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Barbara Merola Power is the VP Sales – US Northeast, Avanade. Find her on LinkedIn.
BARBARA’S TIP: “Focus on a growth mindset. What are ways that your product or service is going to help your clients make money or save money and make a genuine impact on their business. If you can shift your mindset for how you’re able to do that, it’ll make it so much easier having those customer conversations, and it’ll make you energized about your business and you can understand how you’re impacting your clients’ business. It’ll make you a better teacher to your team because you’re teaching them on how your product or your service is making their clients better, making their businesses better.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: Barbara Pawar is VP of sales in the US Northwest for Avanade. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
Barbara Pawar: Avanade is an Accenture company. It’s the leading provider of digital, cloud and advisory services and industry solutions across the Microsoft ecosystem. It started in the early 2000s as a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft. I’m very privileged to lead the sales organization for the Northeast United States.
I come to Avanade from a startup where I worked in marketing technology. Prior to that, spent four and a half years at Amazon, in their B2B business, and then also Bloomberg and Gartner and came into sales from a career in politics that I transitioned from little over a decade ago.
Gina Stracuzzi: Wow. I love your career. It’s been an interesting journey.
Barbara Pawar: It’s really been great. With each opportunity I’ve had the ability to meet so many amazing leaders and privileged to have really great female mentors that have helped me along the way, coached me to help me realize some of the things that I could do differently, not just as a sales professional but as a leader and helped me think of things differently and help me think of my business differently and change my mindset so I can contribute better as a leader and show up better for my team.
I’ve gotten to where I’m at through the help and assistance and coaching of so many women that came before me and some really great men. Because as we know, there’s still so many men in technology sales and in leadership, and I’m privileged to learn from some of the best.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s wonderful. We don’t do anything without allies. While there has been unfortunate behavior and even corporate cultures that are less than or were less than inviting to women, a lot of that is changing and there are a lot of really great men who want to mentor and be sponsors for up-and-coming women. I love that you recognize those allies, and you bring them into your world and utilize them, which is really how it should be.
Barbara Pawar: Absolutely, because if we think about it, when we have women’s events, and we’re celebrating events like International Women’s Day, so many of those events are attended by women. We have women on the panel, women attendees, and we don’t invite all genders to participate. It’s women talking amongst themselves.
What I really appreciate about women’s organizations is, especially those within companies and the company I’m at, Avanade, really puts a focus on DEI, and focusing on elevating the conversation so we’re all learning from each other. I think women have an opportunity to bring more men into the fold and educate them on different ways that they can help elevate women in their organization, and what that’s going to mean for the business. I think that’s something I’d absolutely like to see more of in the future.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s awesome. As a matter of fact, that is going to be one of the central points for our Women in Sales elevation conference, this spring in April, is just that, allyship, and how men can be allies and how women can enlist their help because it really is, we’re at that turning point now where we really need to come together and work as a team versus having it us versus them because that doesn’t serve anyone.
I love everything you’re saying and it’s so interesting, because you’re the second guest in two days to actually speak to that. That when we have these events and we’re just talking amongst ourselves, nothing changes. It’s really in a vacuum. We need everybody there. Just like we need everybody at the table, we need everybody at these events where honest conversations can happen. I really applaud your mindset about all of this.
Barbara Pawar: Thank you. I think tactical things that can be done immediately, and this applies to male and female leaders. A couple of things that can be done, for example, interview loops, ensuring that when you are interviewing for promotions or new roles, interviewing internally or externally, ensuring that the interview loops are diverse, and there’s not only diversity of thought, gender and racial diversity.
Then when there are open roles, ensuring that the applicant pool is representing diversity. So, you have, again, not only that diversity of thought, but you’re making sure that if your applicant pool is 2 or 200 candidates, that there is gender and racial diversity there. Those are just small things that companies can apply right now, that will help drive that inclusivity and that diversity and ensure that allies can do something small that could have a big impact.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice. As you know, retention, and that’s one of the things that you and I are going to talk a little bit about, retention, motivation, elevation, all of those things are really hot topics right now because we have lost so many people during the pandemic but often women and certainly women of color.
Now companies are scrambling to really bring in more diversity and hire more women. It makes the competition even stiffer and so companies are really having to stop to think like, “Okay, what is happening once we get a new hire in? Is there really an atmosphere of inclusivity? What do we need to be doing to retain people?” Have you found that in your work as well?
Barbara Pawar: Yes. McKenzie does a study on women in the workplace. The one that they did this year highlights that one of the reasons why it’s challenging to retain senior women is that we are prioritizing flexibility. If we think about when everyone was working from home, the last two quarters of 2020, we had the opportunity to pick up our kids from school, eat breakfast with them, small things like that. Spend time with other family members, walk our dog in the morning.
