EPISODE 655: What’s Next for Women in B2B Sales with Leaders Lori Richardson and Gina Stracuzzi

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Today’s show featured an interview with Lori Richardson from Score More Sales and Women Sales Pros.

Find Lori on LinkedIn.

LORI’S ADVICE:  ” Listen in your meetings and make sure that people are speaking up that might be sitting quietly. Just say, “We haven’t heard from you. What are your thoughts?” Then just ask individually, “How are we doing with women in sales here? What’s missing? What could I do better?” Don’t assume that just because you have a number of women on your team that you’re all set, because there may be things that you could do and improve on.?”

GINA’S ADVICE:  “Investing in the professional development of all your employees really, is critical. A lot of companies will tell you, first thing out of the gate is, “We have a lot of internal resources, they have access to all kinds of programs.” When you ask them, “Well, how many people actually avail themselves at those? Is it a safe space if it’s live? Do they feel like they can talk about what’s of concern to them, or their fears, or their career aspirations? Usually the answer, if people are being honest, is no. Find outside resources, such as the IES to fill those gaps.”


Fred Diamond: I’m excited to be here with Gina. We’re talking to our good friend Lori Richardson. Many people know, as a matter of fact, a big part of the Institute for Excellence in Sales is our Women in Sales programs, the Executive Leadership Forum, and the Emerging Leaders Forum that Gina runs. You could find information about that in the show notes. And of course, our Women in Sales Leadership Elevation Conference. But when many people think of women in sales, so many times, Lori, people have said, “Do you know Lori Richardson?” Almost from the day that the Institute for Excellence in Sales had decided to start doing some Women in Sales programs with Gina. You are well known. Congratulations on that. For people who do or don’t know you, give us a little bit of an introduction and get people who do know you caught up on what you’re up to.

Lori Richardson: Fred and Gina, it’s so great to be here and it’s good to see you both. I’m excited that you haven’t done this together before, this is fun. I am a sales strategist. I run a company called Score More Sales, which has been in business for over 20 years now. It’s hard to believe. In 2015, I launched a community called WOMEN Sales Pros, and we do consulting with companies to help them be more inclusive. That is for the leaders who want more women on their sales team, but they just have trouble finding or hiring or retaining them. We’ve been doing that for quite a while and have some great successes, and we’re sharing more of those this year. The new thing is that I’m spending 2024 talking about companies that are really getting it right, that have women leaders on their leadership team, and their sales leadership, and all the great things that have happened for their companies revenue-wise. You’ll be seeing those over time. We have a newsletter that we’re reinventing and going big on. Also, the ongoing podcast, Conversations with Women in Sales.

Fred Diamond: What is the state of women in sales in B2B, corporate America? Gina, where would you say we are?

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, that’s an interesting question because I think it really varies from industry to industry. I know tech sales women have made some really great strides. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we have an ever-increasing array of allies and companies that want to do the right thing, as Lori, I’m sure can attest to. Sometimes they get it really right. Sometimes they make mistakes, but most of the companies that we deal with are really trying to do the right thing. Coming back from the pandemic, I think a lot of companies really candidly said, “We’re trying stuff. We’re throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks in terms of embracing the hybrid workplace that we live in, and trying to keep things equitable, trying to give everybody opportunities, keeping the corporate culture strong.” It’s a brave new world. I would say that there are still some industries that have work to do. What do you think, Lori?

Lori Richardson: I work with a number of different industries. I used to be very tech heavy. I agree with you that we see some great changes and we’ve seen some great allies, a lot of male allies that have come forward to be supportive. That’s fantastic. Like I said, we’ll be highlighting some of those companies this year. Also, I’ve seen DEI teams laid off, a whole team. In tech and otherwise, companies where the attitude has seemed to change, like, “We don’t really need that now. Social unrest, we’re cool right now,” which is sad to me to see that happen. But also, just some great women leaders that I know are out, that have been downsized, that are looking for work that are in enablement and leadership in sales. I see a mix and my goal is not to change the world, because that’s a big undertaking, but to make a dent in it this year. That’s my goal, is to make some real obvious things happen that people can look at and say, “Wow,” so that we don’t have to go like, “Wow, has it really changed, or hasn’t it?” There’s a lot of work to be done, but yes, some great stories to share as well.

