EPISODE 497: Developing and Mastering Your Leadership Skills with Women in Sales Leaders Katherine Flesh and Margo Edris

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales Fresh Voices virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on April 5, 2022. It featured an interview with Bentley Systems Sales Leader Katherine Flesh and Salesforce Sales Leader Margo Edris]

Find Katherine on LinkedIn. Find Margo on LinkedIn.

KATHERINE’S TIP: “Pay yourself first, invest in yourself first. Whether it’s through taking advantage of professional training and forums, like the Women in Sales Leadership Forum, whether it is making your world smaller by networking on LinkedIn to increase your village. That’s the micro step that everyone could take today is think, “Who have I wanted to connect with on LinkedIn? Who have I wanted to be in my circle and connect with them?” Be in charge of being your own PR, pay yourself first because your to-do list will always wait. Don’t make yourself be the one that waits.

MARGO’S TIP: “Be your authentic self, unapologetically you every single day. It may take time to build the confidence to be able to have your own voice and get to that level but know that it’s inside you and bring it out as often as you can in whatever form is the most natural when building these relationships to take you to the next level.”

THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE

Gina Stracuzzi: Kristi, Meghan, nice to see you both, as always. I really enjoyed having you both in the forum. We’re going to take turns here. Kristi, I’ll start with you, because you’re in the top corner there. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be in sales?

Kristi Houssiere: Hi and thank you, Gina, for inviting me. I’m honored to be part of your podcast and a graduate of the forum. My name is Kristi Houssiere. I’m currently the Senior Director of National Channels at FireEye. For the past 20-ish years, I’ve been building teams and resources and programs to help solution provider partners that I team with strategically grow a profitable business so that together, FireEye and our partners can address the biggest cybersecurity challenges for our mutual customers.

Gina Stracuzzi: Wonderful. Meghan?

Meghan Cohen: Hi. My name is Meghan Cohen. I’m currently a Sales Manager over the Enterprise Solutions Group here at immixGroup. It’s a very new role for me. I got promoted into this about a month ago, so in September of 2021. But I’ve been at immix for about six years, actually just over. A little bit about me, I have three kids, so no real hobbies, unless you consider listening to elementary school kids play the trumpet. [Laughs] There you go.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that you both have careers that are flourishing and you’re in leadership, and I know you’re both going to do great things. Let’s go back a little bit further, though. Talk to me about what you studied in college and if you actually saw yourself in sales.

Kristi Houssiere: Area of study. In college I was a business and international communications major. I thought it was going to be the next ad exec. I guess that counts as being in sales. I thought it was going to build big brands for big companies and I actually never in a million years thought I’d be anywhere near tech. In fact, nothing about cybersecurity. It was just like a little dream at the time when I was in college.

I actually remember shedding a frustration tear after leaving the stuffy, dark computer lab for hours and hours having done a CS405 level assignment over and over again. I’m like, “I am never going to be in tech.” But I ended up in sales by way of actually an internship that turned into a paying job for Xerox Business Services. We were the outsourcer for copy rooms and mail rooms at big companies, which I don’t even think that really happens anymore, but that’s how I got into sales, and applying to large RFPs for companies like Intel Corporation and universities and stuff like that. That’s what gave me the bug.

Gina Stracuzzi: How about you, Meghan?

Meghan Cohen: I absolutely was not interested in sales. I didn’t think it was for me. It was not something I ever thought I would do. You said sales and I would just panic, full on panic. Took a much more circuitous route to get here. I originally majored in communication in college, with a concentration in media production and criticism. I worked at some radio stations, did some internships, but I wanted to travel. I ended up leaving all of that, because when I was in college, I was also waiting tables and bartending and stuff. There were some folks that I worked with that they’d come work for the summer and then they’d go travel, or they’d come work for the winter and then they’d travel in the summer. I was like, “Whoa, that’s a much better life than working in an office.” I did that for a few years. I tend to have these like, “I must get to the next step,” mindset. Even doing that, I ended up being one of the managers in the restaurant or something like that.

It was actually after I had my first kid that I was like, “Wow. Okay, now it’s time to be a grown up. It’s time to have a grown up job and maybe not be scared of the office or whatever.” I went back to school and got another degree. I majored in economics with a business minor, because I was like, “Economics seem to be…” If you look at the Fortune 500 CEOs or something like that, there’s a really strong percentage of them that have a degree in economics. I was like, “Well, I don’t know what it is, but that’s the degree for me.” I did that and then after I graduated is when I started at immixGroup and just kind of went into it, graduated again.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, it’s funny the roads that lead people to selling. When I was coming up in the world, sales was the job of last resort. It’s what you did when you couldn’t figure out what else to do. But sales has changed so dramatically over the last 20 years that I think it’s viewed, one, with much more esteem, but also, there’s just so many ways to come at it. It’s really not about selling what you have in your briefcase. It’s about building relationships. I love how you both came there. We know how you got to your company first, Meghan. Kristi, tell us about how you came to be with FireEye.

