I’d like to tell you a story that began with a pretty simple question:
“Where are all the Black sellers in tech?”
The Question of Where
As a young Black tech seller, I’m one of many who ask this question. A lot.
From sons of Ethiopian refugees in Canada, like me, to suburban black girl business school seniors, to the young brother on a Southside Chicago block whose eyes light up watching The Social Network, to Boston CROs examining the world from their offices.
I imagine a quiet chorus of Black folk staring holes into our smartphones and home-office furniture as we wonder the same thing:
“Where are all the Black sellers in tech?”
That ember flickered in me until I became more active on LinkedIn in 2020. I started seeing Black faces speaking on panels, featuring on “top Black salespeople to follow” lists and trending with #sales content. On one hand, it was great seeing those 10-15 voices holding it down. On the other, I could only see those same 10-15 names cycling through the speaking circuit so many times before realizing: our industry’s visible Black talent benchmark is pretty shallow.
Tried and true, the question looped back in my head again:
“Where are all the Black sellers in tech?”
The first word of that question is really important.
What location, website, or resource could introduce me to Black tech sellers?
Where are the successes who have gone before me, the peers who are in the trenches beside me and the rookies I could help coming on behind me?
If I (as a Black person) was having difficulty finding Black tech sellers in the game, how were people with opportunities (conference speaking gigs, podcast guest spots, and job prospects) finding Black talent?
From what I could tell, Black tech sellers needed a where.
The more I searched, the more I realized that such a resource didn’t exist. And that bugged me.
I didn’t grow up with any business connections. I tripped and fell into tech sales and, if I was going to excel, I had to get creative about finding people to learn from. I was happy to learn from mentors of all races, but had trouble meeting mentors who looked like me. That felt like a lonely challenge… until Chaniqua Ivey opened a door.
The Foretaste of Where
In June 2020, Nikki sent me an invite to a Slack group, dropping me into a community with 100+ Black tech sellers.
Here, we could ask questions, share achievements, vent frustrations, hold virtual cookouts, mourn and celebrate together. Started by Morgan J Ingram a year earlier, that Slack group became a beautiful home for organic conversation for Black people in this industry.
The group gave me two initial reactions. The first was: “I knew it! I knew there could be a place where Black tech sellers exist and edify each other!”
The second reaction, though, was a bubbling desire for there to be a more visible resource for finding Black tech sellers. As great as it was to be in that group, it seemed to me too hidden. In order to help most Black people early on in the game (those looking to break into tech sales, those who didn’t have tech sales on their radar yet, and the countless opportunity-holders claiming they don’t know where to find Black talent), the where of Black tech sales needed to be a more public resource.
Around that time, Sales Hacker published their big list of women in sales. In it, Max talked about wanting to erase the “I don’t know any” excuse for why people don’t invite women to speak at their events. The approach resonated with me, so I asked Max if Sales Hacker could make a list of Black Sales Leaders.
Subconsciously, I asked if Sales Hacker could put this together because I doubted a young Black AE would be taken seriously if I tried to make it happen. Max didn’t buy that and invited me to the task. Brooklin Nash also stepped up and asked how the team could support me in putting this together.
So, I set out to build a list — a census, if you would — of Black tech salespeople. Unbeknownst to me, a little more than a list was around the corner.
The Discussion of Where
I pulled the list together bit by bit: combing through company LinkedIn pages, checking podcast guest lists, asking for referrals. After triumphantly getting to about 100 names, I started speaking with more veteran Black Tech Sales Leaders.
Surprisingly, they all started singing a common refrain:
“I mean, it’s great, but…”
“Yeah, it’s cool I guess, but…”
“Honestly, that list will be hot for a week, maybe two, but…”
The more I brought this list to prominent Black tech sales leaders, the more I was confronted with the underlying unaddressed challenges of many Black people in sales. I can’t say that I had any savvy responses at first, but I kept asking questions and listening to concerns and recommendations anyways.
After 6 months of conversations with 61 Black (and non-Black) salespeople, 3 virtual town halls, 3 virtual cookouts and more direct messages than I care to count, some consistent themes emerged.
There seem to be 4 main problems underlying the challenges of many Black people with respect to tech sales:
Many Black people aren’t drawn to a career in tech sales (mostly because of unawareness).
