Diversity in Sales – Gender and more

A few weeks ago I was asked to introduce a debate around women and sales, in a joint event between the WE (women empowerment) and the Sales clubs (of which I am the proud academic sponsor) of the ESADE Alumni association (you can find the link to the spanish recording here). For anyone that has been to sales conventions or meetings, it is evident that women are a minority in complex sales organizations (financial services, technology, commodities) and a majority in simple sales settings (shop clerks, telemarketing). Looking for data on this, the latest US labor statistics that I could find shot that while the gender split in sales positions is roughly 50/50, it is harder to find women in management positions (only 30%) and in complex B2B sales settings. The 30% ceiling also appeared in the statistics of women in management that Eugènia Bieto, from the WE club shared during the discussion. Looking at this first evidence, my question was, is this because women are “worst” than men in sales? (I already knew that they are not, but academics are always on the hunt for evidence).

In order to stay within the US economy I found a very interesting paper by Inks, Borders, Lester & Loe that compares the performance of men and women in the collegiate sales competition. The results from their three-year comparison shows that, in that competition, women perform significantly better than men in all categories, and specially in being assertive when asking for the sale, which may be counter-intuitive to stereotypes of the “gentler” gender. The evidence presented by this article was also coincidental with other research by Siguaw and Honeycutt or by Lane & Crane that suggest that women show “higher levels of customer orientation” and are “better at building a relationship and attending to customers”. These traits are particularly important in modern sales settings, in which salespeople are expected to build relationships with customers and offer consultative solutions, as opposed to older sales practices based on just peddling the goods and services that the company sells.

So, why are women under-represented in sales? The answer to this question took us to a very interesting discussion, in which a few ideas were presented:

  • Male managers have been hiring for likeness rather than for performance. Sales departments and sales managers have only recently embraced quantification and evaluation. Traditionally, sales performance, specially in complex sales, has been hard to evaluate, as it entails many subjective elements, and excellent salespeople were even called “rainmakers”, some sort of magician able to woo customers to the company. In this “magical thinking” environment, sales managers have been hiring for likeness to past star performers (almost always male) and to their own profiles (also male).
  • Sales careers have not taken into account work-life balance, which traditionally is more important for women than men, because of how household tasks are traditionally split by families. Sales is often a department in which answering to the customer comes first, and salespeople should be available for anything that the customers may require. This poses no problem when the salesperson is fully devoted to their position, and may cause problems for those who have other priorities or needs, beyond serving the company.
  • These two effects combined have created specific male-dominated cultures in many sales departments, which have made them less attractive for good women salespeople.
  • In the discussion of these ideas we already found ways in which sales organizations and sales departments could allow women to flourish in them:

    • Introduce metrics and analytics for sales performance, to reward and promote based in objective evaluations. This is easier now than ever, because of a shift in culture within organizations towards a more analytics based management model, and also because of the increase number of digital interactions in the sales process, which are easier to measure that traditional sales processes.
    • Develop a more team-oriented approach to sales, in which responsibilities and workload can be shared so that all the members can achieve a better work-life balance. Also team-based sales is becoming more necessary as solutions become more complex, and customers require many more levels of expertise in their sales counterparts.
    • Change the culture of sales departments… which is becoming less and less helpful as newer sales paradigms are emerging.

    And this in turn led us to consider the future evolution of sales. I have already mentioned the change from a “peddling” to a more consultative model, in which women appear to perform as well as men. Many practitioner and researchers are arguing that we are living another transition to a newer sales model, which will be:

    • More complex… as solutions become more technological and customers become more complex, with many moe stakeholders in the decision making process.
    • More virtual… with videoconferencing and even AR becoming a part of the sales process.
    • More digital… besides videoconferences, suppliers are implementing customer portals, AI or programmatic sales (ABM) to interact with suppliers.
    • More data driven… as I have mentioned before, and augmented by virtuality and digitalization.

    In this new paradigm, not only the old culture in sales will need to change, but it will also have to embrace diversity, as it is the key to be able to adapt to a changing environment. In its book “The diversity bonus” Scott Page presents the idea that more diverse organizations are needed to tackle increasingly complex problems. And this may be the final reason to include more women in sales organizations. It is not just a question of social justice, but also a potential performance improvement, and the door to more diversity, not just in gender but also in other categories such as age, intelectual capabilities and ethnical origin.

Better Selling for a Better World

It has been I while since I was so excited about an academic initiative (if such a thing is possible…). Last Tuesday I participated in an amazing meeting (on Zoom, as things go these days) with academics from the BMBW (Better Marketing for a Better World) initiative. The goal of this AMA (American Marketing Association) is to put forward research ideas on how the since of Marketing can contribute to a better (more socially and environmentally responsible) world. For many Marketing has long been associated with excessive consumption, misguiding consumers an all kind of irresponsible practices. With this initiative we want to highlight that Marketing can also be a tool for doing good, to the society and the planet.

Within the broader BMBW initiative, last Tuesday was the starting point of the BSBW part, as Better Selling for a Better World. If Marketing has had a repetitional problem in the past, what can I say about Sales… even the academics at the conference could not shake off the old ideas of sleazy, cheating salespeople and the “evil” they did to the consumers and through them to the society and the planet. As a former salesperson and as an academic devoted to the study of sales and sales management. I know that those stereotypes are far from the reality, the majority of the salespeople care a lot about their customers, and many worry also about the effect they have on the environment and the people. That’s why I am so excited about this initiative, which has tech potential to finally help shake off the bad image of sales and salespeople in the world.

We are the first stages of defining research topics for this initiative, and these days I have been thinking about the issues at the intersection of two ideas: Sales and Sustainability (S&S).

The first issue that comes to mind, is the sustainability of the sales effort. How companies can make sure that:

  • Salespeople find a balance between the demands of their job and their wellbeing. On this topic, there has been an excellent paper by Habel, Alavi and Linsemayer on the effects of variable compensation on salespeople health (link here).
  • The sales effort is sustainable for the company, that they do not “burn” the resources they use and that the achieve the expected results.

The second one is the impact of sales practices on how sustainable companies are, specially how to “sell” sustainable solutions, and how the sales function can help customers choose or co-create more sustainable options.

So I am looking forward to explore this issues and to bring some insights on them to the sales community, through research and not-too-boring classes.

Selling, Sales and Persuasion

I live in a complicated work… when people know that I teach “Sales” (please bear with the quote marks, you’ll see why) often they think that I can teach them how to sell, or that I can teach them how to organize a sales department or that I can help them defining a go-to-market strategy… and I can do all of them, and you see how within the term “sales” (understand the quotes yet?) so this post is a clarification of the different aspects I see in “sales” (last time there are quotes, I promise):

  • Sales as a strategy: this is the Go-to-market strategy part… people would ask me, how can I sell this XXX (fill in here any product or service)? I see this question more as a Marketing, and eventually Go-To-Market question than a sales one, as in the answer I would have to use marketing concepts, such as segments that are targeted, the positioning of the brand… good resources for answers to this questions are: “Transforming your Go-To-Market Strategy” by V. Kasturi Rangan and “What is Marketing” by Thomas Bonoma.
  • Sales as a function / department: people would ask me, how do I set-up a sales department, organize my team, hire people… to sell XXX. This is the kind of questions we answer in the sales courses I teach at ESADE and in other business schools. Once the marketing questions have been answered, and the Go-To-Market strategy is clear, we have the foundations on which to build a sales strategy (as in how to build the sales function) and a sales organization. The best resource, in my humble opinion, to find answers to this question is the very complete “The complete guide to accelerating sales force performance” by Zoltners and Sinha.
  • Sales as persuasion: finally, people also ask me, how do I convince someone to buy XXX from me? To answer this questions I have to use concepts of persuasion and “sales techniques”. I usually dislike “sales technique” books, as I usually find them shallow and not evidence based… I would recommend “To sell is Human” by Dan Pink, and “Influence” by Robert Cialdini.

