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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This Special Women in Sales episode podcast , hosted by Gina Stracuzzi, featured an interview with sales leadersTracey Mills and Amanda Adams of CrowdStrike.]
Find Amanda on LinkedIn. Find Tracey on LinkedIn. Tracey is a graduate of the IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum. The next Forum begins on February 24, 2023.
AMANDA’S TIP: “Get out of your comfort zone when it comes to connecting with other women within our industry and our network.”
TRACEY’S TIP: “Focus on what makes you happy. Truly look inside of yourself to figure out either what tasks of the day make you happy and what you don’t, or where you want to end up. Because I feel like when I lead with what makes me happy, which is a very hard concept to get to, I always end up in a good place.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: I have with me today Tracey Mills, who is VP of state and local government and education sales at CrowdStrike, and Amanda Adams, VP of Americas Alliances at CrowdStrike. Welcome ladies. I’m super excited for this conversation.
Tracey Mills: Thanks for having us.
Amanda Adams: Thanks, Gina.
Gina Stracuzzi: Ladies, I’m going to ask you both to take a few minutes and introduce yourselves to our listeners, and tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today.
Tracey Mills: Like Gina mentioned, my name is Tracey Mills. I’m VP of state, local, and education sales at CrowdStrike. I’ve been here about five years. Seems unbelievable. It seems just like a few months, actually. But I am a mom of two, 14 and 16. I live in Austin, Texas. I got to this role through a series of sales. I’ve been in state, local, and education sales my entire career, 25 plus years, I’ll leave it at that. Started as an inside sales rep selling to the federal government in D.C. Through a series of really great connections and a little bit of luck, I ended up moving on from an inside sales rep territory and responsibility to an outside sales position in New York City, selling to New York City government. Worked for Compaq Computer selling hardware, and then moved to Austin back in the ‘90s, before Austin was actually cool, to work for Dell. I spent the majority of my career actually selling to state local government in Texas in Austin. Loved the 20 years that I spent at Dell. Spent a few years moving into management at VMware, which is where I got my management experience. Then, like I mentioned, came to CrowdStrike five years ago.
Amanda Adams: I’m Amanda Adams. I am based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I lead our Americas Alliances. We get to actually partner closely, so through our conversation today, well, it’s a little bit different. She handles direct sales, and I handle the indirect side, so it’s going to be a fun conversation, just the lessons learned. I started my career at Cisco. This is coming up to my 14th year, but I started at Cisco in California. I’m originally from California, moved to our New York City office. Then from there transitioned to direct sales, actually at a partner, which led me into channel management and channel sales. I moved from there to Tenable and then have been at CrowdStrike for just over six years. I am not a parent, although I do have a dog, so I’m a dog mom, and I have a lovely husband that’s based here in Charlotte.
Gina Stracuzzi: Tell us a little bit how you got into sales. This is always an interesting question, especially for women.
Tracey Mills: It is actually. For me, it was a very interesting start. I’m always amazed that today if you go to college, there is a degree that you can get for sales. I think that’s unbelievably unique and interesting. But others who are probably going through their college career now don’t understand that, because 25 years ago, going into business, which was my undergrad degree, I had a marketing and finance degree from Boston College, I had no idea what I wanted to do. When I got out of college, I knew that I was pretty into relaxing because I had been so stressed about college and getting good grades. My parents were at a huge dismay to that idea that I was going to be a server or somebody that was not going to get a career right off the bat. But I fell off of a deck without health insurance, and my waitressing career came to a very abrupt halt. It was all about who I knew and networking.
My family had been in tech sales early. My uncle was at Microsoft in the early ‘80s, and my mom opened up a mainframe computer programming sales organization in the mid-‘80s. Lucky for me, even though I did not want to get into sales, they pushed me pretty hard and said you needed to get a job with insurance, which I did not have as a waitress. I started as a marketing person at, like I mentioned, a reseller in D.C. and I was responsible for training and helping the sales organization become enabled on a particular product line, at the time Panasonic. I just saw the sales reps were making so much money, and I was like, “I’m working 10 times harder. I can easily do this.” I spent about six months as a marketing manager, and then quickly transitioned to inside sales because that’s where the money was. The rest is history. I never expected I would be in sales.
Gina Stracuzzi: Amanda, let’s have you answer the same question so we’re level playing field here.
Amanda Adams: I think that, to Tracey’s point, from a connection standpoint, if you would’ve asked me when I first left college where I would end up, it would not have been in technology, and it definitely would not have been in channel sales and sales in general. I played sports throughout my career, and I played volleyball through college, and when I was leaving, it was either going to be working for a professional sports team or working in athletics as a coach, which is not even close to well paid, when you think about your first couple of years in athletics. Had a similar scenario. I was interviewing with Golden State Warriors, and then I was interviewing at Cisco at the time, and it was double the pay, better benefits, didn’t have the same commute, very different roles. Through the connection, I actually had somebody, who at the time was more of a mentor, somebody who I grew up with, and they were like, “Shoot, you would be great in this position at Cisco.” It was also in marketing as a marketing manager for the channel side of the business.