Even if that wasn’t true, it isn’t common enough to see Black folk in the highest echelons of success and seniority in this industry.
Even if that wasn’t true, many Black people aren’t equipped by mentors with best-practices for sales excellence.
Finally, even all of that wasn’t the case, it is far too common for a Black tech seller to still feel like they aren’t welcome at their company or in this industry.
Make no mistake: there are Black people that don’t relate to any of the above. That said, even a casual observer of LinkedIn in 2020 would agree that the number of Black people who feel personally impacted by the above is significant.
That’s what I found after my listening tour. A public Black tech sales census wasn’t going to make as big a dent in those challenges as I wanted.
The census did accomplish something else: it ignited the Black tech sales community to action in addressing these challenges. We’ve all had our fill of posts talking about this obviously bad situation before us: we decided to come together to do something about it.
Today, it’s a pleasure to publish both the results from the Black sales census (see the full list below) while also announcing what it’s given birth to: Sales for the Culture.
Census: 1600+ Black Sellers to Engage With
Over the past 6 months, ahead of building Sales for the Culture, I’ve put together a list of nearly 300 Black sales leaders to tap for recruitment, speaking, training and more.
Looking for individual contributors? You can find 1300+ more Black sellers (searching by function, title and company) here.
Know a Black seller who isn’t on this list? Add them here.
Here is Where: Sales for the Culture
Sales for the Culture is a non-profit, communal movement of Black tech sellers, for Black tech sellers.
We exist to make sure that Black people are attracted to, empowered in, enabled for and included by the tech sales profession. From the VP at the $3B organization to the SDR who got hired last Friday, we are building the community that we need so that we don’t have to run alone anymore.
S4TC is being shepherded by some of the best leaders in the game (with more being asked for).
We’ve got a first class board: Morgan J Ingram, Shelton Banks, Chaniqua “Nikki” Ivey, Marcus Knight, Mercy Bell and Roderick Jefferson. (We’re still looking for a Black board member who is a community engagement mastermind and is not a cis man.)
We’ve also got phenomenal community leads who are building and running contextualized programming for sellers at each stage of their career. Our Sales Leaders** are being shepherded by DeJuan Brown. Our AEs** are being guided by Nathan Crafts. Gabrielle Blackwell and Ernest Owusu are leading our SDRs. Phillip Moore is coordinating our community outreach** to Black people not yet in tech sales. (**We are still looking for co-leads for these groups who are not cis men).
This community is still being built from the ground up — there are currently 400 Black tech sellers in this group with hundreds more looking to be added.
We can’t promise perfection out of the gates, but we can promise ever-expanding training, mentorship opportunities, virtual cookouts, and digital community being built and continually improved upon to support Black tech sellers who are tired of having to navigate this game alone.
After all this talk, action is needed. Here’s two things you can do right now:
Engage With The Black Tech Sales Leader Census
- Share the census with every opportunity-owner you know. I’m talking about conference hosts, podcasts, hiring managers… If you know someone with a platform, let’s make sure they see this. Let’s make this list unignorable.
- Add to the census. If you know a Black seller who isn’t on this list, add them here
- Follow people from the census. If you don’t have a whole lot of Black tech sellers in your network, change that — follow and connect with people on this list
We’ve come to realize this communal movement is so much more important than “a list.” So how can you support Sales for the Culture?
Go to salesfortheculture.com
For anybody interested, but especially for Black tech sellers, you can get connected with our content (like the “Made It” podcast), link up with re:work training to help more Black folk enter the game and join the S4TC Slack community. If you or someone you know want to get in on this movement, salesfortheculture.com is the spot.
As we begin another Black history month in an ever-fractured world, we know race is a divisive topic.
It’s difficult to fathom substantial conversations about race that end in anything but conflict.
That said, it’s hard to imagine race conversations that are more substantial and unifying than what Sales for the Culture represents. Socioeconomic mobility. Community development. An international Black movement to advance outcomes for a people, independent of any legislature.
While I know that many will find fights to pick with S4TC, I have a hard time imagining a solution that the tech sales community could rally behind more.
So, let’s rally. 2020 is the year that we talked about racial change. 2021 is the year that we create it, together.
The next time someone asks you “Where are all the Black sellers in tech?”, tell them we said “Here we are.”