Fred Diamond: Tell us, Lori, with WOMEN Sales Pros, how does an engagement start? What I mean is where does it come from? Is it from the C-suite? Is it from senior sales leadership, or is it from enablement or at the ground level? Just give us the insights on who is approaching you. Then, Gina, the same question. Again, you run the Women in Sales programs, a number of leadership programs for companies like Amazon and Hilton and Oracle. Where does it generate, where does the interest start?

Lori Richardson: We typically work with mid-size large SMB companies, and it’s got to be initiated at the C-suite, because change won’t happen otherwise. It’s too easy to put things on hold when it’s someone in the mid-level. In a bigger company, it’s usually a very senior person in sales that has recognized that there’s some issue that the women are leaving the company, or there’s turnover, or issues. We’ll work with all different size companies, but it’s as high as possible. Even when it’s not at the highest level, we want some connection to the C-suite, just so that they know what’s going on and we know they’re supportive. It’s got to happen from the top.

Gina Stracuzzi: I will say it’s interesting that most of the stuff that we deal with comes from the VPs of sales and whoever’s running whatever the title might be within any given organization, but whoever runs the sales organization. To your earlier point, Lori, about the downsizing of DE&I, which the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times kind of forecast almost a year ago, that this was going to be big news in 2024. It is very interesting because there used to be this kind of wholesale buy-in that this is what we need to do, because if you back up to a larger picture, retention is such an Achilles heel for so many companies, and the cost of attrition just kneecaps them.

It made sense to invest in women and minorities and make sure that you retain them. Now, to your point, there’s been this kind of reversal. Companies are a little less eager to spend, even though they know it’s in their best interest to do so, to invest in the professional development of the sales leaders they have. They’re willing to throw the baby out with the bath water. Now we’re starting to see more women advocate for themselves, going after their own professional development dollars and saying, “I know that this is in the budget for me, and I want to do it this way.”

Lori Richardson: I would like to think that that is happening because there are more of us out there encouraging women to speak up on their own behalf. That they’re seeing more role models out there to say, “Don’t wait for somebody to tap you on the shoulder.” Speak up and be clear about what you’re looking to do, and build your career path.

Gina Stracuzzi: Which is the mantra of the forum, you cannot get there if people don’t know where you want to go. You better know where you want to go before you start talking to people about where you want to go. I love seeing women coming and saying, “I’m going to go after my own development dollars, because I know it’s there.”

A lot of people don’t track that down within their companies. Maybe they were told when they first came on board, “You can use so much money for professional development.” Maybe they took them up on it and maybe they didn’t. Now they’ve been there for five years or something, and it’s like, “Wait, I have money?” To your point, empower yourself, or if you know women in your company and you know that there’s professional development dollars, remind them so that they can do these things.

Fred Diamond: I’m going to list a type of individual, tell me what your messages are for them. You both have had amazing careers, as not just women in sales leaders, but sales and business leaders. What would be your main message in this topic to a young woman who is starting her career in sales? If you had one or two things to say to these various people, what would you say? Again, a woman who just graduated from college, maybe she’s in her first or second year as a sales professional. Maybe she’s an SDR, maybe something along those lines. Lori, what would be your sage advice to this particular person?

Lori Richardson: My first tip is something that I never did because I didn’t know any better, was to negotiate your salary. A lot of women don’t know that you can do that. Even when they say, “We don’t do that,” you can negotiate time off, you can negotiate a longer vacation, holiday. There’s a lot of things that can be negotiated. That was my big mistake just because I didn’t know any better. I would also say, enjoy your career. Find a company you’re proud to work for. Find managers and leaders that are happy to work with you and coach you. If you don’t have that, there are other companies out there that you should look for, products and services that you’re delighted to represent. There’s many, many great opportunities in sales, don’t get stuck in a place that you feel unappreciated in.

Fred Diamond: Gina, how about you?

Gina Stracuzzi: Before I get into mine, I want to add to what you just said there, Lori, because this happened to me and lots of other women I know. Something I coach women on now, don’t take a new position within your company, or even a brand-new position in a new company, where they say, “We’ll bring you in at this level, but we’re going to raise you up. We’re going to give you more money. Let’s just get you in the door.” Don’t do it, because it never happens. Something will always get in the way of that promise, I promise you.

My advice would be really learn how to network, because it’s important for your personal brand, it is important for company exposure. It is something that wasn’t really driven home to me as a young person. Networking wasn’t even really a word back in the dinosaur age. But it’s really important to know people inside your company even, which is something a lot of people don’t do in big companies. They don’t think to network within their own company and learn about what other areas of your company are doing. Because lateral moves can be life-changing, and if you don’t know and they don’t know who you are, you don’t get those opportunities.

It’s really important to grow your career and to grow your brand, that you really put yourself out there. It is getting increasingly easy to just sit home and you work from home, and then you go out and walk your dog, and that’s the extent of your social engagement for the day. I’m as guilty as anyone. You really have to work at it now, but it’s critically important.

Fred Diamond: Let’s take the next group. Let’s say a woman who was in her first or second level management position. For lack of a better age, sometime maybe mid-30s, early-30s, maybe she has a child or two, it doesn’t really matter, but they’re at that stage. They’ve been in sales for five, six years, now they’ve been promoted to manager or director, and maybe they’re going to keep going, who knows. But what would be your sage advice for the woman at that stage of her career?

Lori Richardson: What’s interesting about the manager level, especially frontline managers, is that I think that AI is going to take a lot of what they’re doing. For years, we’ve been harping on managers to coach their reps, and we always hear, “I don’t have time.” I think AI will be coaching reps. I really do. I’ve seen some tools that can do this, actually. I’m not saying that to scare anyone, because I don’t believe it’s doom and gloom. I think it’s a great opportunity that maybe you can have more of a director mindset, and maybe you can do higher-level things.

If you can get data back about the state of how your reps are doing, and also not have to spend time doing reports and spreadsheets and all this kind of input, it will give you higher-level things. I would say to keep focusing on communication skills, on how to be more expressive, and do the things that AI will not do. If you can do that, let AI do the rest of the stuff, all the menial stuff that you never wanted to do as a manager anyway.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’m going to piggyback on that a little bit in that it is really important to have continuous growth and continuous professional development and education. Don’t get stagnant. Especially, it’s very hard if you are a new mom, or you’re juggling a couple kids. It’s easy to come in, do your job, go home, and rinse and repeat. It’s a lot, but it’s important to keep growing and not get stagnant. I would say probably a critical piece of advice for anyone at any age is do not be afraid to ask for help. Women really do themselves a disservice because we don’t want to look stupid, or we don’t want to say we don’t understand something. Yet it has been proven again and again that leadership loves it when people ask questions, when they say, “I don’t fully understand what you want here, or what your vision is.” They want to be questioned. If you sit on it, you’re really doing yourself a disservice too. It’s that constant asking questions and continued growth that is going to help you the most.

Fred Diamond: Actually, you may recall, Gina, we interviewed Alyssa Merwin, who was the IES Women in Sales Leadership Award winner for 2023. We interviewed her right before the pandemic, and she talked about how her superpower was her vulnerability and the ability to be honest and authentic that she didn’t know all the answers.

Speaking about senior leaders, you both work with some amazing women who’ve reached the highest levels of sales leadership and business leadership. I’m not going to mention any ages or anything, but what will be your advice for them, for the women who are leading organizations, leading teams? We’re out of the pandemic, but there’s still so many remnants from a lot of what’s happened. The world’s changed. It’s different. There’s so many macro level things to be concerned with. What would be your advice for the peers of yours? The women who were the VPs, the GMs running sales, or maybe they’ve run sales, and now they’re running the business unit. Gina, what would be your advice for them? Then, Lori, what would be your advice for women at that level?