Looking at the options, my parents at the time were like, “You would be silly to take that commute as well as one third of the money to go work for Golden State. Go work for Cisco.” From that standpoint, it was really the first step into technology, as well into sales. Then from there, it’s just building, and we’ll get to this of like key lessons learned, but it was really about building my own personal brand, the experiences, your network, which led me to the next position. Obviously having the ability to move from California to New York was super important, but essentially it was through that network and the relationships that I’ve built in my own personal brand, which have led me to each opportunity along the way.
Gina Stracuzzi: We hear such great stories about how women get into sales and they’re all interesting. What key lessons did you learn from that first job or the first few sales job you had that might be valuable to some of the listeners?
Amanda Adams: I think one of the stories that sticks out, I think it’s burned into my brain, is I was super mild and meek, if you can imagine that, Tracey, when I first entered into the sales role. It’s completely opposite of who I am as a person. But really I was nervous about making mistakes, and being super proactive on I understood what needed to be done, but I was still very mild in actually taking that next step. Because I didn’t want to upset the apple cart, and I didn’t want to be perceived as aggressive.
My manager at the time, and this was when I was working at Cisco and transitioning, she understood that I was holding back. One of the things that she said to me was, “We hired you for a reason. You know what you need to do. You don’t need to ask permission or seek permission to do your job. Just go do your job.” She was very direct with me on that. I think that feedback has carried me through of you understand, and we hire really smart people all the time here at CrowdStrike that know how to do their job and then are able to go get things done. Taking that proactive approach across all of the roles that I’ve held has been super helpful to me, just in understanding, one, I was hired for a reason, here’s a plan, here’s how I’m going to be able to get it done.
Additionally too, just understanding your own personal brand, building your brand, being known for, if you’re going to deliver, your reputation of I lead with integrity, and I’m definitely process-oriented, which I know that Tracey and her team at times of following the process and the policies, sometimes that can be perceived as a hurdle on the direct sales, especially when you’re working with partners. But always coming through and following up quickly and promptly, that’s what I want to be known for, of always adding value and leaving things better than I found them, essentially is something that I strive for and has always done me well in every role that I’ve had, and are lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
Gina Stracuzzi: Tracey, what about you? What lessons have you learned from your first jobs or along the way, or both?
Tracey Mills: I agree 100% with what Amanda said. I think that the lessons learned is really to trust my intuition and to realize that decisions don’t have to be super complex. I think that some people make sales a very complex process. To me, it always goes back to trust your intuition and use your common sense. I like to treat people as I would treat my friends or family. Not saying that I’m trying to create intimate relationships with my customers, but I am never trying to push them into something that isn’t what they need or want, or really trying to pull one over them. I think that was the reason I didn’t want to get into sales originally, was I always thought I needed to be having an angle or trying to be caring about my own interest in terms of selling, versus really, I think it’s a buzzword, which is solution selling. But it really is just paying attention to what the customer needs and wants and assisting them.
I don’t really think, when I was early on in my career, I trusted my intuition as much, but when I went into that inner power, it’s when my sales career just kicked off. It’s that I really could see and understand what people were thinking and feeling and respond in a meaningful fashion to that. Really those relationships and the intuition helped me along the way. Then when I got into management, that’s really when I think the toughest part happened, which is so many people manage in different fashions in different ways. In a very male-dominated industry of cybersecurity, I always felt like I needed to manage the way others were managing. Again, trusting my intuition and realizing that I could manage slightly different and create a team. I would say I parent the same way that I create a team, which is just respect and listening. Again, it’s I think unique at times, but I trust myself.
Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about now the number one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Amanda Adams: There’s one that sticks out in my brain because it was such a one team aspect early on at CrowdStrike. It was six years ago, and I’m not going to name the customer, but it was the first time that we had ever closed a deal larger than a million dollars that had come from a partner, where we had truly aligned and worked with that partner from the very beginning of walking us into the account, but also to engaging with our sales organization. This is early days. Again, we had, I think, two products at the time, or two offerings at the time, and it was a key account for us. It was one of those that I always reference back when we do new hire trainings of walking through why we ended up winning, to Tracey’s point of delivering an outcome and solution selling, so how we were working in lockstep with our partner of the messaging in regards to what the client actually needed at the time, and we weren’t forcing something they didn’t need.
