America is a melting pot—but is your sales team? Creating a diverse salesforce doesn’t have to be an unattainable goal shrouded in mystery with a sprinkle of good intentions. Use data-driven steps to outline a plan of action to create a salesforce that reflects (and understands!) your customer better than the competition.

Just imagine – you made the decision to diversify your salesforce and have created a more inclusive environment that retains A-players from varying backgrounds and perspectives. And because your salesforce thinks differently and challenges the status quo, you’ve improved your market share, you’ve outpaced board expectations, and your customer retention is at record highs.

 

You’ve heard and read about the business case for diversifying your workforce and how the diversity of thought avoids groupthink and leads to innovation. A salesforce that reflects your customer base increases your win rate. And an equitable and inclusive environment retains what you worked so hard to build.

 

But how do you actually create a more diverse sales team? I’m glad you asked…

 

Step One: Set SMART Goals for the Makeup of Your Salesforce

 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that the first step of diversifying your salesforce means hiring a diverse salesforce. But what does that actually mean, how do you do it, and what does success actually look like?

 

Setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals for your ideal salesforce is important. One very common way to decide the ideal is to look at the demographic of your community and set your goals accordingly.

 

For example, if your account management team is based in NYC and the population of women in NYC is 51%, you may want to set a goal of having 50% women as account managers in your NYC team. In essence, your teams should reflect the hiring pool around you. Similarly, if you are hiring inside sellers who work virtually, you may want to broaden your demographic benchmark to include the entire country.

 

Another way to consider your ideal salesforce is to benchmark yourself against your current, or even better, your desired customer base. It’s no secret that we unconsciously favor those who look, sound, act, and share experiences similar to our own. The caveat here is that you really have to know not only your current market but also who your ideal market is as well. The makeup of your current salesforce could be biasing you towards specific markets and making you miss the opportunity elsewhere.

 

Finally, when setting goals for your ideal salesforce, think beyond the surface. Diversity goes so much further than gender, race, and ethnicity. What other factors can help bring diverse perspectives to your team – i.e., age, education, marital status, veteran status, introversion vs. extroversion, or citizenship? Though some are harder to track, particularly when evaluating candidates, adding these to your goals will also take you in the direction of becoming a more inclusive work environment.

 

Step Two: Examine Your Hiring Practices to Compare to Your New Benchmark

 

Now that you’ve set goals for a salesforce that better reflects your community and/or your customers use that data to compare where you are today. The data you collect can tell you which part or parts of your hiring process need the most attention. For example:

 

  • Your candidate pool – How closely do your number of applicants reflect your goal? If your applicants aren’t representative of how and where you need to grow, you may want to look at where you are posting jobs, sourcing candidates, and how you are writing your job descriptions. If your ideal candidates don’t find your postings or know about you as a great employer, you’re already fighting an uphill battle.
  • Candidate progression – Even if you don’t have the ideal candidate pool at the moment, you may still have an opportunity to create your ideal salesforce by examining how candidates are progressing through your pipeline. Looking at the criteria, you have set for yourself to see if there are any discrepancies with how quickly they progress or when they fall out of the process. This could be a telling sign of unconscious bias in the selection process, particularly if all other attributes are held equal such as experience and desired skills. If desired experience and skills are not equal, challenge yourself to make sure that these do not hold an inherent bias, such as coming from an Ivy League school. 
  • Candidate selection – Similar to how quickly and who progresses through the funnel, who is being hired? Not only do you want to consider who is selected, but make sure to also consider your rates of acceptance. How do these statistics compare to your overall candidate selection, movement through the funnel, and ideal state? Who you select could uncover further unconscious bias in your final decisions. If your ideal candidates aren’t accepting, you may want to take a hard look in the mirror to find out why. You may need to examine your interview process, culture, and overall interactions to ensure that candidates get the best impression of your firm.

     

Step Three: Use Data to Gut Check the Equity of Your Practices

 

Defining, finding, and hiring your ideal salesforce is only one part of the equation. The true benefits of a diverse team can’t be brought to fruition if your practices are not equitable and inclusive. You have to retain your ideal workforce for it to be effective.

 

This is where you can use your data to test the equity of your practices and processes. Using the goals you laid out in step one, check your retention rates. Are there any red flags in how quickly groups are leaving? What about promotion rates – with all else held constant, are any groups being promoted faster than others?

 

If you see any immediate red flags, and even if you don’t, dig deeper. Underlying inequities could be causing you to lose or disenfranchise otherwise star employees. In addition to unconscious biases that may be at play, consider these possibilities:

 

  • Location bias – How are virtual sellers or sellers who live and work outside of your headquarters given opportunities, both with clients and internal stretch assignments? Make sure they aren’t “out of sight, out of mind.”
  • Territory bias – You see the younger group of sellers outperforming their quotas and assume that your more tenured sellers have become complacent. But are their territories balanced? If their territories don’t have an equal earning opportunity, perhaps this is why some are outperforming others. 
  • Feedback bias – Studies show that women receive less feedback and less direct and actionable feedback than their male counterparts. This directly inhibits their growth, which in turn inhibits their opportunity and likelihood of retention. Are your formal and informal performance feedback processes equitable and unbiased? Take a look at the cadence and the actionability of the feedback that you are giving your salesforce across all groups (not just gender).

     

There are two types of people in this world – those who cling to the status quo and those who fearlessly blaze new trails for equity, innovation, and growth.  Being a trailblazer isn’t easy, but data can make it easier.  Use data to set SMART goals for your ideal workforce, then examine your hiring and retention practices to understand how and where you need to improve. But don’t rely on the data alone. It doesn’t always tell the full story, so be sure to back it up with qualitative insights from your salesforce.

 

If you are seeking to revamp your talent strategy to retain your top sales talent, give us a call or reach out to our Revenue Growth Help Desk. We are invested in helping you build your culture and make your number. You can also join our Inspire Others group on LinkedIn to connect with peers and share your own best practices for DEI.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Winkle

Combining customer-driven insights and strategic vision to help clients unlock revenue potential.

Prior to joining SBI, Sara spent her career in several customer-facing roles in technology, media, telecom, business services, and hospitality. She has an innate ability to connect the dots between strategy and execution, ensuring that the end goal is never derailed by overlooked details.

 

While her industry experiences have varied, Sara’s passion for understanding the customer has not. She has always been keen to know who they are, what they need, and how they buy. She uses this curiosity to drive a deeper customer understanding, enabling executives to unlock untapped revenue with market-driven decisions. Her client portfolio includes Software, Retail, CPG, and Banking.

 

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