For one Sunday each month, Morgan Ingram’s hope for the future of tech sales becomes reality. Sitting in a Zoom meeting, anywhere from 50 to 100 Black sales reps populate his screen.
There are sales leaders, high-performing account executives, entry-level SDRs and aspiring salespeople. They’ve all gathered for Sales for the Culture’s monthly virtual cookout event, a time when the members of the nonprofit networking group can talk shop, seek advice or just hang out.
This is what Ingram and his co-founders, Klue AE Jacob Gebrewold and re:work training CEO Shelton Banks envisioned when they launched Sales for the Culture, a community group to promote and support Black tech sales professionals.
“It’s getting on that call and seeing everyone’s video on, and be like, ‘This is the most Black sales professionals I’ve ever seen in my life,’” said Ingram, who is the director of sales execution and evolution at JB Sales Training. “It gives people hope.”
The cookout is not something Ingram and the other founders take for granted. Sales for the Culture was created as a response to a question that Gebrewold and other Black tech sales reps before him have asked: Where are all the Black tech sellers?
“It’s getting on that call and seeing everyone’s video on, and be like, ‘This is the most Black sales professionals I’ve ever seen in my life.’”
It’s a question the tech industry has long failed to address, and it carries larger implications.
For starters, Ingram said, there’s a lack of awareness within the Black community that tech sales is a viable and lucrative career path due to the lack of representation within the profession. Meanwhile, institutional discrimination within companies can limit hiring opportunities and impact the job performance and career growth of reps.
Sales for the Culture, which launched in February, is building a space where Black sales reps can support each other and address career challenges. It joins other organizations like Sistas in Sales that promote the development and success of people of color in sales.
Raising Awareness Within Black Communities
Before there was Sales for the Culture, there was Sales Sisterhood and Brotherhood Slack group. Ingram created the channel a year and a half ago to provide a place where Black sellers could chat, ask questions and network.
The channel thrived in the initial months, but as Ingram and the other organizers grew busy with their careers, engagement waned. In June of 2020, as engagement on the channel picked up again during the protests against police brutality and discrimination against Black Americans, Gebrewold approached Ingram with an idea he had about a more public community for Black sales professionals.
After connecting with Banks, the trio of founders landed on the name Sales for the Culture to speak to the larger vision they had in mind for the nonprofit. From the onset, the mission has been to change the existing culture around tech sales and raise awareness within Black communities.
“When you think of tech sales, you’re not thinking about African Americans,” Ingram said. “Also as a Black professional, you’re not going out there looking for tech sales jobs. It’s just not what you’re seeking.”
Bias — both conscious and unconscious — can limit hiring opportunities for Black sales reps, but even Black sales leaders have a hard time finding enough Black candidates for their teams, Ingram said. The challenge is two-fold.
Part of the reason Black job seekers don’t apply for sales roles is that they don’t realize there are nontechnical roles available within tech companies, Gebrewold said. Unless a person knows someone in the industry, they may be under the impression that tech is only an option for people with coding or data science skills.
“The main mission is to give people that perspective that you can do some great things here, but we have to get you in.”
Then there are the negative connotations associated with sales. People often assume it’s about tricking people into deals and struggling to make commission, when in reality, it’s about building relationships and creating value for customers, Ingram said. It’s also a lucrative profession, in which commission and bonuses can push a salary into six figures.
“It’s getting people to understand that there’s a lifestyle that you can live — and flourish in if you want to — in sales,” Ingram said. “You have in front of you a skill set that you can use to build generational wealth, and you can use it in any area that you want to.”
The first step to attracting more Black job seekers to the profession has been to make the community of Black sellers more public. The website has a fast-growing list of more than 2,500 Black sales professionals — at the individual-contributor and sales-leader levels — to help people find connections within the industry. They’ve also launched a podcast called “Made It,” where they share stories of Black salespeople climbing the ranks of the profession to inspire the next generation of tech sellers.
But perhaps the most impactful initiative has been creating a Slack group for anyone not yet in sales. Within the channel, members are able to ask mentors any questions they have about the career.
Some of the most common conversations involve debunking assumptions people have about sales, sharing strategies for communicating with executives and discussing how to handle disagreements at work, Ingram said. There are also weekly talks about what it takes to get into SaaS. The channel has already helped several people make the leap into tech sales and land jobs.
