We recently surveyed 150 VP of Sales in the Software/SaaS market. The focus of the survey was to learn about their experiences and thoughts about hiring and managing women. (It is worth noting that of the 150 sales leaders, the vast majority were men.)
Here are some of the more interesting results….
When we are asked to conduct sales searches for our clients, it's common to hear that the best candidate will be hired, regardless of gender or anything else. We wanted to know if there was ever a preference to hiring women - by a margin of almost 10 to 1, the answer was yes!
When asked about the biggest challenge faced trying to create more gender-balance in their sales teams by far the most common response was that there were just fewer women available as candidates. The second most common response was that there was no challenge; that recruiting and hiring women posed no unique challenges was the same as recruiting or hiring an equally well qualified man.
We asked if there was any vertical market where women were viewed to be more successful or were better suited for success. The responses were practically unanimous - no; that women were equally successful in all verticals. That said, many of the sales leaders who responded did say that women, in general, were better and more effective salespeople. The ability to read people, be intuitive and better understand the dynamics of the deal were noted as the reasons for this advantage.
One of the more interesting responses regarding competitive sales cycles...when the competing salespeople were all men, several VPs we surveyed said women had a significant advantage selling against men. (I would have loved to explore this more but the downside of an anonymous survey is that it is anonymous).
What about the importance of gender balance to a sales team? Again, by a margin of almost 10 to 1, the answer was “yes”- a blend of men and women was viewed as an important component to a successful, healthy sales organization.
I also wanted to know if there was a difference in managing of women vs. men. Interestingly, many sales leaders responded that women require less direct coaching and in general, take more ownership of their accounts, clients and/or territory. The second most common response was that all salespeople, regardless of gender, are motivated differently and by different things; that it is the job of the sales leader to know the salesperson well enough to be able to motivate them effectively based on those unique and individual motivators.
Last, I asked for comments or general thoughts. This was interesting. Several people wished there were more women in software sales, more to hire and more to be part of the recruiting process, more often. However, the most common response was along the lines of this, “gender doesn’t matter”- many of the sales leaders we surveyed viewed themselves as “gender blind”- during the interview and hiring process and while managing his/her sales team. There were numerous comments which indicated that gender was a non-factor when hiring and that gender didn’t make any difference to the success someone had in his or her sales career.
I have found that the request for female candidates has become more common ask in the last 24 months- whether that is corporate directive, the desire for more gender-balance on the team or some other reason I’m not sure.
These results of this non-scientific survey, would seem to indicate that most software sales leaders feel it is important to hire women as well as men and have an interest in doing so (when they actually have qualified female candidates in the mix). Women are viewed as easier to manage, requiring less input and direction to achieve a successful outcome.
While it seems that gender-balanced sales teams are important, I have found that filling the empty slot on the team usually is given a higher priority than creating a gender-balanced candidate slate- which usually takes more time because of the fewer number of female candidates.
There are specific strategies companies can employ to find, attract and acquire the talents of female salespeople (or women in general). Few organizations take the time to learn or employee these strategies however which often results in more men being hired, leading to heavily male dominated cultures which makes it even more difficult for those companies to attract female employees as they continue to grow.
About the Author:
Doug Johnson is the president of Valor Partners, a boutique search consultancy that specializes in recruiting dynamic and innovative leaders, sales, and marketing teams for software companies. He focuses on women in tech and helps companies with gender-balance strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.