We were displacing a couple of different technologies, which was pretty early on. You hear a lot in the market now around consolidation. Our customers are consolidating onto a platform that’s very buzzwordy, but it is true if we’re looking at how do we help them use the most of their tools? We delivered that for this client early on. Again, we only had, I think, two modules at the time, and it was a huge win for us. I wish I could reference it, but it was one of the key wins, and it was within the first six months at my time at CrowdStrike, which was really exciting.
Gina Stracuzzi: You’re probably thinking, “Beginner’s luck.”
Amanda Adams: Yeah, but it was also in that early stage where, and Tracey probably can remember this, where it was CrowdStrike, Cylance, and Carbon Black, and all of our partners, and even the analysts in the industry, didn’t understand the differences, and there was a lot of marketing fed out in the world. Trying to wade through that noise with our clients, but also with our partners in hand, that’s actually a pretty big task. Early days, it was interesting, but it was fun.
Gina Stracuzzi: Tracey, how about you?
Tracey Mills: I know the question was one, I did two. I’m going to piggyback off of what Amanda just said in terms of the most recent win, which is probably my largest win at CrowdStrike and in my history. Again, I won’t name names, but it really comes down now, I think the older that I get, it comes down to not only the dollar amount, but it’s really the team win and the strategy. I think the organization of such an extended team today, like Amanda mentioned, the CrowdStrike team is so extensive. We have regional sales managers who are the quarterbacks of the team, but so many overlays and other organizations that assist in the sale. We had a very, very large state win within the last six months, which was five million plus in terms of first year revenue and they bought a three-year contract. Just a huge win. It was life-changing for the sales rep, which I loved to see. That’s probably what made me the most happy in terms of tears of joy in terms of the sale and how it was going to impact his life. But again, it’s really about the strategy, the various team members that are involved, the partners that we involve in that sale, which make it so special.
The other that comes to mind is just the wins in my past where I lost. There’s two lessons learned there, which is, one, learn from the loss. Really don’t ever take a loss and beat yourself up. It’s not worth it. You got to learn quickly and move on. But the best ones are when you lose with grace and professionalism and you don’t attack the customer, or somehow come off with an attitude on that they’re making the wrong decision. Maintain that good relationship. The ones where the customer comes back are the best. To me, those are just the ones where I felt like others might have been a little less professional in their loss, and they would have really lost in the long run. Those customers that trust you and understand that now might not be the right time, but at some point in the future they come back, I love those as well.
Gina Stracuzzi: I want to talk about what skills and characteristics you feel are essential for working with colleagues and peers, customers, that kind of thing. Also, I want to flip that question a bit and I want you to think about and tell us what you think employers can be doing to attract more women with these characteristics and skills.
Amanda Adams: For the first part of that question, I think from a skills standpoint, one, being authentic is super important, just at the core of your own development and growth. In my opinion, I enjoy working with folks who are just their true selves when it comes to leading with authenticity. The second aspect is setting proper expectations. 99% of conflict that I deal with, it comes down to having improper expectations, either with the customer, with the partner, with our internal teams and stakeholders. If we’re direct or clear in regards to what are we trying to drive to, what are the expectations within the engagement, whether that be very tactical of certain aspects of the POV or the RFP that’s been released, what do we need to attack internally of making sure that we’re delivering a successful outcome, or expectations with a partner. Sometimes it can get tricky when you’re involving multiple partners or solution providers in the engagement. Again, it’s the ability to set proper expectations, without proactively adding conflict to the buyer, will help you in the long run. I’ll just say that, when it comes to conflict management.
For the employee question, when it comes to attracting talent with those characteristics, I think CrowdStrike does a great job when it comes to looking at folks that are in college, early in career, volunteering at those trade shows and booths, and the exposure. The one thing that commonly comes up for folks, like women, minorities, to get into our industry is just the understanding of what’s possible. Again, if you take me back 13, 14 years to the very first role that I had, the position that I’m in today wasn’t even a thought in my brain. When I took that first step into the role, then I understood what was out there from an industry standpoint, and the many directions that you can go in.
When you come in, especially into cybersecurity, the stereotype is that you have to be an engineer, or you have to be somebody who’s very mathematically-driven. Where there is sales, where there’s operations, where there’s marketing support, you can come in as a legal resource as well. There’s so many different avenues for women to take a step into it, but it’s a visibility and understanding of what’s possible to begin with. I think that the awareness of our industry and targeting folks early on within that, either their college career or in high school, and really participating at a mentorship standpoint or presenting to schools, is a step that CrowdStrike and employers really should take just to help with the general industry of understanding what’s possible. I have lots of other thoughts when it comes to attracting women, but, Tracey, I don’t want to steal your thunder, and I know that I was talking a little bit there. What are your thoughts?
