Is It Your Sales Team’s Unconscious Bias That Is Holding Back Your Sales Numbers?

Strategies to improve diversity and inclusion in sales

As humans, we do a lot without thinking about what we are doing. When driving, you naturally change gears as you accelerate. You blink frequently and regularly. You may think about what you are saying, but your mouth and tongue move automatically. When walking and stepping off the pavement, you retain your balance without a second thought. You don’t make a conscious effort to breath – until you just read this.

Our unconscious selves are more active than our conscious selves. As we grow older, our experiences and associated social factors become locked away by our brains to give us less conscious work to do. We develop actions, reactions and habits based upon our past. This is unconscious bias. Some unconscious biases improve our performance (like the ability to breathe while concentrating on other tasks). Other unconscious biases put us at risk of making poor decisions, discrimination, risk aversion, and other negative actions. One area in which unconscious bias is most impactful is sales.

Unconscious bias in sales

There are three dominant types of unconscious bias in sales. These are:

  • Recency bias, which makes us recall the most recent information; especially when we are subject to ‘information overload’. This may cause salespeople to unconsciously ignore or forget information that could be a deciding factor in a sale.
  • Affinity bias, which makes people gravitate toward people like themselves.
  • Rhyme-as-reason bias, in which emphasis creates a more powerful argument than logic (for example, “no pain, no gain”)

Such biases may manifest themselves in poor sales performance. For example:

  • Sales managers may unconsciously build teams in their own image, failing to capitalize on the affinity bias of their customers
  • A lack of diversity reduces the capacity of an organization to be innovative and see problems from different viewpoints
  • Dealmaking is slower and less productive
  • Weaknesses may be overlooked
  • Sales revenues decline

How do you manage unconscious bias and create an effective organizational culture?

It is by creating effective organizational culture that leaders can successfully tackle unconscious bias in sales teams. By setting direction and exhibiting expected behaviors, sales managers help to open up the minds of their salespeople, enabling them to understand their own unconscious biases and achieve more positive outcomes.

To create a positive environment in which unconscious bias is tackled, it is first necessary to analyze your organization, and learn what unconscious biases currently exist. Question everything from recruitment to career progressions to remuneration and reward. Consider the diversity (or its lack) of your teams, and how your current culture may be dictating employee and team character. With a deeper understanding of your team’s unconscious bias, you can put in place strategies to correct.

How sales team managers can tackle unconscious bias

There are three steps that leaders and managers can take to tackle their individual biases:

  1. Understand your biases by assessing through testing
  2. Undertake self-awareness and emotional intelligence training, and also improve ability to carefront rather than confront conflicts in the workplace
  3. Appreciate that diversity within teams is a factor that contributes positively to team performance

Other actions that organizations can take to tackle unconscious bias

Positive organizational culture is a prerequisite to tackling unconscious bias at individual, team and organizational levels. There are many actions that can be taken to develop this. These include:

  • Using inclusive language in all communications
  • Employing counter-stereotypes in marketing messages and internal brochures
  • Providing mentors for underrepresented groups of employees
  • Creating inclusivity in all hiring, training, promotion and sales programs
  • Empowering an environment in which exclusion is called out

Create rapport internally to benefit from rapport with clients

The saying ‘people buy from people’ is as relevant within the internal dynamics of sales teams as it is between salespeople and their clients. An effective organizational culture will compel people to identify and understand their own unconscious bias in an environment in which organizational biases are reset to neutral. Commonalities will be found between salespeople, while differences will be celebrated as positive for solution finding, innovation and creativity.

In short, to tackle unconscious bias in the sales arena, leadership should:

  • Analyze and diagnose organizational culture
  • Provide training to leaders and their employees
  • Create organizational changes that support an anti-unconscious bias culture

Coaching salespeople to improve their emotional intelligence will help them become more self-aware and tackle their unconscious biases. Their confidence will improve, they will communicate more constructively, and adapt their attitudes and behaviors to each unique situation.

Contact us today, and discover how we could help your salespeople understand their own unconscious biases.

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