3 reasons why diversity delivers sales
Diversity is an increasingly critical aspect of a successful sales strategy, say Sandy Boxall and Mivy James. They explain why a diverse sales team is a winning sales team
A few weeks ago we were sitting in a meeting with about six other people – two women and about five men in total. At one point, one of the women was making a point and one of the men, loudly and without warning, just started talking over her as if she wasn’t there. She then subsequently gave up trying to get her point across and it was lost as the conversation moved on. The mansplainer (we can think of no better word at this point) clearly had a high opinion of himself and had a tendency to ignore the ideas and thoughts of others.
We rather hope there was no point in time when this was acceptable behaviour, but it certainly isn’t now. Times are changing and while there is certainly a lot of this still happening, we believe that the millennial generation is much more sensitive and welcoming of all points and perspectives – at some point in the future it will be as unacceptable as overt sexism has become now.
This got us thinking – what does the diversity agenda mean for sales people and sales efforts? While getting the best out of your workforce and not paying people and then ignoring their opinions is a pretty obviously important thing to do, what are the wider customer-facing impacts?
- Knowing your customer *and* what you’re selling
Many years ago a friend of mine worked for a small high end consultancy. Its senior management team was composed largely of men, although there was a relatively balanced gender mix at the more junior levels.
Hoping to generate new business, they approached L’Oreal and thanks to their relatively compelling proposition, they were invited to present. Three middle aged white guys pitched their plan as to how to help the largely female management team of L’Oreal maximise shareholder value from their largely female customer base. Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well; they were thrown out until, “they employed someone who understood our products and customers”.
First idea, don’t pitch about something you clearly can’t understand. You have to involve people with demonstrable insight. Sales has a large element of perception in it – if you look like you’ll fail, why would a customer buy your services?
When applying this lesson to Government customers, while sadly it’s still true that the overwhelming number of senior managers are men, but there are increasingly large numbers of women gradually working their way through schemes such as the Civil Service Fast Stream.
2. Know the scoring criteria and be ready for it
The Government is pushing a number of agendas, from environmental sustainability to SME involvement in the supply chain a – smart business ensures that it takes these criteria into account. By setting scoring or criteria to reflect certain aspects, the Government is actively influencing market development. With diversity increasingly one of these criteria, suppliers need to reflect this in their sales documents and account teams Don’t find yourself in the position of having the best offer and losing because you weren’t compliant here.
One particular bid I ran used diversity as an assessment criterion, and so when we came to present we ensured that two of our five presenters were women. Happily our business was forward leaning enough that we had very talented women we could involve. We were asked no difficult questions about our diversity – presumably as actions speak louder than words. Our competitors were not so lucky and groups of five men (apparently) were asked how they were going to achieve gender diversity on the project.
As a business, if you do not support talented staff of all backgrounds at a junior level then you can’t expect to have them at a senior level and should expect to go into deals like this with a weaker competitive position – and that’s just a daft place to be.
3. Team work makes the project work
Different people bring different skills. Some are great at relationships, some have an almost bloodhound sense of where a sale might come from, and some manage the detail and technical information to get a great bid out in good time.
As a Sales Director, you need a balanced team, if everyone’s first instinct is to go running off around the country chasing new ideas then who closes your deals? If no one can manage a relationship then how will you convert promising leads into stable accounts? So, you need a cross section of people and ideally they will reflect the customer and critically where the customer wants to go. If the customer says it wants diversity, then that’s what you need too.
A business fundamental
Equally important is to remember that great delivery makes sales easy and that the converse is painfully true. Once you’ve started working for a customer you need to work to add new projects. But if you have a team member who insists on mansplaining in painful detail to female customers and treating them like idiots then you should expect not to be invited back.
In a market as competitive as today’s that is simply an unacceptable risk, which means that as a manager you need to deal with it – and if you’re the problem, seek help to change before someone fires you for missing your numbers.
Respecting diversity is simply good business.
About the authors
Mivy James is Client Group Head of Consulting BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Mivy.firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandy Boxall is Business Development Director for CFP and a Business Development Director at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Sandy.email@example.com
Mivy and Sandy have been colleagues for nearly 10 years and know each other very well, this is their first collaborative blog.