Tracey Mills: I’ll start with the second part first. I agree with Amanda 100%. When I think back to my career and how I got to where I am today, and I say this to every time I mentor women, which is get out of your comfort zone. You can do more than you believe you can do. One of my, I’m going to say favorite quotes, but it’s for the wrong reasons, which is men apply to positions if they have 50% or 60% of the qualifications. Women will only apply if they have 100% of the qualifications, which just makes my stomach so upset because I do believe that’s what I was like. I had really great bosses and people who I had worked with that just pushed me along the way, which I don’t think I would be where I am today if that didn’t happen.
I had kids at a very young age and I kept saying to myself, “I can’t get into management. I can’t travel. I can’t do this.” I made up all these excuses on why I couldn’t do something. In the end, I took the VMware job to get into management and just created solutions. If you have the mindset of, “This is what I want to do. I’ve got to figure out how to make it happen,” things can happen that you don’t expect will happen. Getting out of your own way, getting out of your comfort zone. Every position I applied for and I got, I’d get in the role and I’d be like, “How the hell am I going to do this? Oh my God.”
Even in my current role today as VP of sales, I never envisioned this would be where I am, because I didn’t think I could be as authentic. I always was feeling like I was going to have to be somebody that I wasn’t. When I realized that wasn’t the case, and the way that I do things is successful, and I would figure it out if I didn’t know exactly, to me, that’s the biggest lesson learned throughout my career. But what I look for in individuals, I think, again, is not necessarily always experience. It’s what they have underneath the experience. To me it’s all about grit. Grit is one of my favorite aspects, and it’s hard to define. I think if you googled grit, you’d get different answers from different people, but it’s that intensity of failing, picking yourself back up, and going on again. Failing, picking yourself back up, and going on again. Your ability to realize that you’re just going to get any task done, and no is not an answer. I love people who also show up with positivity. Grit and positivity go hand in hand with me.
Then the other characteristics, I think, listening more than talking, organization. Organization skills in sales is key. You can have charisma and get that sale done, but the organization, if you don’t have it underneath you, the sale might actually fall apart. Our president and CEO said something on a recent all-hands, which is, we need to be looking at our watch instead of the calendar. Really fine tuning how quickly something gets done. Don’t put it off. I think people procrastinate. “I’ll do it next week.” Really in order to be successful, you have to do things today when you think about them.
Gina Stracuzzi: I would love to have you both back and perhaps we can have a whole panel discussion around retention, because there are so many aspects of what you both just said that really go to why it gets hard to retain women. Are all those multiple forces playing in somebody’s life and what you feel like you can and can’t make happen, or you’re going to have to travel too much. How companies work with that to overcome it, but that’s going to have to be a discussion for another time. I will have you back for that.
We’re at that point in the discussion where I would like you to both think of one piece of advice that you can give our listeners. Something that they can put into place today to either help their career or help a sale that maybe is struggling, something that they can do right after they get done listening to this.
Amanda Adams: The first thing is today, not tomorrow. That is the theme for the rest of this year and well into next year. It ties into what Tracey had just talked through. The second thing is just getting out of your comfort zone when it comes to connecting with other women within our industry and our network. Again, all of the growth, either professionally, but also with our customers, it has come from the network that we have in place. If you think about the story that Tracey told of her engagement and how she got to where she is today, as well as myself, it came from connecting with other women and other leaders within our industry. At times we get really comfortable, especially over the last two years with COVID, of living behind Zoom, and we’re remote first.
I am urging everybody, I want to commit to giving back locally in Charlotte. I have a great network outside of Charlotte because I usually am traveling too much. I am focusing on investing in women in technology locally to Charlotte in 2023. I would look at ways that you can engage with either the local women in technology groups. You can reach out to Tracey. I’m going to go ahead and volunteer her as well as myself for connecting for future conversations. I’m happy to connect on individual discussions on how best to move your career forward. I think that’s the best thing, is just getting out of your comfort zone and meeting new folks.
Tracey Mills: I’m going to take a little bit of a different approach, but I do believe now is probably the time of year to do this. End of the year, beginning of a new year, it’s really focus on what makes you happy. Truly look inside of yourself to figure out either what tasks of the day make you happy and what you don’t, or where you want to end up. Because I feel like when I lead with what makes me happy, which is a very hard concept to get to, I always end up in a good place. I think we always feel the pressure to do, as women, what is going to make somebody else happy. If we don’t look at ourselves first and really take care of ourselves first, they always say in the airplane, put on your own mask first, and then take care of the person next to you. I know that I don’t do that.
I truly believe that you will show up better as an employee, better as a wife, a mother, a friend, if you figure out what makes you happy. That could just be, for me, taking a few hours out of the week and go to spin class. I don’t do that enough, and I need to remember to do that. Then outsource the tasks that you don’t like. That was a lesson that I didn’t learn until very, very late at life, which is if I hated to do something, it was going to take me 10 times longer to do it, when I could just outsource that task to somebody else. It made me I think a lot more productive in the end.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo