Diversity in a sales team can improve the employee experience while boosting an organization's bottom line.
As sales representatives interact with customers from different backgrounds, they must find ways to quickly connect with and understand those customers. Organizations that hire reps from all walks of life tend to form well-rounded teams that can build strong customer relationships with a wide range of customer segments. However, sales managers must create a safe and inclusive work environment that makes all team members feel comfortable and respected to retain them.
To build the right team, sales managers should understand the benefits of diversity in sales and best practices for finding diverse talent.
What is workplace diversity?
Workplace diversity refers to hiring and retaining employees from varied backgrounds. This practice requires organizations to attract candidates from different walks of life and ensure they feel understood and included. Workplace diversity can reduce the negative social effects of unconscious bias against marginalized groups and boost business metrics like employee engagement and innovation.
Common types of diversity in the workplace include the following:
- Sexual orientation.
- Political beliefs.
- Socioeconomic background.
4 benefits of a diverse sales team
In addition to helping marginalized people overcome barriers, diversity in sales can improve customer connections and increase brand loyalty.
1. Improves customer relationships
An organization's sales team should reflect its diverse customer base because sales reps must build rapport with leads and gain their trust. A diverse sales team is better equipped to quickly build these relationships because sales reps who share common traits with their customers, such as ethnicity or age, are more likely to understand customers' perspectives, needs and challenges.
A diverse sales team can help organizations expand into new regional or international markets. For example, a technology consulting firm based in Nebraska might want to expand its operations to the west coast of the U.S., which has larger Asian and Latino populations than the Midwest. A diverse sales team with Asian and Latino representation could help the firm acquire customers in this new location.
2. Increases employee engagement
A sales department that fosters a culture of inclusivity can make employees feel comfortable and valued at work, which boosts employee engagement. Engaged sales reps are more likely to stay with an organization over time, go above and beyond their work requirements and surpass sales quotas.
Diverse sales teams can also use diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, such as career advancement programs, to boost employee retention and engagement. These programs offer diverse sales reps opportunities for growth within their organizations, which improves employee satisfaction and productivity.
3. Boosts innovation
Diverse sales teams often find innovative solutions to problems because they have a wide range of perspectives from which to understand customer needs. For example, a visually impaired sales rep at a software company might share ideas about improving accessibility features on the company's website. The web development team could then use the sales rep's input to make the site more user-friendly for elderly and disabled visitors.
Diversity on a sales team encourages critical thinking, as team members challenge each other's assumptions and ways of viewing the world. This critical thinking can lead to innovations in products, services and sales strategies, giving organizations an advantage over competitors.
4. Creates brand loyalty
As customers increasingly prefer to conduct business with socially sustainable brands, organizations with diverse sales teams and practices can boost brand loyalty. Customers who show loyalty to a brand will choose that brand's products over a competitors', even if the competitor offers lower prices.
Millennials and Generation Z, in particular, expect organizations to take stances on social issues and address systemic injustice and unconscious bias in their operations. Diversity in sales can help organizations gain the loyalty of these younger demographics and, in turn, increase customer retention and revenue.
4 ways to improve sales team diversity
Sales managers who want to create diverse teams can follow best practices to remove systemic barriers and retain diverse talent.
1. Address unconscious bias
Sales managers might have unconscious biases that they unintentionally express in their employee recruitment processes. These biases can negatively affect candidates and employees from marginalized groups. For example, a hiring manager who loves to golf and ski might find it easier to talk to candidates with similar interests. However, people who engage in these activities tend to come from moderate to high socioeconomic upbringings. Therefore, managers who rely too much on personal connections in the hiring process might create unfair advantages for certain candidates.
To help sales managers and other team members avoid unconscious bias, hiring teams can create interview panels that include multiple employees from across their departments -- preferably those from diverse backgrounds. These panels can ensure employees don't pick candidates solely based on personal connections.
Organizations can also implement blind hiring practices in which hiring teams eliminate identifying information, such as candidate names and genders, from resumes to help teams focus on qualifications more than anything else. Additionally, organizations can offer DEI training to help sales employees become more aware of their unconscious biases.
2. Create inclusive job postings
Managers must ensure people from diverse backgrounds apply for open positions to create a diverse sales team. Hiring teams should avoid gendered language, such as salesman, from job postings to help attract women and nonbinary candidates. They should also avoid words like aggressive and go-getter, which reinforce the stereotype that sales is primarily a profession for ambitious men.
Hiring teams can place job postings on diverse job boards to ensure candidates from various backgrounds see them. Organizations can also partner with external DEI organizations to find potential candidates.
3. Host campus recruitment events
Sales managers can work with universities to host in-person and virtual recruitment events for underrepresented students. These events might include information sessions and panel discussions in which representatives from the organization discuss career opportunities. They might also have workshops to help underrepresented students improve their resumes and interviewing skills.
Organizations can hold recruitment events at local colleges and universities or work specifically with historically black colleges and universities. These events can help sales managers find a steady stream of diverse talent ready to join their teams.
4. Collect DEI data and employee feedback
As sales managers try to improve workplace diversity and inclusivity, they should collect empirical data to gauge the effectiveness of those efforts. To identify trends, sales managers can evaluate the diversity of their applicant pools, interview pools, new hires and promotions. For example, if people of color rarely make it into the applicant pool, managers might reconsider their recruitment efforts.
Organizations should also create employee satisfaction and engagement surveys to ensure all sales employees feel heard and respected. These surveys can help sales managers build inclusive work environments and prevent costly turnover.
Tim Murphy is associate site editor for TechTarget's Customer Experience and Content Management sites.