This was just an “off-the-top-of-my-head” post, more on this soon, as is the topic on which I make a living.


In these pages I will be writing about what matters to me, hoping it will be of interest, and maybe help the people who read it.

First, I’ll be writing about what moves me as a lecturer in the Marketing Management Department at ESADE Business School. Passionate about helping companies and entrepreneurs carry their products to the market and set up a proper Sales Strategy. Developing a thesis about Key Account Management (KAM) Effectiveness. Fascinated by innovation, technology and all the new ways to do things better.

Also, I am an active (likes to work out) father of two, living in Madrid and enjoying the city as a training ground. I run and bike in it, not as often as I would like, and struggle to find a pool that will conquer my heart. The best thing is to take the family in these outings.

Finally, as a man / dad / husband / citizen / academic, I think a lot about my role in society, and there will be some ramblings on this issues too.



How organizations can help fight depression

Last night I finished the book “Lost Connections. Uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solutions” by Johann Hari. At the same time, I had become aware of NBA campaign, at the ads during the playoff matches, creating awareness about mental health (here on Youtube). Also, I have been confronted by depression, both at a personal level, myself (therefore my interest on this book) my family and my friends, and also in my job, where I see colleagues and students struggle with anxiety and depression.

Reading the book triggered a question, how responsible are companies and business in the prevalence of anxiety and depression in the western world (18,1% of the American population, according to the ADAA, 350 million people worldwide according to the WHO)?

In industrial or modern societies (as opposed to traditional societies, such as the ones we find in less economically developed countries) most of us work for a living, we spend most of our lives working, what we do, and what happens in our work environment affects how we defines ourselves. Working has substituted almost all the other forms of social connections that we have had in the past, and that still less industrialized or less modern societies still have (religion, tribes…) as seen in the Amish chapter in the book).

According to Hari, there are nine lost connections which are responsible for depression or anxiety (disconnections from meaningful work, from other people, from meaningful values, from childhood trauma, from status and respect, from the natural world, from a hopeful and secure future). Among those, five of them (disconnect from meaningful work, from other people, from meaningful values, from status and respect, from a hopeful and secure future) are very related to our work lives and to what happens around our work environment.

Also, among the “reconnections” he prescribes in his book, there are some who are relevant to how companies and business are run: obviously reconnection to meaningful work, but also overcoming addiction to self, as according to what Hari explains in his book, a capitalistic consumption society drives us towards focusing on extrinsic values (own more, have more, be more) which lead to depression and anxiety.

I think that business should examine their role in developing mental health in the society, as a way to become more responsible citizens.

In the decades since the ENRON scandal in 2001, companies have become much more aware of their impact in society (reference) the “triple bottom line” (financial, but also social and environmental) has been adopted by some companies (you can find a good summary by The Economist here)… following the direction of asking companies and business to be better citizens, maybe a mental health aspect should be added to the social element of the triple bottom line.

Companies should start asking themselves, first how do they make their employees feel, whether the culture and the practices inside their facilities contribute to vital aspects of mental health such as feeling respected, feeling empowered, providing them with meaning and helping them feel their future is secure.

And second, companies and business should also ask themselves how they feel the consumers to which they address their products and services feel. Do their communication campaigns feed on their insecurities? Are they fueling the belief that by having more, they will feel better?

My guess is that if those questions were asked, a lot of the answers, for most of the companies, will be negative… which would put companies and business at the heart of the “depression epidemic” in the industrial or modern societies. I believe they can no longer turn their backs on this reality and that they should react before it is too late. A depressed society is a dying society, which will bring the companies and business down with it… if not for their responsibility as citizens, companies and business should react to this for their own sustainability and start thinking about their role in the mental health of the people around them.