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We Need To Talk
bro culture in sales
By John Barrows | September 13, 2018

If you follow me on social you might have noticed a recent video I posted on Linkedin regarding my concern about the ‘bro culture’ creeping its way back into Sales. It obviously struck a nerve because it was the most popular post I’ve ever done with over 120k views, 1,7000 likes and 400 comments and counting.  I posted it after witnessing Grant Cardone’s (the ultimate ‘bro’) speech at Drift’s Hypergrowth18 where he did his typical Wolf of Wall Street rant on hyper-aggressive sales tactics talking about cramming your message down your prospect’s throat until they love or hate you and celebrating cease and desist letters like they’re a good thing. Unfortunately, I was expecting all of that but I wasn’t expecting what came next.

In front of a relatively diverse room of entrepreneurs and tech sales reps in the liberal state of Massachusetts he somehow got on the topic of his wife (who was in the crowd ) referring to her as “that” “it” “chick” “dumb dumb” and then proceeded to talk about some inappropriate things they were going to do on his private jet on the way home from the conference. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Why wasn’t he getting booed off the stage? Why wasn’t everyone, especially all the women, walking out?

It was the tipping point for me which is why I made the video. I’ve been noticing the over-aggressive sales approach and mentality starting to make noise again and creeping its way back into the culture of sales, especially with the explosion of video content on Linkedin. To be clear, I don’t necessarily think this is a reality in B2B business today. I work with a ton of tech sales teams and actually think we are becoming more empathetic and might even be swinging too far away from the ‘sales’ mentality in many cases.  But, with the megaphone of social, we all know the loudest ones get the most attention and that’s what was/is concerning me.

The post was more about my “Why” or mantra of ‘Sales done right’ and my genuine belief that sales is the greatest profession in the world when done right and the worst when done wrong. I do not believe the aggressive win-at-all-costs sales approach is doing sales right and I wanted to get my message out there especially to younger sales reps who might be watching that type of content and thinking that’s what sales is about.  However, as the comments on my post piled up, I realized there was a much bigger issue coming to the surface – the impact this ‘bro’ approach has on women in sales.

I started getting direct messages on every social channel – Linkedin, Facebook, IG, Snapchat, etc. from women across the globe thanking me for speaking up and bringing this issue to the forefront.  They were asking my advice and telling me how they felt like they were stuck in the ‘bro’ culture in their companies and didn’t know how to address it or deal with it. I was overwhelmed and wanted to help each and every one of them, but felt woefully unqualified to give advice as a white male who has never had to face discrimination in any way and am usually praised and rewarded for my aggressiveness and assertiveness.  I could tell them how to approach me with their concern but was worried how their male boss may respond if they approached them with my advice.

As I read their comments and reflected on the event, I realized one of the main reasons many women didn’t walk out of Cardone’s speech (other than the seating arrangement making it difficult to move) was because they felt stuck.  They were most likely worried about how they would be perceived by their male counterparts; “stop being so sensitive,” “there she goes again,” “eye-roll,” “come on, he’s just putting on his show, it’s just an act.”  These are all very common responses and thoughts by men to women in our society and in business even though as men we have no idea how demeaning and demoralizing they really are.

On the other side, I know there are good men out there who also feel stuck on the topic and don’t know what to do – like me. They might work on a team of mostly male sales reps who bang the gong, high five, say inappropriate things, go to strip clubs, etc. but since the team is performing they don’t want to rock the boat. As a former VP of Sales of a high performing team, I’ll be completely honest with you all and tell you that if my team was crushing their numbers and celebrating their wins with high energy I’m not sure I would even notice the inappropriate things that might come along with it unless they were blatant. I’ve definitely visited a few strip clubs in my time and I’ve probably even said some inappropriate things that I thought were all in good fun but were most likely not from a woman’s perspective. And the fact that I consider myself sympathetic and empathetic towards women makes it even worse.

From the comments and responses I’ve received since posting that video I know there are many men and women who want to address this topic and make a difference, but might not know how to or may feel uncomfortable asking the awkward question or bringing up the scenario they are trying to address.  With that, I’m going to try and use my reach and influence to address the situation and keep the conversation moving in a positive direction. That is why I’ve partnered up with three incredible women in sales who I respect at the highest level – Trish Bertuzzi, Lori Richardson, and Kasey Jones. We’re going to be hosting a webinar on Wednesday, October 10th at 12:00 pm EST to talk about this and see if we can find some answers.

This isn’t going to be a presentation. It’s also not going to be a male bashing session in any way. It’s going to be an open discussion about the culture of sales, women in sales, leadership, perception versus reality and much more.  We want to make this an open dialogue with anyone who wants to join us. Since we know many people won’t be able to join or may feel uncomfortable asking an awkward question in an open forum we’ve decided to put together a brief survey to solicit questions from you on the topic that will drive the conversation.  If you have a question or know someone who does, please share this post and take the 5 minutes to fill out this anonymous survey so we can get some of this shit out in the open and try to figure out how to deal with it in a positive way for everyone.

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