Last Updated Sep 22, 2010 8:28 AM EDT
Back in March 2007, CDW Senior Manager of Inclusion Practices Melissa Donaldson launched four internal employee networks, among them, Women in Sales. Women comprised all of 27% of the company's sales staff -- most of CDW's sales are handled through its call centers -- and CDW's senior women wanted to provide a venue for ambitious women to self-select into the career-building experience of directly winning and keeping customers.
Donaldson structured the launch to be a leadership opportunity in and of itself. High-potential women were invited to figure out where they would fit, partly so that executives could see how they rose to the challenge. The challenge of figuring out how to decide on topics for meetings, recruit participation and, especially, "how to delegate, influence without authority, and keep a virtual team on track" were all proving grounds, says Donaldson.
Network activities focus on finding new categories of customers. Winning tactics: inviting small groups of local businesses to visit CDW; partnering with the National Association of Women Business Owners; and developing technology overviews for women business owners. The group also serves as an internal focus group for marketing ideas that might - or might not - appeal to women decisionmakers. "We want to be sure we are giving a different face to the company," says Donaldson. "Technology is very male dominated. So when you see women who are successful in sales, it reaffirms CDW as a viable business partner to women-owned businesses."
Does your organization need fresh ways to deploy women in sales? Here are Donaldson's top tips for launching an internal women's sales network.
1. Focus on the business case. Make sure you set goals and measure your progress towards them. Is the goal to find three new channels to reach women business owners? The process of vetting potential affiliations and sponsorships and choosing those that best align with your company's growth goals is a perfect assignment for a working group of rising middle managers. Create a P&L statement for the project and attach numbers to your results. That will enable you to win funding for the network in the bruising annual budget process.
2. Snag bragworthy executive sponsorship. It's standard operating procedure for employee resource groups to have executive sponsors. Strive to make your network one that builds its sponsor's reputation and career. When the network wins, that polishes his or her reputation...and makes the network an enviable sponsorship. What's bragworthy? Measurable results. Also, identifying female talent from unexpected places within the company -- talent that might be undiscovered save for the network. That gives the sponsor some rising stars to champion.
3. Get men involved. Just because it's a women's group doesn't mean it's a clique. But specifically invite key men to some meetings and presentations so they see how the network is nurturing talent and fostering innovation.
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