It’s 2022 but the gender disparity in Sales is still very real. According to Forrester, although women make up more than half of the global workforce, they represent fewer than one-third of all B2B sales and one-quarter of all B2B tech sales roles. To make matters worse, women hold only 12% of leadership positions in Sales. But here’s the interesting thing — women-led sales teams deliver higher win and quota attainment rates than their male counterparts.
So what’s causing this disparity? Like a lot of gender issues, the answer is deep-rooted. Sales has for long been a male bastion dominated by “hunter-gatherer” kinds of stereotypes. Entry into this exclusive “boys club” hasn’t been easy. It is also a result of year after year of similarity bias in action – continuing to hire more people that look like the people already on the team.
But, new ways of doing business have emerged and the B2B Sales function is in the midst of unprecedented change.
Impact of SaaS Business Models
The advent of the SaaS business model has changed Sales forever. It’s no longer about closing that one big multi-year deal every quarter. Instead, it’s about winning your customers’ business every single day. Fail to do that and you’ll see your churn rate ticking upwards.
It’s no surprise that the dominant strategy in B2B Sales today is “land and expand” — a customer-centric model, far removed from the product-centric model of the past. Today’s customers expect businesses to provide ongoing value and deliver meaningful business outcomes. Increasingly, they want companies to go beyond being mere vendors and act more like partners who proactively help them grow revenue through product innovation and usage.
Success of this business model depends on building long-term relationships with customers. And all relationships begin with empathy.
Empathy and Long-term Relationships
Truth be told, empathy was my super-power in Sales (and still is in Customer Success). When I started my career decades ago, deals were made either at the golf course or the strip club. I didn’t go to either place but was always keen on getting to know my customers. I sought to understand their pain points not only from a technical standpoint but from a business and personal perspective. Taking this approach helped me address both their immediate and long-term challenges. More importantly, it nurtured long-lasting relationships that carried on even after I or the customer changed jobs.
For me, this was the beginning of customer-centricity. All too often vendors think of their own needs (revenue, revenue, revenue) and put themselves at the center of their decision-making. Keeping the customer at the center of my decision-making keeps my empathy in action and focused on the right things.
So, when the software industry switched from perpetual licenses to subscriptions, I found it to be a seamless switch and my move from Sales to Customer Success a most natural one. The industry was now validating the customer-centric philosophy that I had always followed.
When I moved to Customer Success, I found that the best CSMs were the ones who possessed a high degree of empathy and an intense desire to help customers find value. Their success was so closely tied to their customer’s success that it was hard to separate the two.
Evolution of Customer Success
Over the last few years, Customer Success has evolved from a “problem solver” to a “trusted advisor.” CSMs are now expected to anticipate customer needs, often even before the customer gets there. An ideal CSM not only ensures the customer gets the value they had hoped for when they signed the deal but also highlights opportunities for expansion at the right time. Not for the vendor’s sake, but to solve additional business problems for the customer.
While “land and expand” may be part of modern-day Sales lingo, Customer Success teams have been guiding the customer to the next phase of their journey for years now. In other words, Customer Success teams (and women) have developed and honed the very skills that Sales teams are now seeking to cultivate. Business Value Selling without Business Value Realization is that old “me first” mindset. End-to-end value management is the heart of a Customer Success mission.
Just as men were perceived to be suited for Sales roles, women were traditionally perceived to be ideally suited for Customer Success due to them being more “nurturing” and “patient.” It didn’t take me long to call out this unfounded bias. Every employee, regardless of role or gender, is a steward of the business and helps drive its growth.
Customer Success has undoubtedly shown us the importance of empathetic customer-centricity permeating every aspect of a business. It’s time for Sales teams to expand employee diversity and look beyond Business Value Selling for new ways of providing value by driving an end-to-end Value Management process.