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, it’s always make sure you’re lifting other people up and bringing other women and underrepresented groups with you and keep the diversity growing, especially, to Lori’s point, as companies are cutting things out. Be that light that keeps shining and make sure that you don’t get fearful of what you have. Because it’s a human emotion to say, “Okay, this is mine now. The kingdom is mine. I have the keys. I don’t want to share it.” But as the saying goes, we learned everything we needed to know in kindergarten, sharing really brings more growth. It really shines a strong light on you if you open the doors and allow other people to become leaders themselves.

Lori Richardson: I have noticed something about a lot of women leaders, which is they’re very insular within their company, and they’re not out there, they’re not building their brand, they’re not talking on LinkedIn, although they may be reading. They’re learning on LinkedIn, but they’re not commenting and posting and sharing. I think the downside is that if something happens and you do get downsized, you got to start at zero, like people have had to do. I would encourage women to be more out there. You may have a great role and you may love it, and I hope you do, because that’s the best to have. But if you’re worried about the future, just start networking more with people outside of your organization.

I went to an event yesterday in Phoenix, and it’s just so great to meet up with different people that are in whole different communities and areas, and people that I wouldn’t normally meet with. Do that because it’s important, because you could change gears, the company may change, and it’s just smart to be expanding your horizons and learning. Like Gina was saying, always learning.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about allyship. You just gave us your messages for women who are new to sales, women who are first in their reaching a management level, and of course women who are now senior. If you had an opportunity to be in front of either a VP of sales or CEO who runs sales as well, about the concept of allyship and everything that we’re talking about, and enacting change, what would be your advice on, not just, “Hey, you need to be an ally,” but what would be some specific things that you would recommend to them? I know, Lori, you do this as part of your business. Gina, you do a lot of this too with the Women in Sales Leadership programs and the Premier Women in Sales Employer program that’s run by the IES. Lori, if you had that opportunity to have a conversation, how can they become better allies?

Lori Richardson: It’s critical for a CEO or anyone in leadership in a company to really lead by example for anything about the culture of the company. Supporting more women in sales is definitely one of those areas. I just congratulate the ones that are doing it, that have that mindset, and some are struggling to do better. Those are the ones that I want to help, because I don’t want to try and convince someone about the revenue benefits, or just the smartness of doing it. But we want to show examples of companies that are really getting it.

I would just say, your small steps, your actions, telling your male-oriented male majority sales team that you’re running a professional operation. I heard just this week, someone was telling me that there were women on their sales team being hassled by somebody that is hitting his numbers, achieving his numbers, and no one wants to talk to the guy about it. It’s like, you have to set the tone as a leader, that you have a professional office and that we don’t tolerate things like that. It’s sad that in 2024 we have to have those conversations, that we even have to bring it up. That’s just within the company, let alone customers sometimes, and prospects.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is still sadly very much a thing. I talked about this on the She Sells Summit a couple years ago, that leadership can do a lot by really paying attention to what’s going on in their offices, to your point, in meetings. If you hear somebody talking over other people, especially men over women, or even women over women, stand up and say something. “Lori, Gina was still speaking,” or, “Gina, Lori was still speaking. Let’s let her finish.” Really, if you see on someone’s face that they’ve got an idea, they have something they want to say, call on them, and lead by example, to your point. Because as long as you allow those things to keep happening under your watch, you’re not a good ally.

Lori Richardson: People think it’s okay. “If the leader didn’t say anything, it must not be a big deal.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly. If you feel like you want to be an ally to someone, that means that you give them the freedom to speak to you candidly and that you honor what they’re telling you, and not go around and repeat it, so that perhaps you can give them advice that they can trust. It’s all of these things, and it really is, to your point, Lori, you have to lead by example.

