How to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in Your Sales Hiring Process

Let’s set a scene.

Your company raises money and is now ready to “scale the sales team.” Their current seller has done a great job, so the natural inclination is to assume that we want to replicate that person and sales will continue to grow, right?

“John is our best AE — I need 10 more Johns!”

Fast forward one year later: “Oh no, my entire sales team looks the exact same…”

Hiring manager calls recruiters: “We have a major diversity problem on the sales team, you can only send us female candidates from here on out.”

One week later: “Why has volume slowed down so much? Where are my candidates!? I’m going to miss my hiring goals this quarter and then we’ll be way behind our sales number for the year!”

Sound familiar?

This is a scenario I know well from my agency recruiting days, and it was frustrating for all parties involved. It’s not because it was too late (I’m a firm believer that you can create change in your organization if you truly commit to doing so) but because turning the ship around takes time — which is the last thing sales, an industry that operates in a 30 day cycle, wants to hear or think about. We all know that diverse teams are more successful, yet this sense of panic around increasing diversity and inclusion in the sales hiring process seems to still run rampant. Why? Because it’s often reactive.

In my current role as the Director of Talent for Bowery Capital, my goal is to be as proactive as possible with our portfolio companies as they work to increase diversity and inclusion in their sales hiring processes. Here’s how:

5 Steps to a More Diverse Sales Culture

Step 1: Write a job description that pulls candidates in vs. pushing them away.

Make sure that when you’re building your job description for your sales team, you are creating a job description that truly depicts what this person needs to bring to the table in order to be successful, rather than a laundry list of aggressive buzzwords that don’t resonate with candidates. We know women won’t apply for roles unless they’re 100% qualified, so an unnecessary list of “must-haves” will immediately cut your candidate funnel in half. Consider utilizing tools like TapRecruit, which provides data-driven suggestions on both the content and language you should use in your job descriptions and is proven to attract more qualified and diverse candidate pools.

Step 2: Partner with outside organizations.

It’s expected that early team members will come from the founder’s network, and it’s important to encourage employees to refer friends and previous colleagues. Yet it is imperative that your company also utilize outside resources to find top talent and create a diverse candidate pool. It’s common for many to get focused on gender as the main factor when thinking about diversity and inclusion, but it’s also important to remember that diversity is tied to age, ethnicity, and previous experience.

For example, instead of focusing on hiring collegiate athletes onto your sales team, consider partnering with groups like Hirepurpose to find veterans looking to transition into the workforce. Many of the qualities that sales leaders love about athletes — team-first attitude, resourcefulness, resilience — are also engrained in veterans.

If your focus is to bring in more women, groups like Women In Sales and LandIt and National Association of Women Sales Professionals focus on career advancement for women in the workplace and are also great ways to engage with diverse talent. Here’s a list of the top communities for women in sales and revenue.

Step 3: Work with agencies.

Not job boards. Agencies. Yes, recruiting agencies are expensive, but if your goal is to create a diverse candidate pipeline, this is imperative. Agencies have access to an incredibly large candidate pool with people from a variety of backgrounds and therefore should be viewed as an extension of your employer branding and recruiting efforts.

Emphasize to these agencies that you want candidates from diverse backgrounds and make sure to set them up for success by providing resources to attract the kind of talent you’re looking to hire. Groups like CloserIQ, Betts Recruiting, and the contingency arm of Kindred Partners (Kindred Scale) are focused on a white glove approach and will be receptive to understanding your hiring goals, and will partner with you to find the right candidates. Think about it this way, for every day that a seller’s seat is left empty, your company is actively losing revenue. A $10k recruiting agency fee may sting at first, but the long-term benefits of finding hires quickly far outweigh the costs of paying a fee.

Step 4: Create an unbiased screening internally.

If you’re not already using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and you are planning on making five or more hires this year, it’s time to bite the bullet. One of my favorite things about Greenhouse is their Blind Testing feature, which allows employers to grade candidate skills tests without knowing the candidate’s name or personal details, which mitigates gender and ethnicity bias and allows for objective candidate feedback.

Beyond just resume screening, it’s important to eliminate bias during the interview process by properly training your team on interview techniques so hires aren’t made on “gut instinct.”

One way to do this is by creating an interview scorecards for each interviewer. One of my favorite hiring principles for creating interview scorecards is outlined in Who: The A Method for Hiring. The scorecard section of the book explains how to interview based on the mission for the hire, the outcomes we need them to achieve and the competencies that are required to complete these things. 

Step 5: Have a diverse interview panel.

Building an inclusive sales culture starts during the interview process, but it’s easy to sometimes forget that candidates are interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them. If your goal is to increase diversity and inclusion in the sales hiring process, make sure to include members of the team who have diverse backgrounds and experience. If there is a such a lack of diversity that this isn’t an option, consider including a female board member or senior advisor in the interview process.

A Sales Funnel Approach to Hiring Diverse Sales Talent

Think about hiring the same way that you think about your sales funnel. You need leads to come in from a variety of sources in order to hit revenue metrics at the bottom of the funnel. It becomes very difficult to scale sales by only bringing in leads one way, so why do we expect that we can handle hiring the same way and see success? Beyond that, why would you want to?

I would argue that the greatest teams in the world are not one-dimensional. They’re not built not by cloning one player or person, but by creating a team of complementary skillsets that created a cohesive unit. After all, what kind of football team would the Patriots be if we expected Tom Brady to throw and catch the football?

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Sales Team Building Activities (+50 Recommended Ideas)

Alexandra is the Director of Talent at Bowery Capital based in New York. She works with the firm’s entrepreneurs on their human capital strategies including recruiting, interviewing, compensation planning, sales management, and onboarding. She is also the Head of Community for Women in Sales, a digital platform dedicated to developing the next generation of female sales leaders. Prior to joining Bowery Capital, Alexandra was the Director of Account Management at Betts Recruiting in San Francisco. She worked closely with founders of high growth software companies including Everstring, Rubrik, Intercom, Apptimize, Zenefits, and Tintri to build out their human capital efforts focused on early revenue generation. Alexandra holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature from The University of Michigan.

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