There’s a lot more to workplace diversity and inclusion efforts than simply making your company appear more “progressive.”
Focusing on diversity in hiring can have a significant positive impact on your company’s bottom line, especially when it comes to building your sales team.
“People want to see themselves represented at companies they buy from, and a diverse sales force can more directly relate to the needs and wants of the people they are selling to,” says Stan Kimer, President of Total Engagement Consulting.
Before we dive into how to develop diversity on your own sales team, let’s take a moment to understand the benefits that increasing diversity can produce.
What does “workplace diversity” really mean?
Although people are quick to assume that workplace diversity only means having more people of color in your office, the technical definition is hiring and retaining employees who represent a number of different characteristics and walks of life. Your organization can increase its diversity of gender, education, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, age, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs, among other traits.
The chief business advantage of diversity is the ability to apply a range of perspectives to the problems your company needs to solve.
If your sales team is made up of a bunch of people with similar backgrounds, they might approach challenges in a similar manner. So what happens when they come across a problem that none of them can solve? And what if they come across a client or market that they have trouble relating to or understanding?
A study by the Harvard Business Review found that a team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% more likely to understand that client than another team.
The study also discovered that having a lack of diversity in leadership presented a significant barrier to diverse perspectives seeing the light of day: “Without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely. This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets.”
“I think the key point to the diversity issue is not that it needs to happen, but rather what happens when it’s not included in your hiring strategy,” adds InsideSales.com VP of Growth Gabe Larsen, who has spent 15 years building and scaling high performance sales teams.
“A non-diverse environment doesn’t foster innovation, it’s not flexible, it just produces more of the same ideas," Larson told Nutshell. "Lack of innovation and creativity is the death of any company today—the markets are changing too fast to allow survival of companies that sit still.”
Promoting an engaged office
Another benefit of increasing the diversity of your sales team is that it brings about higher levels of employee engagement, and anyone who is familiar with sales environments knows that engagement is crucial to getting your reps to perform at their highest level.
In fact, engaged sales reps are not only more profitable, but they create stronger customer relationships and stay longer with their companies than less engaged employees.
Considering the rising cost it takes to replace a sales rep, driven by the massive time and effort required to recruit and train each new employee, having sellers that prefer to stay with your organization is a huge benefit that business leaders can't afford to overlook.
Five Ways to Increase Your Sales Team Diversity
Now that you’re sold on the idea of having a sales team with more diversity, let’s go over five recruitment strategies that are perfect for attracting more diverse talent.
1. Remove your biases from the recruiting process
All of us have our own personal biases and preferences that may impact our judgment when recruiting employees. For example, if you’re meeting with a candidate who went to the same college as you, you might view them more favorably than a more qualified candidate who didn’t. Having a wide range of team members involved in the recruiting process can act as an important check against individual biases holding too much weight.
When it comes to initial assessments, make sure to focus on the attributes that really matter. “What you want to avoid are personality (or psychometric) assessments, which can focus too much on ‘culture fit’ and can be homogenizing,” says Marlina Kinnersley, CEO and Co-Founder of Fortay.ai, a predictive culture recruiting and analytics platform. “Instead, you want to focus on values and beliefs alignment, which is more inclusive, and a better predictor of which candidates will thrive on your team.”
“As managers, we often have biases even if we try not to have them, and I believe AI software can help eliminate some of that struggle,” says Gabe Larsen. “I suggest using a web-based assessment which determines whether the candidate has what it takes for the role. This means assessing their drive, ego and personality—not their skills. If they pass the assessment, then you can move from there to the interview process.”
2. Bury your old sales stereotypes
Sales is too often seen as a male-driven industry, where aggressive alpha-types rise to the top. But buying into that stereotype when you’re hiring can be detrimental to a team’s performance, especially when you consider the range of communication and relationship-building skills that are required to generate success in a modern sales environment.
“In the first company I founded, the employees were all male,” says workplace expert and author Jeff Butler. “I’ve never been the type of employer who tried to ‘balance the scales’ by hiring one gender or race over another. I don't care what a person's background is, as long as they can perform the task that needs to be done.