“The main mission is to give people that perspective that you can do some great things here, but we have to get you in,” Ingram said. “Once we get you in, we can teach you the skill sets.”
Supporting the Success of Black Sales Reps
Helping more Black job seekers break into tech sales is only part of the equation. The other half is creating a network of peers and mentors to help people succeed once they get there.
Although tech companies have ramped up external communications about diversity and inclusion, diverse sales teams are still rare. That lack of diversity can create challenges that have nothing to do with a person’s skills and abilities.
“There’s something different when you can just make eye contact with someone that’s been through the same thing and relate to it on a level that doesn’t require language.”
In the past, Gebrewold has sold on sales floors without any other Black people on the team. It can be an isolating experience to not have anyone to turn to when he experienced bias in the company or with customers, he said.
“There’s something different when you can just make eye contact with someone that’s been through the same thing and relate to it on a level that doesn’t require language,” Gebrewold said. “You just feel known, and in that feeling, you don’t feel alone.”
Ingram has also heard from other Black sales reps who have been overlooked for promotions, assigned bad sales territories or denied equal access to professional-development opportunities.
All three situations stem from bias and have a direct impact on a sales rep’s development and success. Yet, when a person doesn’t have a mentor or colleague to turn to who can relate to their experience, they may start to question their own abilities instead.
“You start looking at yourself like: ‘Am I not good? Can I really do this? Can I really have a career?’ It goes deeper than sales — it messes with your well-being,” Ingram said. “Sales is already hard enough despite all of these other factors weighted against you. Now you add these other factors that you can’t control and you’re struggling — it is incredibly difficult.”
Those situations have the potential to drive talented reps out of the industry, which can end up creating word of mouth that discourages future Black professionals from applying to sales jobs, Ingram added.
That’s why it was so important for Sales for the Culture to create a more public community of Black sellers. It provides a support network that’s often missing at individual companies and amplifies those success stories to encourage more people to apply for roles, Ingram said.
So far there are about 650 members in the Slack community, according to Gebrewold. Any Black sales rep or interested job seeker can join at no cost.
The organization provides that access to mentorship and community through its Slack channels. There are dedicated channels for each position, from SDR to AE to sales leadership, as well as leaders for each group who develop training events and activities.
Meanwhile, mentors train future sales reps on how to break into tech and what questions they should ask to ensure they land in a supportive situation. Some helpful ones, according to Ingram, include, “Does the company have any diversity initiatives?” and, “What steps are you taking to hire more diverse candidates now?”
Organizers are also doing research to define what it is they need when they say they want companies to step up as allies, Gebrewold added. Eventually, the organization plans to form partnerships with companies that want to support the community.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a support system so big that no Black salesperson feels alone.
In one situation, Ingram recalled an SDR who was overlooked for a manager position they had worked hard to earn. The group responded with advice on how to handle the situation and offers to help the person find a new job.
When you have “a support system around you to sharpen you and build you up so that you can be excellent at what you do, then you can feel like you belong, that you have methods of recourse,” Gebrewold said.
Building a Community
Once a month the entire Sales for the Culture community comes together virtually for the cookout.
Cookouts have long been a part of Black culture as a time to get together, kick back and talk over food, Ingram said. The Sales for the Culture cookout is designed to create that same environment, albeit virtually.
“It’s a place for people to be able to share their wins and share any obstacles they’re facing, and it’s a very open and transparent environment,” Ingram said. “You can just be open.”
The three topics that come up most often involve overcoming impostor syndrome, dealing with unsupportive managers and progressing in a sales career. Reps and leaders alike discuss freely how they deal with those challenges and offer proactive solutions.
“Now people can come to the cookout and be like: ‘I’m not the only one. And not only am I not the only one, I have access to all these people.”
Ultimately, Ingram said, the event lets many participants who don’t work with many other Black sellers let down their guards and relax.
Just five years ago, Ingram felt like he was the only Black salesperson in tech. He knows there are others out there who feel like that too. As Sales for the Culture grows, however, Ingram hopes that Black sales reps won’t have to feel that way much longer.
“Now people can come to the cookout and be like: ‘I’m not the only one. And not only am I not the only one, I have access to all these people. I can ask them questions and figure out what I need to do,’” he said. “That’s what makes it really, really special.”