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Today’s show featured an interview with Maryam Emdadi from IES Premier Women in Sales Employer Carahsoft. Read more about the PWISE designation and program here. The interview was conducted by Gina Stracuzzi, IES Women in Sales Program Director.
Find Maryam on LinkedIn.
MARYAM’S ADVICE: “Lean into all the hard things. Don’t avoid them. Don’t avoid the risk. Once you actually lean in and try it, you realize it’s not rocket science and nothing bad will happen if you mess up the first time. Take all the risks you can, take all the challenges you can. Ask for the extra work, ask for the position. Take a risk on a campaign or a go-to market strategy that you’re not sure will execute results. Out-of-the-box thinkers and people who are really putting themselves out there to do things that are creative, that are different, and a little risky, I don’t think you ever regret those.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: Maryam Emdadi is a VP of Sales for Carahsoft. Tell us a little bit about your position and how you got there, Maryam, and then we’ll get into questions related to why Carahsoft is an IES Premier Women in Sales Employer.
Maryam Emdadi: I’ve been in sales at Carahsoft for over 16 years now. I started exactly where everyone starts at Carahsoft, entry-level on the phones, no experience, no background. I now run our 5G vertical along with a number of our hardware vendors, including Dell EMC, Juniper, and then a handful of our cybersecurity vendors like Tenable, Secureworks, and RSA. A big part of my job is to build sales teams to execute on sales campaigns and marketing events, to work with our government customers on supporting their missions. Then working with our great channel partners to take new solutions to the public sector market. I’m loving every minute of it.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, when we run into women that have been with an organization for a very long time, that is very telling that there is a good culture there, which is why clearly Carahsoft is a PWISE company. Let’s talk a little bit about what it means to be a PWISE company to Carahsoft, and congratulations, by the way. Within your company, what does it mean to be a great place for women to work?
Maryam Emdadi: First of all, we’re so delighted to be recognized by IES. It’s so important to us not only to invest in this area, but also use it as a way to empower our current employees. We know we’re not going to grow without that investment. But what it really means to us is that we’re continuously very consciously making sure that we’re not just checking the box when it comes to hiring women in sales, but also that they see that every decision made in this building, and every success we have as a company, there are women leading the charge here, and they see the career path happen. A little bit of we put our money where our mouth is, and we make sure that they see the career growth. It has been a wonderful company to grow. I think a big part of that is our promotion from within. Like I said, I started right where everyone else starts, which is on the phones on that first day, and we really promote from within, and that is a huge differentiator for Carahsoft. This recognition means a lot to us and we love supporting all the great things you guys do.
Gina Stracuzzi: What specifically does Carahsoft do to make this an attractive designation for women in sales? Then I’d like to know from a personal standpoint, what those same qualities have meant to you.
Maryam Emdadi: One thing we do differently than a typical sales vendor is we don’t necessarily recruit people that have tons of experience in sales, or are technologists, or have computer science degrees. Really the background is not needed in order for you to start at Carahsoft. I think that opens the market for us to find some really great talent. It gives, not just women, but everyone now in this remote world, access to opportunities to build a career growth, and that really does set us apart. Being able to recruit from all parts of the country and being able to recruit for all types of positions where sales is a part of what you do has been a big piece of how we recruit and retain employees here at Carahsoft.
I think as far as characteristics that we love to see is someone who’s excited for the opportunity, but also has a great work ethic. That goes for anyone trying to grab an opportunity here at Carahsoft. But I think what really does set us apart is the fact that we’re not just looking to pull from another vendor. You don’t have to have experience, you don’t have to have a technical background. You just have the willingness and the eagerness to grow, to learn, and the passion to enter in sales, and you can do very well here.
Gina Stracuzzi: Talk a little bit about how all of those values and those attributes have played out in your own career.
Maryam Emdadi: Again, came from no sales background, no technical background. Carahsoft gave me the opportunity to start from the bottom, but in a good way, where I was able to build a foundational understanding of everything that goes into building a business. Here at Carahsoft, you’re not just selling to customers, but you’re supporting reseller partners. You are part of the go-to-market strategy of our vendors and the solutions they’re bringing to market. You’re learning about contracts, you’re learning about government requirements, how different they are than commercial, and state and local, and education. That foundational knowledge that Carahsoft provided early in my career was key in helping me succeed in my role.
One of the big things that I tell people that we hire is take every opportunity you can to learn everything there is about this business. Any training they offer, any part of the business you’re not sure you quite understand why we do it a certain way, ask. We do a really good job enabling that in our building. Again, that eagerness to grow and to learn and to ask questions, and not just, “Hey, put blinders on. I’m just selling this product to this customer and that’s all I care about.” No. Learn about the entire world of public sector, the entire world of technology, sales, and that will serve you in the long run when it comes to your career here. Not only here, but in sales.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, I love that, that you get a lot of opportunities to learn, because sometimes it isn’t even by choice that you’re siloed, it’s just how a particular company works. Just stay in your lane. I love that there is this open approach. The more knowledge you have, the more valuable you can be. That’s brilliant. What do you see as one of the biggest challenges that women face in knowing success in sales, and how does Carahsoft address that?
Maryam Emdadi: I think it’s better than it’s ever been. The current market, at least from my perspective, there’s so much opportunity. Now, the area specific to women in sales, and I’m going to just maybe speak a little bit specific to what I’ve seen, is the ability to take a risk. We’re perfectionists and we’re detail-oriented, and that’s what makes us so strong and so great, and we get things done. But sometimes doing something you’re uncomfortable with, doing something you’re not sure if you can do, what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll figure it out, you know if you want to, you will. Putting yourself in those challenging situations and leaning into those difficult, unknown territory is a good thing.
Also, not getting lost in the tactical perfectionist mindset where you get stuck doing all the work, but maybe not taking much of the credit. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. I’m great in the details, but there’s definitely been parts of my career where I’ve had to take a step back and said, “Okay, I’ve done this before. I can teach someone else how to do this. I’m going to level it up a little bit, take a more strategic stance and figure out our next area of growth and pass along the knowledge.” It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough to work and the generation underneath you will pick up the baton and move it forward. But not getting too lost in the weeds and taking some big risks to move up has always been a personal challenge and one that I try to make sure our leaders are always questioning themselves of, “Hey, is there someone else that is working for you that can really value from this experience and you can work in a direction that you haven’t done before?”
Gina Stracuzzi: I love everything you said there because it really is true that women tend towards perfectionism and it’s something that comes up in the form quite a bit. It keeps us from taking risks and risks are a part of growth. I really applaud that because that’s the message that needs to happen. This cross-learning is way more valuable often than just jumping that next ladder. Because with that knowledge, you get bigger opportunities. Good for you that you’ve figured that out.
Maryam Emdadi: I’m trying to still, but yes.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, we’re all still learning. What do you think that women in sales are looking for when they look at a company? What do you see them valuing now?
Maryam Emdadi: This may apply for everyone, but flexibility remains to be the top thing. They’re mothers, they have families at home, they do need to weigh the two and make sure there’s a balance or flexibility. We’re at a spot right now where it’s been better than ever in this hybrid remote world. A lot of companies have embraced it. With women we’ve felt it more than ever, so things are good. We can always get better, but flexibility is one big piece. Then just the vision of the career path. For us to make sure that they understand how impactful they are to the company, for them to see how the work is making a difference, and how much they’re needed, and how much room there is for them to grow, is another area that we need to continuously work out and make sure we emphasize.
A lot of times, everyone’s working really, really hard, we don’t take the time to sit down and mentor some of our early employees to be like, “Here, let me tell you how I got to where I am,” or where I see you going to, and what I’m seeing in you. Giving them the vision of what their career could look like and how they can apply their strengths is another area where I think employees are just looking to be impactful. They don’t want to be another number in a big company. Companies are laying off left and right. It’s a tough time, but they also want to be somewhere where, “Hey, what I’m doing is making a difference. They need me, they want me there. When I’m not there, it’s noticed.” Those are the companies that they’re going to come back to after maternity leave, and those are the ones that they’re going to think about when they come back into the workforce and embrace. We need to just be at the forefront of offering the vision of that to all of our employees.
Gina Stracuzzi: Everything you’ve said there is key to retention. It’s been proven time and time again. Even men now are not so much motivated by money. Money is great, but it’s that feeling that they’re part of something and that their opinions and their work is valued. Because I think after the pandemic, everybody was left with this feeling of, “What am I doing? Why am I doing it?” If a company can make people feel like they belong and they are part of something important, then they’ll retain them. What you said is brilliant, Maryam.
Maryam Emdadi: Gina, that’s interesting you brought that point up, because I didn’t think of it that way, but it’s almost like, yeah, the pandemic maybe caused a feeling of disconnection from the world, or like, “Am I helping it in any way?” That connection back in of you are making an impact and here’s what we’re doing for this community that we serve, that’s huge. I do think that that speaks volume to the position and more so than money as you’re making it out.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s a fascinating thing too, that people don’t want to go back into the office because we’ve all gotten used to this flexibility and relaxed state, and people are producing. It’s not like that piece has been lost, but the comradery, that sense that you’re part of something larger has been lost and people are hungry for it, but they still don’t want to go back in the office. I’m not exactly sure what the answer to that is.
Maryam Emdadi: It’s so true. Yes.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s an interesting conundrum. Thinking about the things we’ve just discussed, what do you think might change in the next three to five years to give us back that sense of connectedness while we’re still standing in our living rooms?
Maryam Emdadi: I think we’re going to get better at remote working. I think to be successful, any company right now is looking at, “Hey, how can we optimize our remote workers?” And make sure, like what you said, the connection’s not lost between our partners and our customers. Nothing can replace that face-to-face feeling of knowing someone. But I do think in the next couple of years, just with all the technology out there, we’re going to get better at it. I think it’s going to require us to be a little bit outside of our comfort zone when it comes to going back in the office and traveling to see our customers. We’ll probably need to do it more than we have been, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I feel like anytime you go back a little bit into that in-office world, it feels good and you realize, “Wow, there’s an element here we’ve been missing.”
I do think things will shift more into hybrid space, and we should embrace that. But I also think being able to get access to employees all across the country and all of these remote cities and towns and stuff, where they don’t have the opportunities that they used to, has just made us stronger as a company. Both sides, I feel, we will get better at optimizing our remote workforce and still being able to have a connection with our employees and our customers, is where all of our energy is going in the company. I’m sure every other company’s feeling the same way, but we can only get better. Think about it where we were two years ago, where it was like you were on an island. It was surprising. It’s going to get better. I think we’ll all learn to optimize it and you’re starting to see a little bit of a trend towards that direction.
Gina Stracuzzi: Yes. I think you’re right. It’s interesting because the one good thing that came out of it is employees met people that work for their company in other states and other cities and other countries that they never would’ve met before had the pandemic not happened. We still would’ve been, I’m the DC office, you’re the Shanghai office, whatever. Now they’ve gotten to know each other, which is really phenomenal. For my program, the forum, it meant we’ve be able to invite women from all over the world, which gives everybody a chance to really understand different perspectives. There is something good that’s come out of it. I think you’re absolutely right. We’ll find that right balance between hybrid and real life that will benefit all of us.
We talked a little bit about what sales professionals want from employers. What do you think might be the biggest challenges moving ahead for employers, especially PWISE, in staying a premier employer for women in sales and diversity in sales? Which is something we know we need, but it is something companies struggle with, is that attracting them. Then of course, there’s the retention piece. What do you see what might be some of the challenges and what can happen?
Maryam Emdadi: I think companies are now making a conscious effort towards this. They’re putting goals out that they’re measuring against, they’re making sure it happens. But I think we’re going to get to a point where it’s not just about recruiting, but it’s also how do we make sure our leaders are connecting? And this goes for all employees. Our leaders are connecting to our employees in a way where just like sales, it’s a relationship and you’re understanding their uniqueness. Putting emphasis around hiring women in sales is great, but everyone brings a different set of unique skills, and you shouldn’t try to be like everyone else. You should figure out what your skill is and hone in on it and figure out how it can impact the company in a positive way. But I think the key is really in our leaders.
Once we get the employees, we really need to make time to advocate for them, to empower them, to enable them, and to train them, make them as strong as possible when they go out there to sell to your customer. I tell our reps, whenever you have an opportunity to get trained, technical or not technical, take it. It will serve you. Just making sure that those programs are readily available for anyone who wants to take them. Then really focusing in on those who do take advantage and those who do want to do more, and making sure they have an opportunity to give back to the company in a bigger way. The remote thing, it’s good and it’s bad. The bad part is, yeah, it’s harder to build that relationship, really connect, and you have to make a bigger effort. But the good part is you can be very productive and you can do a lot more.
I think it’s such a great opportunity for those superstars within the company to not only make an impact, but over communicate what’s working for them and to share those best practices among their team. I think the challenge with our company specifically is going to be how do we make sure that not only are we investing in this area, but we’re making sure that our leaders are carrying the torch and carrying it all the way through to making sure that our employees feel like they’re seen, they’re heard, we advocate for them when there’s an opportunity that’s good for them, that we empower them, that we train them, and they’re constantly growing in their role. But it’s more than just a check in the box. The retainment is key. I think retainment is all about finding the uniqueness in each of your employees and figuring out where to put them, where they’re going to be successful.
Gina Stracuzzi: A lot of companies keep trying different things in order to get their salespeople in the office at the same time as leadership, and they’re struggling with, okay, you have to come in two days a week, you can work from home three days a week, but trying to make sure that there’s an overlap between those people and the leadership. Do you have a policy in place that helps that, or do you, just like a lot of companies, hope it matches up?
Maryam Emdadi: The good part about Carahsoft and our leadership here is we allow the leaders to decide what’s going to work best for their team. A lot of our employees are remote. It doesn’t make sense to fly them in a couple of days a week for just the team bonding, the team building piece. However, for those that are local and those that are local to our vendors, we take advantage of that. We have an office and we encourage, “Hey, if you have the ability to be a hybrid, it’s a great thing. If you’re remote, you’ll probably required to do a little bit more extra to make sure you’re inserted in that meeting and that you’re speaking up in that meeting, that you’re heard in that meeting. But there’s nothing keeping you back from that.”
It’s such a balance, honestly. Specifically to my team, it’s such a balance of, “Hey, for those of you who can come into the office two, three times a week to get that face time with the local employees, it’s so beneficial. It does do an impactful amount of bonding that we need. But for the remote employees, they’ve gotten really good at being able to use all the technology to also insert themselves in all those sessions. Is there a best practice that I could pass along or a blueprint that we do? We’re figuring out as we go along, but every team’s optimized it the best they can for themselves. By the way, our customer and our vendors are everywhere too. It’s what’s working because if they can’t be here with us in this office, then they’re meeting with their customers and vendors in whatever state they are in. That’s been a great thing that we never did before.
Gina Stracuzzi: We like to leave our audience with one piece of advice, one mantra that you always follow in your career, whatever you’d like to leave us with, but something that they can think about or put into place today to make their sales career better.
Maryam Emdadi: I’ll leave you with what I think is my personal mantra and what I tried to share with my leaders. That’s a little bit back to our first question of lean into all the hard things. Don’t avoid them. Don’t avoid the risk. Once you actually lean in and try it, you realize it’s not rocket science and nothing bad will happen if you mess up the first time. Take all the risks you can, take all the challenges you can. Ask for the extra work, ask for the position. Take a risk on a campaign or a go-to market strategy that you’re not sure will execute results. Out-of-the-box thinkers and people who are really putting themselves out there to do things that are creative, that are different, and a little risky, I don’t think you ever regret those. It’s either successful or a great learning opportunity for you, but we’re all desperately looking for those type of people in our companies. Nothing bad can come out of it. Put yourself out there. What’s the worst that can happen?
Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, I love that. What’s the worst that can happen? That’s a great way to end this. Thank you so much, Maryam, for your time and representing Carahsoft so wonderfully. We will see you, I’m sure, as we do more PWISE things. Carahsoft is a great company and a wonderful partner to IES. Thank you very much for your time and we’ll see everybody next time on the Women in Sales version of the Sales Game Changers Podcast. Thank you.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo