A quick Google search on the topic of men vs women in B2B sales will pull up numerous opinions on the subject.  A widely read blog by Dave Kurlan (One of Hubspot’s Top 25 Sales Blogs) “Who Are Better Salespeople – Men or Women?makes the case for women.  My own conversations with clients over my recruiting career have similarly been stuffed with opinion, theory and hunches.  What’s missing from most of these conversations is data.

To my knowledge, there isn’t a definitive study that compares the % of men vs. women that hit or exceeded their sales quotas (CSO Insights, are you listening?).  If one exists, please send it to me.  What does exist is a fairly deep study on sales force turnover with gender being one of the variables examined.  In this study, “Turnover in the Sales Force: A Comparison of Hunters and Farmers” the authors interviewed 675 sales professionals from eight firms.  These interviews were a part of the sales professionals exit interviews as they separated from their employer.  Here is what they found…

“Men were asked to leave at a significantly higher rate than women (29% for men versus 21% for women).”  Put another way, 29% of the male sales reps that left their employer were terminated for poor performance and the remaining 71% left for various other reasons.  This means that men were terminated at a 38% higher rate than women.

Does this one study definitively show that women make for better sales reps than men? No, it does not.  Looking at just one variable, albeit a very important variable, doesn’t give us the full story.  If we could look at the sales performance for the eight firms in this study by gender and combine that with the turnover findings we could declare a winner in the men vs women debate.

My Takeaways From the Research?

  1. Missing the Boat.

As part of a different project; I asked our Account Manager at Linkedin to conduct some research for me.  What I wanted to know was how many B2B sales professionals there are in Linkedin in the U.S. that match up with the industries and experience levels that we recruit for.  The answer? 443,775.  Surprisingly, only 39% of them were women.

Most companies appear to be missing the boat with regards to hiring female sales professionals.

  1. Opportunity.

My own talent-aware clients report back to me that, in general, the caliber of female sales professionals they interview is superior to the male candidates they interview.  I agree! Our theory? Outside of a few industries (staffing, media, pharmaceuticals), most hiring managers tend to select men when hiring for sales roles.  This leaves less competition for female reps.

Hiring managers’ bias towards selecting men creates an opportunity to recruit higher caliber female candidates.

  1.  Change.

More than just changing our biases; we need to change how we recruit.  From messaging to compensation and work/life flexibility we need to revamp our approaches.  Men and women most certainly do think differently and look for a slightly different work environment.  As an example, in the Turnover study I cited above, women who left their employers voluntarily cited “Poor working conditions” almost 4x as often as their male counterparts as their primary reason for leaving.

Does your recruiting brand appeal to top performing female sales professionals?

In closing, I know that I haven’t settled the debate and frankly, it would be foolish to rule out candidates based on gender.  However, if you have 2 candidates (1 female and 1 male) that you rate the same, you just might have found your tie breaker.