I just read the recent HBR story about why women in B2B sales are in a prime position to succeed after the deep COVID freeze begins to melt. HBR made it clear, in language that even a neophyte can understand, that women bring a civility and sophistication to the B2B sales world that many of their male counterparts are going to have to scramble to keep up with. As a veteran of B2B sales, and the founder of a recruiting firm focused on landing the best possible sales leaders for tech clients, I have seen the value of feminine leadership in B2B sales first hand. Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, women are underrepresented in B2B sales roles. While women represent more than half of the U.S. workforce, only 25% of B2B tech sales executives are women. In the case of sales leaders, the number drops to an alarming 12%.
HBR quotes a 2019 study of over 500 sales leaders that explains why it’s time that we give women sales leaders their due. It’s in the money. Men achieve quota 78% of the time while women in B2B sales achieve quota 86% of the time. But why? This is where it gets interesting. Diving deeper, women are more likely to leverage all seven HBR Sales Capabilities, and are more likely to be naturally good at the ones that will matter the most as the world returns to some version of “normal”.
Analyzing: understanding cause and effect and seeing big picture implications
Connecting: building a network of customers, team members, and other resources
Collaborating: working cooperatively with others
Shaping solutions: understanding customer needs and adapting the offer accordingly
Influencing: shaping their messages and style to maximize impact
Driving: applying structured and planned approaches to deliver outcomes
Improving: constantly seeking to do things better and being prepared to try new things
For my male colleagues: don’t get too bent out of shape at what I’m saying. Both men and women are absolutely capable of being effective across all areas of sales acumen. It’s just that men are more likely to focus on analyzing and driving than they are to focus on connecting, collaborating, or creatively shaping solutions. Buyers are more educated than ever, and often come to the table with the analysis done. The ability to connect and shape solutions to meet their needs is often what’s needed to close the deal. And, the research shows that women tend to bring these skills to the table foremost, followed by analysis and the drive toward the signed deal. What’s more, in tech sales, many solutions are either subscription or cloud based, meaning that the initial deal is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of total customer value. Women are more likely to establish a collaborative sales relationship that spans the initial deal as well as follow-on deals for more seats, greater usage or new features.
I agree with HBR’s assessment that post COVID-19, customers will be more comfortable than ever negotiating transactions and building relationships with companies completely virtually. Gone will be the days of entertaining customers vs. educating customers and collaborating with them. And, both customers and salespeople are likely to travel less frequently post COVID-19. This means that both men and women will be more able to balance career and family needs. It’s broadly acceptable to “fit” virtual meetings into daily schedules that also involve child or elder care. A dynamic that has long been the norm for working women, and which is just becoming the norm for their male counterparts who are used to going into the office or to the customer face-to-face.
Looking back at my own history with both hiring strong female sales leaders and placing them in some of today’s most important companies, I have seen the value of women in sales leadership positions. Some of our greatest success stories involve placing very successful women sales leaders in important companies like PayPal. Now, with the addition of Christine Williams as our new partner, and the involvement of Kelli Tejada and Lana Kairos on our advisory board, Fortra Search is adopting what the rest of the industry is also waking up to: women bring a critical dynamic to board rooms, negotiating tables, and the executive suite. They bring a strong ability to not only have empathy with the needs of the customer, the needs of their team, and the needs of the company, but to also be able to balance the demands of today’s landscape with the new virtual world of balancing family and work.
I think HBR got it right in this piece. It’s something to think about as we build a more diverse work environment, which must include strong women in important positions.