Episode 142: Diversity in the Sales and Marketing Industry – Natalie Severino

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 142: Diversity in the Sales and Marketing Industry - Natalie Severino
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While the importance of diversity is stressed in many industries today, other fields are still known for being “old boys clubs” – and sales is one of those fields. Today’s guest is here to talk about diversity in the sales and marketing industry and what has and hasn’t changed for women in those fields.

Natalie Severino is the Vice President of Marketing at Chorus.ai. Listen to the conversation to hear what Natalie has to say about the research studying differences between men and women in sales, how men and women respond differently to job descriptions and requirements, and what people in leadership can do to bring in more women.

Episode Highlights:

  • What’s changing for women in sales and marketing
  • What the research says about the difference between the ways men and women sell
  • Reasons why women might outperform men in sales
  • Building rapport and establishing status
  • How the language in job descriptions affects female candidates
  • The difference between how men and women respond to job requirements
  • How marketing and sales differ in terms of diversity
  • What leadership can do to bring in more women
  • Women’s groups that listeners can attend


Natalie Severino

Women Sales Pros

Girls Club


Marlyou: Everyone, it’s Marylou Tyler. Welcome to the podcast. This week’s guest is Natalie Severino. She is the VP of Marketing at a company called Chorus.ai. Many of you probably use Chorus to help you have better sales conversations, but today, we’re not really going to talk about the product per se. What we’re going to talk about today is an important topic that affects all of us, especially for those of you who are women in sales or women in marketing.

Natalie has done a lot of research in this area and wants to share with us some of her findings. I tell you folks, it’s still pretty shocking. Natalie and I talked offline about being women in general and most of you know I came up through the ranks of engineering. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1981 with a Computer Science degree. I was the only girl in my class and I was always surrounded by men, boys, whatever you want to call us students.

My trajectory to where I am today was not an easy one. Let’s face it. Natalie has news to share that it’s still very troublesome. So, without further ado, I want to introduce Natalie. The first topic is, to Natalie, what’s changing, what’s changed, what’s still the same, where do we go from here? Natalie, welcome to the podcast.

Natalie: Thanks, Marylou. I’m really excited to be here and to get to speak with a badass woman in the sales space which is what you are. I think that the reality is that there are a lot of badass women in sales. I had the pleasure of us meeting a lot of them. I’m also shocked to realize that in today’s day and age, a lot of women are still struggling. Struggling to get the recognition that they deserve, struggling to get the promotions that they deserve, struggling to fit in, and sometimes a “bro culture” that still exists in sales. I’d love to chat more about that.

Marylou. Let’s start with everybody in my audience are people who love process, people who love numbers. You shared some numbers that I want the audience to hear. Tell us about the sampling of a research study that you just did and tell us the results of that study in terms of performance of women executives in sales and marketing.

Natalie: What we did is we took a sampling of 100,000 calls that were recorded through Chorus amongst our high growth, world-class sales teams. We just wanted to take a look and see, “Do we really think that there’s a difference between the way that women and men are selling or performing? What we found was that amongst those calls, 32% of the reps were women, only 32%, and 68% were men. I don’t think that that’s a surprise in and of itself. It’s so fairly male-dominated as a career path.

What was interesting was that we saw that 40% of the top performers were women and only 60% were men. Women were outpacing men on the performance side of things. Leading indicators related to that is that we saw that women actually had higher win rates than men did. Women were at a 33% win rate and men were at a 24% win rate. Women typically had a 20% higher ACV in the deals that they were closing.

I don’t think that we can look at that and just say, “Women are better than men.” I don’t think it’s about that, but I do wonder if it’s related to how hard women have to work to be successful in sales. Maybe it’s a little bit of survival of the fittest and the women that are really performing and succeeding are badasses as I’ve alluded to already. I also happen to wonder if it’s related to the way that women approach the consultative process of being a seller, about how they listen to understand during the discovery process and how they actually work with their customers along the way.

When we looked at the underlying data, we didn’t really see that there were too many differences other than they were maybe asking a few more engaging questions of their prospects. Aside from that, approaches seemed really pretty similar, although they were having more success at the end of the day, which I found pretty fascinating.

Marylou: That is and I think some of it goes to what you said earlier. We do have, in some cases, to work harder for the same benefit. We have a tendency to think through things in a little bit more detail sometimes. We also are relationship engines. We like to build relationships for the most part and rapport. We may take our time upfront to develop that relationship with a prospect or client and have more empathy as we work through getting to close. I will be the first to admit, the audience knows this, that getting closes is not my area of expertise, but I have seen it upfront atop a funnel, from initial conversation to opportunity, that building rapport is a very important part of it because we’re emotion at those layers of the pipeline.

Women do tend to, at least the women in STRs, BERs, and ADRs that I’ve worked with, have a tendency to take it a little further in, to build that empathy but also are really good at setting the tone for the conversation upfront. Once we’re on the phone or we’re working with the prospect, there is a better not only rapport but also status. They establish status a lot faster, it seems, which is an interesting concept.

As you told me offline, one of the worries are that they don’t have the status in the team, but they definitely have the status with the clients and prospects. That’s an interesting duality here that I’m hearing because definitely, the confidence levels are there in talking with clients but maybe not so much working with their peers. Is that what you’re discovering when you to your meet-ups and things?

Natalie: Definitely. Just a little bit about that as background for your audience, Chorus has been hosting some meet-ups both in San Francisco and in Boston. We’ve had some amazing turnouts from actually both women and men and it’s been so awesome to see men show up to support their women colleagues. It’s been incredible, but the topics that have been really resonating with women sellers has been, “What do I need to do to be successful as a woman in sales? How do I ask for the job that I think that I deserve? And what do I need to do to break through that glass ceiling, not only to get the job of being a leader but to be really effective as a leader and as a woman?”

We’ve been having some really interesting conversations about that. For example, in the first meet-up that we had there was a debate amongst our panelists about whether or not we should be hiring for diversity or just hiring for the best performers. There was a real difference of opinion amongst the women on the team about how to approach that.

There was also some really sad and shocking things that women were surfacing in, asking for help as they were doing the networking around, “I’m just coming back from parental leave and I’m being asked to take several steps back in my career in order to get back into the workforce. How do I deal with that? I’m being judged as a parent while working in sales. Can I really go the distance? Can I do the travel? Can I put in the effort in the work that’s required?” Feeling they’re being judged in a different way than their male counterparts.

Like I say, I think that in today’s day and age, that’s surprising to me. So many women work. Generally, they have to be the CEO of their house as well as really effective in their jobs. So many women find a way to make that work regardless of what job they’re in. It’s interesting to hear that they’re feeling extra judgement on that front. As a sales professional, what do you think about that?

Marylou: I’d know, definitely, in traveling the world that there are pockets and communities within the United States. I’m from Iowa. Actually a lot of insurance companies have women in very high-level positions. While it’s an equal opportunity, I was shocked to see how many women are actually in those bigger roles. But there are some pockets where it’s still family-first and women are correlated to the family, and it’s difficult to turn that mindset off when you give into the work world.

I used to say, “Look, I have my work persona and I have my at-home persona, and the two are not the same.” So when you talk to me at work, I would like to be spoken to and given the advantage of someone who is committed to the work that I’m doing, someone who is able to coordinate any type of travel. We have to educate the management team and leadership in some areas of the country.

I don’t see that in Europe. A lot of times, in Europe, women are regarded very highly in certain countries. Denmark comes to mind because I have a client there now. They’re definitely focused on, it’s the person. It’s not women versus men, it’s the person. I would love to get to that type of nomenclature, the type of working workflow here in the United States, but there are certainly verticals. There are certainly pockets and not having had a conversation with the folks from Boston or San Francisco to see if they’re working in tech versus healthcare versus services companies, where they are, financial services. It can be different even on the vertical side of things.

Natalie: That was actually going to be what I was going to ask since you go across so many different types of clients, if that’s something that you’ve run into. Quite honestly, for me personally, I was surprised. This wasn’t something that was on my mind. It was something that was suggested by one of our AEs. She had observed that there didn’t appear to be meet-up groups. She’s very active in meet-ups in the San Francisco area that one existed and she felt like there was a real need for it.

It didn’t strike me at first probably because I started my career at a very progressive company. You may have heard of it, Intuit, a big prominent company in the tech and financial tech space. I worked there for the first 15 years of my career and I happened to work under a female VP of sales. On some level, it didn’t even occur to me that that should be an issue because not only was she so well-respected and that she rocket out every single day, we also had some women account executives on the team that were also very successful.

I didn’t personally experience that in the early part of my career. Actually, it wasn’t until I left Intuit and went to another company that was more in the hardware space that I encountered the good old boys-club, and it was shocking to me. I do think that there’s differences based on industry verticals, in terms of what women encounter.