“But when I started my second company, I decided to focus our hiring on people who could connect both over the phone and email, based on particular qualities we discovered that our business development team required,” Butler explained to Nutshell. “Oddly enough, the company shifted from mainly male, to 90% female. The impact of this was a 200% increase in revenue from our previous year’s Q1—simply by changing the initial point of contact.”
Cristian Rennella, CEO & Co-Founder of financial services company oMelhorTrato.com, made a similar discovery about the power of adding more age diversity to his sales team.
“Our team was formed by young entrepreneurs under the age of 35, and we decided that we needed to balance our team better by hiring people over 55 years old,” Rennella told Nutshell. “Basically, we realized that our service, with some modifications, could also be useful for a market segment of customers 50 years old and above, something that we hadn’t realized at first because nobody in our team was in that segment yet.”
“After building a more age-diverse team, we were able to increase our sales by 24.4%, which represents $14.2 Million USD in increased revenue per year,” Rennella says. “We did this partly by adding specific products for the elderly—for example, one of our items is the comparison of loans, so we added products that focused on retirees and pensioners. We even enlarged the default text on our website by four points to make it easier for older visitors to read. It seems obvious, but I assure you it is not.”
3. Be candid about your efforts and open to outside help
“People of under-represented groups don't expect perfection in efforts—we simply honor an organization's willingness to ask for help and make steps to improve its inclusive culture,” says Tash Jefferies, Co-Founder of Hirekind, which offers resources and education to promote diverse hiring in the tech industry.
“Share your journey with your customers and clients, and explain the steps you're taking to improve your diversity and inclusion efforts,” Jefferies advises. “This shows that you’re taking action, not simply paying lip service.”
Jefferies also suggests developing relationships with organizations outside of your office that can provide more assistance and education. “Whether you work with an organization that focuses on inclusion, or you work with service providers founded by women, people of color, or other under-represented groups, it’s important for your company to support diverse organizations in your greater community and learn from them.”
4. Step up your college recruitment efforts
Another avenue that will help you increase the diversity of your sales team is to invest in college recruitment efforts to specifically attract women and minorities. This strategy has been growing in popularity in recent years due to it being more effective than traditional methods like mandatory diversity training and “unbiased” job tests which managers and workers tend to ignore or rebel against.
The Harvard Business Review found that just five years after a company implements a college recruitment program focused on women, the amount of women of all races in management roles grew by about 10% on average. With a program focused on minorities, the amount of black men in management positions grew by 8% and the amount of black women in management roles grew by 9%.
If your company is serious about tackling the issue of diversity, blaming the talent pipeline is no excuse. Focusing on college recruitment helps you find smart, energetic candidates proactively, instead of waiting for them to get in touch with you.
5. Aim for balance
“Sales teams should be assembled with the care of a coach putting together a great team of athletes,” says Meaghan Dawson, a recruiting/HR professional and writer for The Grit & Grace Project. “Strengths balance weaknesses, and complimenting talents create a unified team that can meet the needs of any client, regardless of background”
When increasing the diversity of a sales team, a recruiter or hiring manager should start with an in-depth understanding of the team already in place, to understand which perspectives and talents are lacking. “Being well-versed in the talents and holes within your sales team allows you to know which strengths to screen for,” Dawson told Nutshell. “The hiring process has to take into account the needs of the team to make it a whole.”
“And contrary to popular belief, a well-rounded team does not mean a bunch of well-rounded individuals. In fact, a team of people with lopsided talents and strengths who play well off of each other can make the strongest and most focused teams in sales.”
One final thought: Although you may have high hopes that each of your sales reps will come in and set the world on fire, you’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that different people want different things in life. Some may want to work their way up the ladder while others may want a good work-life balance. Just because someone has different goals does not mean that they lack drive, commitment, or ambition.
It’s important to value the goals of each individual and promote different career paths and opportunities within your organization if you want to reap the benefits of a truly diverse sales team.
Has your sales team increased its bottom line by focusing on diversity? We’d love to hear how you did it. Leave a comment below, or tweet us @nutshell!