success.
  7. Encourage diversity of thought and ensure that all opinions and perspectives are valued.

It’s clear that sales and marketing organizations can no longer ignore the fact that the demographic shifts will continue to disrupt the workplace, the work, and the workers.  They must commit to DEI as a business strategy that will enable them to drive client and customer satisfaction, increase product and service innovation, solve complex problems, and create the kind of workplace culture that attracts, engages, and retains top sales professionals. 

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