Sales Executive Corner

The blueprint for building diverse and inclusive sales teams

Pamela Mattsson, Senior Vice President of People and Organizational Development at Outreach's Avatar

Pamela Mattsson, Senior Vice President of People and Organizational Development at Outreach

Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that most women sales leaders share one commonality: They are accustomed to being the only woman in the room — or one of very few. Likewise, that’s often the case for professionals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) or as members of the LGBTQIA+ or disability communities.

These disparities create environments where people from historically excluded groups often feel alone, unsupported, and like they’re masking their authentic selves to fit in. And that was the norm even before the pandemic, which disproportionately affected women and people of color.

As we look around the physical and virtual rooms we’re in today, it’s even more important to ask, who is not here?

Let’s look at the status quo:

  • More than two million women left the workforce in 2020, when the pandemic took hold.
  • Women in senior leadership were 1.5x more likely than senior-level men to consider downshifting or leaving their careers in 2020.
  • Black professionals continue to be underrepresented in the U.S. tech industry, especially at the leadership level, making up only about 2–5% of all tech leaders.

Representation is a critical first step, and there's significant ground to gain. Currently, women only represent 12% of the top positions in sales. That’s surprising when you consider the fact that women make up more than half of the college-educated workforce. In other words, today’s sales leaders do not reflect today’s buyers.

The Status Quo

Expanding the diversity of your sales team and company is not only the right thing to do, it also drives better business outcomes. Research shows that when you have a diverse sales team, win rates and quota attainment are higher. A study by sales incentive provider Xactly found that 86% of women in one study hit their quota, compared to 78% of men. Plus, nine out of ten sellers agree diverse sales teams are more successful.

So, how do we solve the disconnect between the status quo and the outcome we want to achieve? We must take action to address the problem. That’s what we did at Outreach, and now we’re excited to share the blueprint so others can replicate (and improve upon) it at your own organization.

Introducing the RISE and RISE UP programs

At Outreach, we established the RISE and RISE UP programs, two leadership training programs created to help grow diverse talent from within.

We started with the women in sales program — RISE — which was designed to develop women, build their confidence, and give them a space to lead authentically, so they can take control of their career destiny.

Next we established the RISE UP program for rising Black individual contributors of any gender and in any role. The goal: to deliver opportunities and access to rising leaders, wherever their career journeys take them.

Building the foundation together

Before we launched the programs, we knew it was important to approach RISE and RISE UP with an emphasis on collaboration.

There’s a great quote from Brené Brown: “True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” So, we were very intentional about how we developed the program alongside participants. We held true to the adage: “Nothing for you, without you.” 

Participants were co-designers of the program, and we made space for them to give real-time feedback to shape their learning experience in the moment. Program facilitators and I weren’t there to prescribe what a successful salesperson or leader should look like. Instead, we were there to help participants identify their own authentic version of thought leadership — so they can become leaders in a way that’s authentic to them.

“True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” Brené Brown, author, scholar, and public speaker

We also were very clear that participants did not “owe” Outreach anything after they completed the program. If they ended up moving on to another company, we wished them well and knew the business community would be better for it.

Trust is everything, in life and in sales. Laying a foundation of trust is the only way to help people show up authentically. And if we can’t establish that trust within our organizations, how would we expect rising leaders to be their authentic selves and build trust when they’re out in the field?

How to create your own RISE + RISE UP programs

To create positive change, we must be willing to do things differently to increase diversity in the sales profession and business community overall. We’ve seen the success firsthand at Outreach. In fact, during the RISE program for women in sales — three participants were promoted and participants collectively attained 115% quota.

More importantly, it’s not about the organization; it’s about empowering the next generation of leaders with the opportunities they need to build the careers they want.

With that in mind, here’s how you can build a RISE or RISE UP program at your organization.

1. Recognize: Identify your top talent and let them know. Conduct “stay interviews” to determine what keeps future leaders at your company and what they would need to stay long term.

At Outreach, the RISE program itself signaled a clear career pathway and investment in participants as human beings, two of the things identified as critical in our stay interviews.

2. Inspire: Provide access to learning and development opportunities. Prompt knowledge sharing across the group and empower them to share with their peers at the company, their network, and the larger sales field.

During Outreach’s RISE program, we helped participants tap into their own inspirational and authentic thought leadership and helped them share it both internally and externally.

3. Support: Empower rising leaders to be their authentic selves — they can lead in their own way. Trust is everything in sales, and if you can’t be yourself, it’s hard to build that necessary trust to be successful.

It was powerful to see women shift from trying to be like their male counterparts, to instead leaning into their unique style of leading. Many of the leadership approaches they thought were “wrong” were simply different and equally, if not more, effective.

4. Engage: Give top performers a forum where they can learn. In other words, create a community where participants can come together and uplift one another.

Not only did the women in RISE at Outreach support one another, but they were able to influence real strategy — from how we do promotions to how we think about forecasting.

5. Unlimited Potential: RISE and RISE UP program graduates should be considered for promotion opportunities and serve as future program role models, mentors, and sponsors.

The real value of a RISE program is the access and opportunity it provides to historically excluded groups to RISE in their organization. This way, participants’ perspectives and leadership can guide the strategy and success of the organization. Programs like this also create a flywheel effect where RISE graduates can recognize, inspire, support, and engage other diverse employees through mentoring and sponsorship.

RISE Program Results

Start your own program to invest in talent diversity

If people can’t look up and see someone who looks like them, even at the senior manager level, it’s that much harder to envision themselves in that role. They may consciously, or unconsciously, decide that they can’t grow or develop their career in that organization. But as the adage goes, “if you can see it, you can be it.”

As a revenue leader, you have the opportunity to help inspire, grow, and shape the next generations of leaders. You have the power to help make more diverse sales teams and businesses a reality. Let’s go forth and create organizations that are more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable.

To help you get started, we’re sharing complimentary access to the same blueprints we used for Outreach’s RISE and RISE UP programs. We encourage you to make these your own, based on your organization’s needs.