Business-to-business (B2B) sales are at a crossroads. The B2B market continues to grow at an exponential rate. In 2016, the entire B2B market was approximately $22.7 trillion in 2016, while by 2019, B2B e-commerce alone had risen to $12.2 trillion. So far, while other sales sectors (such as retail) have seen customers less reliant on sales teams, B2B deals are becoming increasingly complex, and the field is even more relationship-centered than in the past. So how should B2Bs succeed in this new sales environment? The answer is simple: Hire more women.
Women are underrepresented but more successful in B2B Sales.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only comprise about 30% of B2B sales personnel, and those numbers haven’t seemed to change much. But study after study shows that women are actually better at sales than men. For example, Xactly concluded that, across a range of industries, women are more likely to meet or exceed their sales quotas. At the same time, Kennesaw State University researchers analyzed 10 years of results from the National Collegiate Sales Competition and concluded that women out performed men on every sales skill that was measured.
Researchers in the Harvard Business Review even recently concluded that “women are the future of B2B sales.”
Women excel at the heart of B2B—“relationship selling.”
There are several reasons that begin to explain why women should do so well in B2B work.
Unlike retail sales—which frequently consist of a single transaction, and where the customer does most of the research before a purchase—B2B Sales are rarely just one interaction. Instead, they’re the product of an ongoing relationship built on trust. B2B sales are more collaborative and consultative than transactional, and the sellers’ social and emotional sensitivities are important.
On each of these points, women have been found to have the advantage. They nurture relationships; they are more comfortable in a collaborative environment. Women are perceived to be more trustworthy and authentic. They’re higher in social sensitivity and emotional perception.
Furthermore, studies have shown that best in B2B sales should even be able to anticipate the future issues and opportunities their customer may encounter. In a 2020 study of 29 firms across Europe, researchers concluded that customers can’t always recognize or articulate their true needs to suppliers. Therefore, “salespeople need both customer and technical knowledge, but customer knowledge is more important.”
Or, as Joanne Moretti, Board member CMO of DecisionLink, put it, “My mentor/friend gave me the best advice ever and it’s advice I pass on to all females—learn what your customers value, and learn to speak the language of business and finance, and you will achieve every goal you set your sights on.”
Firms can—and should—increase women’s roles in Sales.
B2Bs need to improve diversity-focused recruiting. For example, studies have shown that even a slight change in the language of a job advertisement can impact women’s willingness to apply. As the Harvard Business Review article pointed out, women are less likely to apply to a job for a “competitive” or “aggressive” position, but they’re interested when they can succeed in a “customer-focused” environment.
Firms need to be better at developing and respecting the female talent they already have.
In a 2020 study of 400 B2B sales managers, Central Michigan University researchers found that female managers were more meticulous about producing quantitative forecasts, while male managers went with a subjective assessment. While a 3% increase in forecast accuracy can yield a 2% increase in revenue, both the men and women felt that the men’s gut feelings were taken more seriously than the women’s hard data.
And finally, B2Bs will succeed when they realize that the Glengarry Glen Ross cutthroat environment of old needs to be retired.
Companies succeed when their staff thrives—and women thrive when their clients thrive, and they feel comfortable. Women in B2B share the views of Shirley Dunkley of DecisionLink’s Sales Development, who stated, “Employees can focus and execute on the company’s goals and still succeed as mothers, wives, and whatever else we aim for in our lives. Every day, I wake up feeling grateful for my team, happy to help others, and excited to make an impact on people’s lives!”