In her 2014 TED talk, Susan Colantuono, CEO of Leading Women, proposed a striking theory that, according to her, partially explains the “gender gap” in high-level management positions in the corporate world.
Colantuono attributes the gender disparity at the top to the existence of two qualitatively different mentorship tracks, one for men, another for women. Colantuono cites a quote from an executive of a global company that clearly captures this idea:
“I had two protégés—a man and a woman. I helped the woman build confidence and the man learn the business… I didn’t realize I was treating them any differently!”
While Colantuono says qualities like assertiveness and confidence are pivotal in helping people climb into the ranks of middle management, these are not the traits most likely to help them break through into upper management.
For employees to reach the top of the ladder, Colantuono says, they need advisors and mentors to help them develop business and financial acumen—an area she believes many women do not receive enough tutelage in, due in part to some of the gender biases about mentorship reflected in the quote above. Colantuono believes this “missing 33 percent of advice” for women is helping to perpetuate the gender gap at the top.
What Does This TED Talk Have To Do With Salespeople And Customer Conversations?
You could extrapolate from Colantuono’s experience and presentation that if business and financial acumen is the prerequisite for executives, this will be the language your salespeople need to know to speak with them. And, sell to them more effectively.
When it comes to engaging with executive buyers, and articulating the value proposition of your solutions, you have to be able to connect with the emerging industry issues, their strategic initiatives and the business impact your solution will provide in dealing with these considerations.
Research confirms this. According to analyst firm, SiriusDecisions, executive decision makers desire and value sales conversations about business trends, issues, and insights up to four times more than they value relationships and product expertise. But unfortunately, only a small fraction of salespeople are proficient in their ability to have these conversations, according to surveyed executives.
To gain this proficiency, salespeople need to master five key competencies for selling a solution’s business value:
- Buyer’s Perspective – understand the emerging trends and industry issues and how they are impacting your prospect and customers’ business
- Customer Insight – know where and how to find the data and documentation concerning your prospect and customers’ key initiatives
- Financial Acumen – be able to accurately and convincingly connect your solution to the way money flows throughout their businesses
- Return on Investment – know how to tell a great story around business change and what returns – hard, soft, and strategic — you can generate
- Executive Engagement – develop the confidence to connect with, engage and deliver a memorable and remarkable executive conversation
An effective executive conversations training program will emphasize applying these competencies to actual accounts during the program, as opposed to using more hypothetical, case study-based training models.
Ideally, your salespeople will get a chance to practice having conversations with actual executives who have experience making similar purchase decisions in a safe, risk-free environment.
Additionally, that program should measure adoption, behavior change and overall business impact to ensure the training program is achieving the outcomes your company needs.
As Colantuono says, the key executive skills required for promotion include helping your organization “achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes” and driving decisions that help your companies reach their “strategic financial goals.”
Your salespeople need to be able to come alongside and show executives how you can help them do just that.