Now with return to work or hybrid work environments we don’t have as many opportunities to do that and we’re missing that, and companies are recognizing that. I think something that women need to consider when evaluating opportunities is there is a misconception in how much time you may have to dedicate to a role.
For example, if the incumbent or your predecessor in the role worked weekends, traveled 100,000 miles a year, I don’t think that that means that is the only way to execute that job effectively. There’s an opportunity for women to learn a little bit more about the role and can we be successful in a specific role? Even if it looks a little different for us, can we still implement some of that flexibility that we’re looking for, some of that flexibility that we were used to when we were 100% remote? Is there a way to work that into the role? I think companies now and I can speak for my company really values that flexibility and gives us the room to be able to prioritize what is needed at the time.
On the other hand, I do believe to be successful in a role and to make an impact on the business, you have to contribute the hours that is needed for the business to be successful. There are so many senior roles that you’re just not going to do that in 40 hours a week working 100% remote. It’s not realistic but I think there is that opportunity to understand a little bit more about the role and not have that preconceived notion that it’s going to take you away from your family or because someone else, maybe a man who did that role before you did it a certain way and that’s the only way to be successful.
Gina Stracuzzi: Yes. Well, let’s jump off that point and onto leadership in general. There’s a lot of new young sales leaders in new roles now. What I’m hearing from a lot of them, especially women, is that it’s really hard to manage and motivate teams when part of the team is in the office, part is virtual and there’s no real sense of who’s coming or going. There’s people on their sales team that they’ve never even met or have never been in the office. The team member is feeling a little lost and the new manager is struggling to figure out how to motivate them. Have you seen that?
Barbara Pawar: I have, and I’ve absolutely been there. Some of the strategies that I’ve implemented with varying degrees of success is really understanding from the team, how much do they want to be in the office? Where do they benefit from being in the office? Is it in the ad hoc conversations? Is it the opportunity to have more social interaction? Do they benefit from having trainings with the entire team, and they’re more productive that way?
Really understand how they benefit from the office because I think especially if you are leading a Gen Z or a younger millennial workforce, they are going to benefit from some collaboration and in person interaction and understand what that is. What I try to do is not mandate specific days in the office, because each week, going back to our conversation about flexibility, it’s going to be different, the schedule for each person, and different days are going to be different.
What I’ve done was create, looking three months ahead, what are the dates where I’m going to have my town hall with my entire sales organization? What are the days where we’re going to have trainings? What are those specific dates? Put them on the calendar and let the team know, these are days that we’re going to be in the office, we’re going to collaborate together.
I also think it’s important for leaders to be in the office. A lot of times that people want to get to know their leaders and their leaders are not in the office. I always try to be in the office two, three days a week, and encourage others to be there when I’m there. Again, that’s varying degrees of success. But if the team has a list ahead of time on the critical days where they know the rest of the team is going to be there, there’s a purpose for them to be in the office, maybe it’s townhall and lunch, they’re more likely to want to come in.
What I would love to see is a world where sales teams just come into the office organically and it’s not a mandated day and they just love being with their colleagues and love that collaboration. If you have that, I think that’s wonderful. I’d like to see even more of that because it’s really fun when you’re able to just grab lunch with someone or have an organic conversation that’s completely not scheduled and you’ve learned something or as a leader, you hear a conversation or someone comes up to you, and you’re able to help them on the spot. I think it just goes a long way and we’re losing that if we don’t have that interest in being in the office.
Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah, it’s true. That’s a nice lead into the next question I’d like to ask is, it sounds like you’ve worked with a number of new sales managers. What are some of the mistakes that you see them making that you feel like you could help with, or there are flags that people should be looking for with new managers on their teams.
Barbara Pawar: Some of the mistakes that I made as a new sales manager that I notice, wasn’t just specific to me, because as I managed new sales leaders, I saw similar patterns and things that I did. Specifically, not learning how each person on the team is motivated. Everybody says, and it’s usually when I say everybody, it’s very common outside of sales to say salespeople are motivated by money. Yes, that is true, but people are very dynamic, and they’re motivated by so much more. Is your top performer motivated by recognition? Is there an opportunity for promotion? Are they motivated by the opportunity to mentor, to determine if they could possibly be interested in management in the future? Are they motivated by the prospects of working with specific clients? Really understanding that I think is key and getting to know each person as a human and really taking an interest in them.
Also, some things that I noticed in new leaders and in sales, so many sales managers, and this is how I started out in sales management, get promoted because they were high performing individuals. As you know, there are completely different skill sets and not every high performing individual contributor has an interest in management, and they get more motivation out of spending most of their time with clients and solving complex problems. A lot of new sales managers assume that they have to get each person on their team to do exactly what they did to be successful, not realizing that there are many paths to success. There’s many different ways that top performers outperform their quotas.
It’s up to us as sales leaders to understand what makes each person successful, learn from them, and motivate and inspire them to accelerate that even more and focus on the 80% they’re doing well, support them so they can outperform and do really well in their role. The 20% that you want to change, just move on and forget about that, and focus on what they’re doing really well, even if it’s different than what you think of as successful in the role because that’s what you did when you were an individual contributor.
Gina Stracuzzi: Very interesting, too, because this came up very recently in a forum session that I was leading. This one manager was talking about how it used to be that money, she was able to motivate her team with different cash prizes for the most this or whatever the case is. She’s like, “I just don’t care anymore.” She’s like, it’s really more about the quality of their work time and having the flexibility that you were speaking to earlier.
The motivation of people has changed too. Whereas it might have been the money before, it could be something else now, to your point. You’re so right about, sometimes the best salespeople can be the worst managers because they are completely different skill sets. If you don’t have real training to become a manager, then it leaves everybody on all sides of the equation frustrated. Somebody who knew great success now feels like they’re not doing what they should be doing because they’re not able to motivate their people. It’s an interesting equation and it sounds like you’re not afraid to try things.
Barbara Pawar: Yeah, and I think it’s important to ask for feedback. Even if your company doesn’t do 360 performance reviews, I think I’ve learned so much about leadership from the people I was serving, and creating that culture of feedback, because leaders are charged with giving feedback to their teams, but leaders need feedback as well.
I’ve learned a lot from just asking in one on ones, what feedback they have from me. Maybe it’s a very specific question I have about how I could have done something differently, or could be in general, and I learn a lot about what they’d like to see implemented or things I’m doing really well that they appreciate, things that I could change.
I think creating that culture of feedback and listening and learning on a consistent basis, not just during review time, it can really help leaders understand their team a little bit more, give them insights on what motivates them drive their success, and just makes them better leaders.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice. I have one more question and then I will ask you to leave us with your piece of advice that people can put into place to accelerate their career or perhaps help their team. In your estimation, what is it that leaders can do to make themselves indispensable?
Barbara Pawar: I think right now, especially with our uncertain macro-economic climate, you think decisions should be what’s best for the business and what’s going to make the business successful, what will make your boss successful and really understanding the metrics on how your business views success. What are the goals set by your CEO or your GM or the board? How does that trickle down to you and your team? How can you help drive that success?
Also, understanding a little bit about how your boss’s metric. How you can help him or her or them be successful and really understanding how your team can help support you do that. Because a lot of times we as leaders are so focused on just our small team, or if we have a large team just focused on our directs in our organization, and not really thinking about the business and looking past our team, and how we contribute to the business. Or if we’re in a role that’s not sales, and we don’t really understand the metrics of how our team contributes to the overall business success, it could be challenging to understand how critical you are to the business. Really having a handle on that, I think is very helpful and important for leaders to be indispensable to the business.
My last piece of advice on that, I would say, is to have a positive attitude. It’s so simple to say but it is challenging sometimes to put in practice. I think the best leaders always have an attitude of I may not agree with this, but I’m going to learn a little bit more about how this supports the business and I’m going to go in with a learning mindset and I’m going to have a positive attitude. I’m going to not only listen and learn, but execute on what’s best for the business, and I’m going to inspire my team to want to do the same.
There’s no problems, there’s only opportunities, and how can we take a “problem” and make it into an opportunity for us to make the business better. If a leader has that mindset, things become so much less stressful and it’s a really good lesson to teach the team as well. As you progress in your career, the decisions that you make are going to be harder. You’re going to have to make data driven decisions and things are just going to be a little bit more challenging to think about and overcome. I think having the right mindset and that positive attitude, definitely helps with that stress relief and enables you to build better relationships because you’ll be seen as a trusted ally, and someone that really cares about the business.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice, really great advice. As we like to do, we like to leave our listeners with one piece of advice from our guests, something they can put into place today to improve their career or maybe more sales, whatever it might be, or manage better, what piece of advice would you like to leave people with?
Barbara Pawar: I think the best piece of advice I can give right now is to focus on a growth mindset. That’s something that I learned from my company Avanade. Think about, what are ways if you’re a sales leader that your product or service is going to help your clients make money or save money and make a genuine impact on their business.
If you can shift your mindset for how you’re able to do that, it’ll make it so much easier having those customer conversations, and it’ll make you energized about your business and you can understand how you’re impacting your clients’ business. It’ll make you a better teacher to your team because you’re teaching them on how your product or your service is making their clients better, making their businesses better. That should energize them and motivate them to want to deliver results. That all starts from the top and starts from their leader. So really focusing on that mindset is going to help you not only be a better sales leader, but a better business leader, and it’ll help you throughout your career.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice too. Thank you so much, Barbara.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo