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How to Train Diverse Sales Teams

Sales management

a diverse group of sellers in a corporate meeting room participating in a training program that encourages collaboration and development because of an intentional focus on the part of the program designers to consider diversity and inclusion.

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Training a diverse sales team means building a program that is inclusive, open, and aligned.

Sales leaders have a responsibility to go further than simply thinking about selling skills. They must also think about the best way to share those skills so they will resonate with a diverse team.

Doing so means structuring the learning process so that all participants are engaged. This is not an intuitive task. Understanding the depth and breadth of the sales team and knowing how to create a program that speaks to all of them is a complex process. Sales leaders must consider how the hypotheticals used in role-playing exercises will appear to the team. They must consider how their decision to cast different sellers in different roles might impact the learning experience.

These questions and others are examples of a culturally intelligent approach. Cultural intelligence or CQ is the ability to recognize how one person’s thinking and actions are influenced by their background. Those who have developed their cultural intelligence can also discern which of those thoughts and actions are part of the person’s culture, and which are part of their individual personality.

Here we look at a few ways in which sales leaders can develop their CQ and empower a diverse sales team with training that speaks to them.


Seek Balanced Participation

Teams always consist of introverts and extroverts. This can lead to a setting in which the dynamic, tone, and direction of the team are set by the extroverts. Over the long-term this can create problems because introverts have valuable insights that might go unvocalized.

Consider research from Yale University which concluded that the introverts within a group of nearly one thousand volunteers had a more intuitive grasp of the psychology that governs most of us. “This demonstrates an unappreciated strength of introverts,” explained one of the study co-authors. Other studies echo this finding. A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that introverts provided a crucial counterbalance during difficult periods for the team when the extroverts sometimes drew energy away from the task of solving the problem.

This research tells us that sales leaders need to build a sales training program that actively seeks to pull introverts into the conversation so that the value of their thinking can be fully realized.

They can do this by ensuring that the sales training program is structured to seek responses from all participants. Sales leaders need an in-person, instructor-led component in which the entire group is present and therefore able to hear the input from all other members. Moreover, they need a facilitator who is prepared to seek responses from each seller rather than relying only on volunteers who are likely to be extroverts.


Create Psychological Safety

Psychological safety refers to an environment in which people believe that they will not be penalized for suggesting an idea or attempting a plan that is unsuccessful. Without psychological safety individuals rarely start or even participate in innovation. They do not want to risk failure.

Leaders need to communicate to their team that all ideas are welcome. It is important to remember that this is not the same as accepting all ideas. The key is to communicate that ideas will be heard.

It is also important to remember that psychological safety is more than the leader’s responsibility, it is the team members’ responsibility as well. That is, the members must encourage each other’s participation, support one another’s initiatives, and seek cohesiveness. The success of this approach might explain why research from McKinsey shows that “consultative leadership” styles tend to be supportive of psychologically safe team settings. Leaders that avoid an authoritative approach a more effective at fostering the kind of setting that feels inclusive to all.

Psychological safety must be developed over time. It is not a setting that emerges in a day or a week. Moreover, creating this environment in a diverse group might require more time than it does in a less diverse group because people of different backgrounds often need more time to become comfortable opening up to others and exposing themselves to the vulnerability of volunteering new ideas.


Committing the Entire Organization to Diversity

The sales team is unlikely to fully engage with training when it is a mandate from an executive team that lacks diversity. Therefore, training a diverse sales team means demonstrating diversity across the organization.

Many organizations understand the importance of business-wide diversity, but few can achieve it. Consider that nearly two-thirds of respondents to a Harvard study claimed that DEI was a high strategic priority yet only one-third of respondents from the same study describe themselves as being very successful in building such a workplace.

This research illustrates that creating a truly diverse organization takes time. The Harvard researchers found that the companies that succeed in their DEI efforts measure inclusion goal progress at least annually or even quarterly in some cases. This regular measurement is what prevents the company from normalizing an environment of sameness.

Developing a diverse executive team is about more than just displaying diversity. It is also about having the range of backgrounds needed to fully understand the equally diverse sales team. Even the best intentions for diversity will ultimately fail if they come from a group that does not know the experience if working within a diverse team.

Building and maintaining diverse teams takes time but the effort is well worth it. Diverse teams can more effectively connect with an equally diverse buying team. Diverse sales teams are also more innovative and benefit from a wider purview.

Making sales training work for a diverse sales team means regularly seeking participation from all members, communicating that all ideas are welcome, and developing diversity across roles outside the sales team. Click here to schedule a meeting to speak with one of our experts to learn how Richardson can meet the diverse needs of your sales organization.

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