Lori Richardson: I would say, Fred, you’re an example of that. You’re a great ally because you intentionally wanted to have this conversation. It wasn’t just a, “Why don’t we just throw this in?” This was an intention, and good leaders are doing that. Thank you for being an example for us.

Fred Diamond: Thank you. I appreciate that. Actually, to be honest with you, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from both of you. In the very beginning when we created the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we were doing live programs in Northern Virginia. The very, very first year that we did our programs, some of the women in sales came up to me and said, “Fred, I’m not sure if you realize this, but every speaker this past year was a middle-aged white male. It would be nice if you had some women speak.” I discovered the organization that you were running and we met so many amazing women in sales, which we probably had close to 30 of them, either speak live and in person, and many of them have been on our podcast. As you know, we have our Institute for Excellence in Sales Speaker Bureau. You helped us recently identify a dozen women who are great speakers that we’ve had conversations with, that we have added to the Speaker Bureau.

Before I ask you both for your final thoughts, I want to give you both the opportunity to plug something that you’re doing. Lori, you run an amazing podcast with an amazing history, and you also run a scholarship as well. Can you tell us a little bit about that and pay a little bit of tribute to Barb as you say that?

Lori Richardson: Our friend, Barb Giamanco, started a podcast back in about 2018, and it was interviewing women in sales. She called it Conversations with Women in Sales. I was very supportive of it. Unfortunately, in the summer of 2020, she passed away and I wanted it to continue on. I didn’t want it to go away. I asked her family, they allowed us to continue it, and we also created a scholarship with the Sales Education Foundation, where we give out thousand-dollar scholarships to women in sales programs around the country. Both of those things are continuing on. Sales Education Foundation has a whole page about Barb, about the scholarship and how to apply and how to donate to it. Also, the Conversations with Women in Sales is on iTunes and wherever podcasts are, in a lot of places, as well as on our WOMEN Sales Pros website.

Fred Diamond: Gina, you have a number of Women in Sales Leadership Forums coming up as well.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes. The next executive forum starts on March 1st, and we have one seat left, literally one seat left. But we’ll be doing one in the spring as well, so there’s always room to get in. The Junior Forum starts in mid-March on the 20th. The big news is our Women in Sales Elevation Conference is going to be July 23rd and 24th. It’s on our website, so please look that up.

Fred Diamond: Once again, I want to acknowledge you both for the tremendous amount of work that you’ve done, not just helping women in sales, but sales professionals, take their careers to the next level, and the employers for achieving more by having people on their teams who are more productive, educated, and well-rounded.

Gina, usually you ask people to give their final thought, but I’m going to ask you. Give advice, either for companies or for the women in sales who are listening, on how they can either take their career to the next level, or how companies can become more effective by being more conscious of being better employers to women.

Gina Stracuzzi: For me, that’s easy. A lot of the companies that we deal with really get this, but not all of them do. Investing in the professional development of all your employees really, is critical. A lot of companies will tell you, first thing out of the gate is, “We have a lot of internal resources, they have access to all kinds of programs.” When you ask them, “Well, how many people actually avail themselves at those? Is it a safe space if it’s live? Do they feel like they can talk about what’s of concern to them, or their fears, or their career aspirations?”

Usually the answer, if people are being honest, is no. That’s why outside resources, outside opportunities to network with other women from other companies, in my case, for what we do, or IES, the larger sales community, really helps people understand that whatever frustrations they may have in their companies aren’t necessarily any different at another company. You’ve got to work within what you’ve got. It really benefits everyone if you allow people to go outside with their professional development dollars.

Fred Diamond: Lori, bring us home.

Lori Richardson: I’m going to say two quick things. One is, listen in your meetings and make sure that people are speaking up that might be sitting quietly. Just say, “Gina, we haven’t heard from you. What are your thoughts?” Or amplify what someone else said. Then also just ask individually, “How are we doing with women in sales here? What’s missing? What could I do better?” Don’t assume that just because you have a number of women on your team that you’re all set, because there may be things that you could do and improve on.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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