Marylou: There are, definitely. One of the things that was brought to me early on in my career was I needed to be a role model for people, for women coming up after me, that right down to the reviewing of the job descriptions for employment. If you look at and gathered right now, all the job descriptions on LinkedIn for business development, sales, professional sales, executives, there’s a lot of male-oriented language in those documents.

We, as women, tend to get turned off by some of it. We don’t want to kill. We don’t want to necessarily spear somebody or get involved in the hunt. It’s just the way that we use words, even in job descriptions, is appalling for women. That deters a lot of women from even beginning to get into these types of roles because the language used in the onboarding process is very male-oriented.

Natalie: There are two things that I’d love to share on that. One is, I don’t think that that’s actually something that is limited to sales. I had a role open on my team a few months ago that I was recruiting for that was on the marketing team to do customer marketing, and I had a woman that I spoke to for the role and she’s not the one that we ended up hiring. When I got on the phone with her to have that initial conversation, she was so concerned because she didn’t have 100% of the requirements covered for the job.

She only had maybe two-thirds or three-quarters of them. I just said to her, “We’re asking for a really interesting mix of experience and it’s not my expectation that anyone would actually have 100%.” She’s like, “I wasn’t sure if I should even apply.” I’m like, “You’re awesome. I would love to have you join the team. Why do you think that way? Look at these things that you did.” I think that this is a common thing, is that women—there’s been studies on it—more tend to think, “If I don’t meet 100% of the requirements, I shouldn’t even try,” whereas men, if they have maybe 50%–60% of the requirements will go ahead and throw their hat in the ring.

To your point about the language that’s in the job description, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the company TextSEO. They’re based off in Seattle. They’re doing something really interesting for companies that are looking to hire. They actually have AI models that will look for and flag language that’s in a job description will lead to bias in candidates that will apply.

I think that there’s interesting things that we as leaders can do to make sure that we’re casting a wide net of candidates and looking for not just diverse candidates based on gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or any of those things. But also, it’s really important that you get candidates with diversity in experience, and the way that they think and what they’re going to bring to the table, because if you only hire a group of people that look, sound, and think exactly the way that you do, nobody is going to be challenged.

Marylou: Right. The other thing, too, that I’m starting to see is that there are pockets now of schools, educational facilities that are actually teaching the art and process of sales. The enrollment in those classes is interesting, in that we’re seeing a lot more women now who don’t have this “wing it” personality.

I was never taught sales. I’m an engineer who reluctantly was good at client-facing, so I could speak to the clients and translate what the programmers needed to do. I was always pushed into these positions that were none of my sweet spots, were not comfortable, there was no place to go learn about it. Nor, like you said, there’s definitely no women’s groups back then for engineering women. 1981. No. There weren’t any.

Its feels like this island. You’re on your own. You’re siloed out there, trying to figure it out. I applaud that one of the things that we can do as women, and men too, men need to educate themselves on what the concerns are to bring women sales executives into the organization. The leaders, if they’re male or women, need to really understand the concerns and start breaking those barriers down by changing the language of their job enrollment, changing the way the teams are organized, and bringing in people.

Like you said, the diversity is so important because the different points of view are what make the whole thing just hum. It’s just wonderful to see all these different opinions about things. That’s why I love working with teams, both in Europe and the US because we have the ability to get theses different cultures in. It’s a wild ride, but so much fun to get an understanding of how to have these conversations. And we never talk about gender. It’s all about, what could we do in these different geographies to get this conversation started or continue the conversation and get people to advance in the pipeline?

Natalie: Definitely. You brought up education. Do you know Dr. Howard Dover from UTD?

Marylou: Yes. I think it was last year, UT Dallas, I spoke at that event. That’s how I learned about him. After learning and meeting him, I marched down to Drake University in Des Moines and said, “I want to be an adjunct professor and teach sales.” I actually put together their very first sales class for Drake.

Natalie: That’s awesome. I brought up Howard because Chorus actually did some work with Dr. Dover and his class last term of last year. I’m with you, I think that teaching sales as a discipline and how to be a good seller, how to be that consultative seller that really understands the pinpoints that their buyers are trying to solve, and earning their way into the business by showing them how you can help solve those business problems is something that is so needed. In the past, people just sell into a soles role because they graduated from school and they didn’t know what the next thing was that they were going to do.

