The lack of women in sales leadership positions remains a major concern, yet in the modern world of sales, where consultative selling is now the norm, women have a distinctive edge. In the second interview of our two-part series with Lori Richardson of Score More Sales and WOMEN Sales Pros, we discuss some companies making headway and the sacrifices made by those firms that aren’t making women sales leaders a priority.
What are some of the biggest sacrifices companies make when they don’t focus on recruiting more female sales leaders?
It’s costing their bottom line. The statistics we’ve seen show that companies do better financially when they have a mix of men and women in their senior leadership. Part of corporate senior leadership is senior sales. Sales is the lifeblood of a company and a lot of great CEOs have come from sales roles. So, if we can get more women into sales and sales leadership, we can see more women in the C-suite.
Many industries are making a sustained effort to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce. Are there companies you see as doing a particularly good job?
I love what Microsoft is doing and their inclusion efforts are paying off. They most recently reported 27% of women in senior leadership roles, the highest it’s ever been. Salesforce.com is addressing the lack of women in tech, too, with “Women Surge” which identifies female employees with executive potential and makes sure they’re included in all of the important things going on in the company. They have a mandate that important meetings include 30%-50% women. And their annual Dreamforce event features a large number of female speakers from all different backgrounds and cultures, young and old. I’d love to see more organizations model these initiatives.
Within sales teams, what role can coaching play in improving the leadership trajectory of women?
My opinion is broad-based in that I think all leaders need better coaching. That’s an area I’m very passionate about. We need to coach leadership, especially in sales, on how to be good leaders to their sales teams, so that sales reps can grow and prosper. Every sales person deserves a great manager. In my selling career, I had 23 managers and some were awesome and some were awful. If you’re going to work hard at sales, your company needs to provide you with a leader who cares about you, helps you get better, and helps you solve the issues that come up internally and externally.
I think we’ll see more and more tools that can clearly show us the data indicating we’re not hiring enough women or that we have lopsided teams and we’re suffering because of it. A diverse team brings the diversity of ideas and more creativity and that’s what it takes for sales teams to succeed.
Are there industries that you see as having a better representation of female sales leaders?
There are some industries that have been good at hiring women from the start. I would say healthcare is one, as well as the advertising and marketing industry. In tech companies, we’ll often see women who’ve been in areas like inbound marketing move over to the sales function. Many people I’ve spoken with over the last year or so have been women who went into marketing because they could get a marketing degree, whereas colleges offering a degree in sales are harder to come by. Women can tend to feel they need official learning and training, resulting in them going back to school to get another degree of certification, whereas a lot of men are comfortable flying by the seat of their pants, saying “Hey, if I can sell, I can sell. It doesn’t matter what my specific background is.”
What are your top three tips for women looking to advance their career in sales?
First, it’s important to really know what you want. If you define your career goal as one day becoming the CEO of the company you’re at, you’ve set a clear path. The more you know about your path and the clearer you are about your goals, the easier it is to get people to support you on your journey.
Second, you need to understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. Mentors are great. They help pump us up and they give us valuable ideas. Sponsors, however, will walk you into the meeting that nobody else on your level would get into because they see your potential. Or they say in a private meeting, “You need to consider Mary because Mary has these skills, too.” Sponsors are going to step up and go to bat for you – and they have power. They’re not your immediate boss, typically they’re higher up. So, think about sponsorship and take note of what the more successful people in your company are doing and what their paths have looked like.
My third tip is to evaluate your environment and if it’s not supportive, move on. I spoke at a conference recently and some young women in the audience said their sales team environment was hostile and “locker room-like.” I told them, “You don’t need to put up with that because so many companies are looking for good women in sales.” It’s a fantastic time and you should absolutely find a company that appreciates what you bring to the table, will help you develop your skills, and groom you for that leadership role.
About Lori Richardson
Lori is the founder and CEO of Score More Sales, and a thought leader on B2B front-line sales growth. She also founded WOMEN Sales Pros with a mission to get more women in B2B sales at tech, telecom, distribution, manufacturing, and other B2B companies. Follow WOMEN Sales Pros on Twitter @WOMENSalesPros