Why Women Are the Future of B2B Sales

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A recent study by incentive solution provider Xactly reported that women salespeople ofter outerperform men, despite holding less than one third of B2B jobs across the U.S. As the B2B sales landscape shifts due to the Covid-19 pandemic, further research suggests that the industry is changing in favor of women. You can read the full article recently published by Harvard Business Review here.

  • Although women make up just over half of the college-educated workforce, they hold less than one third of B2B sales jobs. According to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, women are underrepresented in B2B sales in most industries, including wholesale and manufacturing (27%) and financial services (30%).
  • Yet research shows that women salespeople often outperform men. A 2019 study by incentive solution provider Xactly reported that 86% of women achieved quota, compared to 78% of men.
  • Despite being underrepresented (with women making up 29% of the reps and 26% of the sales managers) across nearly all industries, women tend to hit or exceed their quotas, but are paid less in salary and commissions over time. 

How The Changing Sales Environment Favors Women

Research by consulting firm, ZS, shows women succeed in sales by excelling at different capabilities than men. The research looked at performance of 500+ salespeople across several industries, including financial services, industrial services, and health care. The assessment used a framework that identifies seven capabilities that differentiate high-performing salespeople from average-performing salespeople.

Today’s digitally savvy, self-sufficient, and more informed buyers have new expectations of salespeople. Buyers expect salespeople to add value beyond what digital tools provide. To do this, salespeople need capabilities for collaborating with customers and shaping solutions. These capabilities, focused on addressing customer needs, have become more important for sales success than persuasion capabilities, such as influencing customers and driving outcomes. And this plays to women’s strengths.

Covid-19 has put the deep freeze on many industries. As we emerge from the pandemic and commerce thrives again, the shift to remote selling using video and digital channels will have lasting impact on sales. This will boost the power of women, as capabilities at which women excel align perfectly with the morphing world of sales and the evolving needs of customers.

How Women Perform in High-Tech Sales: The skills of women are becoming more relevant in the fast-growing, once male-dominated field of high-tech sales. Increasing proportions of business technology sales are subscription-based (such as SaaS products) or consumption-based (such as cloud services), rather than one-time purchases. Most value comes not with the initial sale, but rather over time as customers benefit from the purchase and expand purchasing. The trend has created growth in the number of customer success managers (CSMs) — salespeople who encourage customer loyalty and retention by helping customers realize ongoing value. CSMs succeed by connecting, collaborating and shaping solutions; once again, these are capabilities that are women’s strengths. Although women hold only a quarter of high-tech sales jobs, career data sources report that at least 50% and as high as 70% of CSMs are women. And as of April 2020, women were leading global customer success teams at some major tech companies, including Oracle and Salesforce.

How Women Perform in Financial Sales: Consider the traditionally male-dominated industry of financial investment sales. Technology makes customers (investors) less reliant on financial advisors for many needs. “Robo-advisor” computer algorithms can analyze investments and make portfolio recommendations. Investors can execute their own financial transactions online. Yet even highly self-sufficient investors are likely to turn to advisors for help with longer-term financial and estate planning needs. Decisions about these issues are complex and emotional. Advisors create value by listening, empathizing, and sharing perspective to facilitate agreement among family members. The capabilities at which women excel — connecting, shaping solutions, and collaborating — have become increasingly important for success in a financial advisor role.

Of course, there are many challenges with boosting the number of women in sales including addressing the perception that sales requires comfort with risk, such as rejection and income uncertainty, which discourages some women from pursuing sales careers. As customer expectations of salespeople continue to evolve, attracting and retaining more women for sales roles will be a key to future sales force success. 

Read the full article, including ways to boost the number of women in sales, by clicking here. Original article by Andris A. Zoltners, PK SinhaSally E. LorimerTania Lennon and Emily Alexander for Harvard Business Review.


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