With Dr. Dover’s program, he actually gives them a quota. They actually have stuff to sell. They get on the phone and they do it. They have to prospect and build a pipeline, and his class is using Chorus as part of the curriculum. I had the pleasure of going down and meeting with him and some of the students. They were so impressive, so impressive and not even ready to graduate yet, and all I could think of is, “When do I get to hire these kids? They’re so good.”

It was just great to see him and one of the things that he shared with me is that his first term where they were using Chorus to help the students with their role plays, to learn what they were doing well and not doing well, they went from having the standard bell curve to having no curve. There was no curves in the performance.

I got to interview and talk to some of the kids. They were literally going on and recording their calls with Chorus to see, “What was my talk time? Am I asking the right engaging questions? Am I following the process? Are all of those things lighting up in the calls? What can I learn from my peers who are doing it right?” Their performance just shot through the roof, which is just awesome to say.

Marylou: It is awesome. More importantly too is that there is a diversity of male-female because when I was speaking in the audience, I didn’t get a sense like when I normally go to speak a place is primarily 80% men. There was a nice split and enthusiasm. The ones that I had the opportunity to talk with, the graduates, had five or six job offers already. That was also a nice plus out of the whole thing was they’re in high demand because they’re going through a rigorous program. It’s fun, they’re engaged, they’re happy.

It was just a wonderful thing to see so I’m hoping that pockets of those types courses open up across the US. Some of that will break the barrier down of women not even considering a role in sales because there’s so much stigma around it. Because this is a sales and marketing conversation, what are your thoughts on marketing versus sales in terms of diversity with women versus men?

Natalie: I think it’s a whole different ball game. I think it depends on what level of the organization that you’re in, we’ll put it that way. I don’t know why I would say expected, but I feel like it’s definitely a more diverse role in general. There’s generally more women on a marketing than even men. It may even be a little bit of the reverse. When I look at my team, I have a good mix. I’m slightly heavier on women than men, but I have both. It’s typically leaned to more women than men on my teams in the past.

It’s not something that I’ve generally thought about in the same way. When I look at the flipside of that for sales, like I said, some of the things that these women have talked about has been shocking. They have to worry about asking for the business and how that’s going to be perceived. When they are firm, when they’re negotiating, when they’re rolling their shoulders back and saying, “This is what I need,” they’re worried about being perceived as being, pardon the language here, an aggressive bitch just for doing the same thing that a man would do in their shoes. I don’t think we have the same challenges on the marketing side.

Marylou: No. It’s interesting too. I grew up in direct mail and pre-internet, and even in demand generation back then there were a lot more women in that. It’s still about generating leads and marketing qualified leads that are going to result in revenue. It’s just interesting because top of funnel is considered more emotion-based and bottom of funnel is switching from that emotion to logic negotiation. There’s a perception out there that women are great at attracting and getting the conversation started, but when you get to the nitty-gritty of closing and negotiating, that’s where women fall short.

Now, that’s an overgeneralization. You can see it in politics. You can see it in certain areas of the world and I think that that is interesting. That’s where I think we can focus is you have every right to ask for the business as does your counterpart. Maybe you’ll feel better about it if you can create the argument, like that woman you said, she wanted to know everything. Cross the T’s, dot those those I’s so that your confidence level goes up when you do ask for the business whereas men might want to wing it, at least my guys, a lot of them like to wing it to the end. Sometimes, that doesn’t result in a higher close rate.

That’s what we’re seeing here, is that there’s probably more prep going into the close. There’s probably more of every which way you can to create that argument to convince someone that this is a time to act now, they should change, they should change now, and they should change with you. There’s probably a lot more preparation going into that early on in a sales woman’s career, but as you progress up and have more confidence and do more of these types of transactions, there’s no reason why you can’t do that minimum prep and get to the close.

I think women are a little bit more organized in making sure they’ve covered more of the bases before they go out the door whereas men, like you said, are more apt to just go out the door and sends you results. Sometimes, I get very nervous. Why? Because we don’t necessarily have a spray and pray list we can work with. Every record is counting so we need quality. That’s why sometimes the prep work upfront is a better way to go.

Natalie: Agreed.

Marylou: Managers sitting here are thinking, “All right, Looking at my team now, it’s 80–20. Where do I start? What do I do? As a manager, yes, I’ll look at our job descriptions.” What else can leadership do to invite more women into the fold? In your opinion and talking to these women, what’s two or three things that we can start looking at, scrutinizing, changing, making better, if we are trying to blend into the team, male versus female?

