I talk a lot about my early experience in sales. It’s where I cut my teeth in the business world and it’s the reason why, as a marketer, I largely focus on demand generation so that I play a pivotal role in helping the sales team fill pipeline and close deals.
I say it all the time.
I have the brain of a marketer, but the heart of a sales person.
Sure, I haven’t been on a sales team for some time, but I am the sole sales person for A Better Jones and this experience—of it being ALL on me—has only made me respect the profession more.
And it’s for this reason that I frequently find myself advocating for sales people, on social media, with marketers, and in private. After all, my first LinkedIn video to go viral was a plea to respect and appreciate sales development reps.
I deeply appreciate and respect the work that sales professionals in all types of roles do. Their role is often well compensated, but, at least in my opinion, not as well respected as it deserves.
All that being said, it’s not sales people as a whole or the sales profession generally that i feel most inclined to protect or defend. No, it’s my instinct to empower the unappreciated, the dismissed, and the underrepresented that spurs much of my discourse on the topic.
Sure, the impetus to speak out on behalf of those that are marginalized in the sales community stems from that same impetus to speak out on behalf of those that are marginalized in any community. But it’s more than that.
You see, as a sales professional, I repeatedly found myself treated differently because of my gender. And though I now feel very confident that marketing was the right path for my skills, my mindset, and my talent, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the dominance of the male culture of the sales environment played a role in my transition.
I have so many stories of feeling marginalized because of my gender, and worse, stories of sexual harassment - both overt and truly egregious and subtle and confusing.
A few examples:
One boss sent me a full page memo about how I would be a more effective sales person if I smiled more around the office - even though I was outselling my 7 male counterparts combined.
Another boss, with whom I had a wonderful relationship and still respect, told me I needed to stop saying smart things in meetings because the boys needed a chance to shine.
One VP of Sales made repeated comments about my looks and what an asset they were to my numbers.
Nearly every manager made comments about me being abrasive - a criticism that research shows is rarely given to men.
At my last sales kickoff, without even a hint of irony, the company’s CRO lead the entire sales department in a re-enactment of that chest bumping, grunting chant from Wolf of Wall Street. You know the one…
It was surreal.
I quit a week later.
And on top of all of this, I felt consistent pressure to laugh at the inappropriate jokes, to ignore my male colleagues (and bosses) trips to the strip club, and to always be the “cool girl,” never speaking up when I found something demeaning or offensive. It was exhausting.
It’s been years since I’ve been a member of a sales team. I work closely with sales teams now and I am the sole salesperson for A Better Jones. But it’s not the same. I am not subject to the typical sales environment and I have little interaction with the all-too-pervasive bro culture.
Sometimes this separation makes me think that perhaps the situation has gotten better. But then I talk to women sales professionals and i realize that is not the case.
We Need to Talk
In fact, last fall, I was honored to join two seriously impressive women sales leaders, Trish Bertuzzi and Lori Richardson, to be a part of a webinar hosted by John Barrows called “We Need to Talk.” This webinar came about because of John’s horror at watching famed sales thought leader, Grant Cardone, give a talk at the Drift HyperGrowth conference. During his speech, he made his wife stand in the audience while he bragged about “banging her at 30,000 feet” and proceeded to call her a “dumb-dumb.”
The display was so disgusting and the reaction so negative that Drift’s CEO, David Cancel, made a public apology afterward.
But the problem is that a portion of the audience loved it. And this man is a well-known and highly regarded sales expert. His books have sold millions of copies. He is regularly paid vast sums to speak publicly and share his sales insights.
John made an impassioned plea on social media, sharing his frustration and encouraging sales professionals and leaders to forgo the Bro Culture of sales in favor of a more inclusive, more ethical, more supportive environment. One that empowers all people to thrive.
The response to his plea was overwhelming. Both publicly and in private messages, he had tons of people - especially women - reaching out with their stories - of being passed over for promotions; sexually harassed by managers, colleagues, and clients; and made uncomfortable by an emphasis on a hard partying, heavy-drinking culture.
Together, we discussed these issues and concerns, hoping to make a difference in the community, but it felt like far too little. People appreciated the effort, but nothing changed. Not really.
And it just made me want to do more. I kept thinking about how there must be an opportunity to help change the conversation, to make women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ community feel more at home in the sales world. And to encourage companies and their sales leaders to cultivate a different, more inclusive sales culture.
But I wasn’t sure how.
The White Bro Landing Page
Then over the holidays, I received a LinkedIn message from someone working with an up-and-coming sales leader, the CEO of a SaaS sales tool. His CEO was writing a book, interviewing all the top sales leaders, and dispelling their wisdom. He asked if I was interested in an interview. My immediate response was to be flattered and to enthusiastically reply, “yes!”
But then I clicked through the link he sent, a landing page to promote the upcoming book. On the page, there were the pictures of 48 sales leaders who would be featured in the book. All 48 were white and 45 were men.
That’s 100% white and 96% men.
I replied that I had to decline. I appreciated the invitation, but I wasn’t comfortable being part of a project that clearly made no emphasis to diversify its sources or include a wider variety of perspectives.
I received no reply in response. None.
Time to Be the Change
That desire to be a part of changing the conversation, pushing for a more inclusive sales culture, only grew.
And that’s why when Ashleigh Early reached out to me about doing a podcast together, I jumped at the chance. Ashleigh and I met in the ladies room at Revenue Summit - a Sales Hacker one day conference. We joked about how one of the rare benefits of their being so few women in sales is that there’s never a line for the ladies room at industry events.
And we stayed in touch since.
Ashleigh is my kind of woman and sales leader. She suffers no fools, being direct and authentic. She is unabashedly nerdy (seriously, ask her about Star Trek and watch her go off!), ridiculously funny, and authentically her. She has a number of stories similar to mine. And now as a Sales Development Coach at Vendition, her world is focused on helping sales people early in their careers chart their own path and get to that next level in their skills.
In short, she gives a damn. Which I respect and appreciate.
That’s why we’ve created The Other Side of Sales, our new podcast. We’re teaming up to try to change this conversation, to make it more diverse, more inclusive, and more honest.
Right now, if you google top sales podcasts, they’re nearly all helmed by white men. And while I really enjoy and value many of them, it’s time for there to be more diversity - not just on teams, but in the thought leadership that impacts our industry.
We want to address the topics that make being different on a sales team so darn hard. How to speak up when someone says or does something inappropriate or offensive. How to be an ally to others. Why diversity is an asset not a liability. Ways to create a more inclusive culture.
And we want to share the stories of all the sales people that don’t fit the “sales bro” stereotype. The women. The people of color. The members of the LGBT community. The veterans. The working moms. The anyone who is a little different.
Because we believe those differences make us better sales people and should be honored, celebrated, and respected.
We’ve just published our first episode and we have more coming in the next few days and weeks. We’re sharing our own insights and interviewing some incredibly impressive sales professionals about their experiences. If you’re at all interested in being notified of when we go live, click below and share your email!
We won’t spam you, but we will ask you to nominate others to be interviewed, to tell us what’s on your mind, and to keep this conversation going.
We can change this culture for the better. Together.