Natalie: I think that one thing is making an effort to at least interview a diverse set of candidates and of course, you’ve got to find who you think is best for your company, your role, your culture, but making a concerted effort to at least look at a diverse set is one thing. Certainly, the job descriptions will help.

The second thing is, what I’m hearing is that women are more cautious about wanting to understand what kind of culture they’re going to be walking into. The companies that are really able to attract the highest caliber talents are actually putting a focus on their employer brand and making sure that they’re not only talking the talk, but walking the walk and being able to show that externally.

As an example, one of the things that I really benefited from early on in my career is that same VP that I mentioned, she actually sponsored me. She didn’t just mentor me. She sponsored me. She helped me grow my career. She looked for opportunities for me to grow my skill set, to help me be on the leadership path. She made a deliberate effort and she put her political capital on the line to help me grow and develop.

Find someone on your team that you want to do that for and who you think has the runway to grow into a leader, and make a concerted effort. I guarantee you, they’ll talk about it. They will be a magnet to bring more rock stars to your team if you make that effort. Really, as a leader, that should be your top job. It’s not coaching a deal to come in, although that’s important. It’s important to make the number and bring it over the line, but it’s coaching the professional growth and skills that are going to help your team succeed. Your team will tell others about it and you will become a magnet for the type of people that you want to hire.

Marylou: That’s great advice. I know of one organization called WOMEN Sales Pros that is out there in the universe that people—women and men—they sponsor events. They have meet-ups. I think one in Boston actually. Lori Richardson is the one who runs that, I think. I’ll put it in the show notes just to make sure. Do you have any other women’s group that we can add to the show notes, that people who are in pockets, usually urban pockets, can attend? Or what are your suggestions if you’re sitting here as a woman thinking, “You know what? I’m going to try and get a meet-up together.”

In fact one of the folks that just started working with you in business development started a group of business development people. There’s just a lot of different ways to do this. What are your recommendations there, for a woman listening to this saying, “I want to put my hat in the ring, start having these conversations, and help others advance, and myself advance as well in the field”?

Natalie: I think that Lori has done wonders for women in sales. There’s no greater champion than Lori Richardson. I’m so excited because for any of your listeners that are in the Boston area, Lori is going to be coming to our next meet-up in Boston on September 11 and speaking on our panels. I’d love for anyone that’s interested, go to the Meetup platform and just search women in sales and it should come up.

For people outside of San Francisco and Boston, we got started in a really simple way. There are lots of companies that are willing to let people use their space for meet-ups. The one that we’re doing in Boston is actually hosted at a WeWork based in, great to give us the space to use there. Look for a company that’s willing to open their doors to a group.

It’s been a really simple thing for us to start these groups and get people to come, just putting it on Meetup which is a platform that’s made for people that are looking for other groups to come and talk about things. Search out a couple of people that you really expect and ask them if they’re willing to speak. Promoting it on social with very little effort. Our Boston group had 100 people show up last time.

We sponsored things like food and drinks, got the location, and got all the speakers to be there, but I do think that there’s a pent-up demand for this, that people are looking for an opportunity to network and learn from their peers, and hear from others. So, that would be one thing if you’re looking to start your own.

The other organization that I would love to give a shout-out to is called #GirlsClub. Chorus is a title sponsor of #GirlsClub. What they aim to do is help those next rising stars learn what it takes to be a leader in sales. They have an annual curriculum for women and we need to work on getting our landing page up at Chorus, but we’re actually going to be giving away a scholarship to #GirlsClub for 2020. If any of that sounds interesting, if you want to talk about it, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from you and follow Chorus on LinkedIn and we’ll be announcing that scholarship coming up.

Marylou: Wonderful. I will also put everything in the show notes for everybody. Natalie, it’s been such a great conversation. I appreciate you enlightening us and making people aware that these issues are still front of mind, they still exist, and that we, as sales and marketing professionals, really owe it to the folks coming up in the ranks and even those who want to rise in their careers, to be a mentor, to work with people, to network together in these meet-ups.

It’s not always going to be bitching sessions. Like you said, there are speakers, there are other things that happened as you started dancing into this where you can learn about topics that you want, closing techniques. I have done levels of awareness, how to write good copy, blah-blah-blah. There’s a lot of stuff that we can learn together to help us advance in our careers. Thank you so much for your time, very much appreciated.

Natalie: Thanks for having me, Marylou. It was a great conversation and it was my pleasure.