Kristi Houssiere: It’s funny because I’m in the role of partnering. That’s really what I do, and you’re right. It’s totally about connections. I got to FireEye from my network. I knew a lot of people that were here, and at my previous role, I was a tech partner to FireEye. I already knew a lot about the product, and what the company stood for, and what the company did. Making the leap from my previous company into FireEye was really easy, because I knew a lot of the people, I really highly respected a lot of the people that were already here. It was easy. I think my network and partnering is how I got here.

Gina Stracuzzi: Sometimes you get some place, like you did, Meghan, and the fit is good and you continually get opportunities, or you get the opportunity to fight for those opportunities, and you make the most of it. I want to talk about how you got into leadership, but let’s talk a little bit about some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in your role or your career. Then we can talk to how you got into the leadership roles that you did. Meghan, do you want to start us off?

Meghan Cohen: Sure. I think a lot of time the challenge is you want something, but you’re afraid to say it. You just think, “Well, if I just do a great job at this role, then why wouldn’t they notice and want to give me a promotion, or give me more opportunities?” I think the thing is a lot of times, it’s not that people don’t want to do that. It doesn’t occur to them. They’re not mind readers. If you don’t tell them, then they’re not going to know. It was interesting, because for me it was like, “Well, why wouldn’t I want to move up? Why wouldn’t I want to go to the next level?”

But there are people that that’s not their goal. They are happy to have that same job for 20, 30, 40 years. Their focus is on other things. This is a way to make money and live their lives, which I did myself when I was working in the bartending industry. I do actually like it, but I wasn’t passionate about it in a way that when I woke up in the morning, I was like, “Let me go make some drinks, because that’s what I want to do.” It was like, “Let me go make some money so that I can then take off all this time and go do what I want to do.” Being now in a career as it were, it’s important to ask for what you want, or to say that you want something. In regular conversations, I say, “As long as I’m learning new things, as long as there’s opportunity to move up, I’m a happy camper.” But you have to say that. You have to make those desires known.

Gina Stracuzzi: You know that that’s what we preach the whole time in the forum. You have to make your voice heard, and the approach of just keeping your head down and working hard is not going to get you what you want. It goes to that point, which we have discussed in numerous forums, that it’s like any other relationship. You can’t expect someone to read your mind. If there’s something you want, or you feel you deserve, then you need to give air to that and let them know of your ambitions. Ambition is not a bad word, it’s a good word. I really applaud you, Meghan, that you’ve gotten past that and decided, “I know what I want and now I’m going to let other people know about it too.”

Meghan Cohen: The big thing too is we talk about being in sales, and what is the first thing you have to do? You have to sell yourself.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yet we don’t apply it to our careers. It’s an interesting dynamic. What about you, Kristi?

Kristi Houssiere: Well, I love a good challenge. I would say, advocating for yourself and having your voice, I totally agree with you, Meghan. I think another thing with being a mom and having a career and wanting to raise up the ranks too, I think it’s also work-life commitment a bit too can be challenging. Notice, I didn’t say work-life balance. Everyone says work-life balance. I don’t think it can ever, ever be a balance. There’s never going to be an equal time where you can give your house or home life and your work life the same balance. It’s just not that way in reality. Sometimes your body, mind, and soul needs a break. Yesterday, Meghan, I applaud you for taking the day to yourself. That’s amazing. I wish more women could have that feeling and know like, “Okay, today’s the day I need to take off. I need to leave work behind and I need to refresh,” because if you don’t unplug, you’ll never succeed.

The same thing is true, is sometimes your family life needs the extra attention. I think it’s good to put work on hold for a bit and say, “Hey, I got to focus on this. This is really, really important to me.” A good company would respect you for that. Equally, your family will respect you for saying, “I got to get my head down and I have to work on this project for a little bit of time.” In fact, my daughter is older and she has definitely said, “Mom, I am so proud of you for what you’ve done.” We all, as women, we get really busy with work and maybe we buy guilt gifts at the airport to bring home to our kids. We’ve all done it. But my kids really do, at least they’ve said that they really respect me for putting in the time. They look to me and my work ethic, something that they want to replicate when they get into their careers. I think having a realistic view of work and home life commitments has been a challenge, but that’s how I’ve worked through it.

Gina Stracuzzi: Good. I have to give a shout out to fathers too, because yes, the majority of things do fall on women, but men have the same issues a lot of times in trying to spend enough time with their families and getting this stack of stuff that just somehow has to be done by 11:00 PM that night. It’s unfortunate, I think, and this is something that companies can do to benefit everyone, is to really think through this idea of making sure that everyone has time off to decompress and spend with family and all of those things.

Certainly, the pandemic has given us that, because now even the CEOs are like, “Holy heck, I had no idea that, one, kids were this much work, or two, how much time I wasn’t spending with them.” Or maybe it’s aging parents. There’s all kinds of things that take your time and your commitment. I applaud you both for advocating and taking time and understanding those issues that wear us down and get in our way, really. I think that’s part of the mass exodus, is people didn’t know how tired they were, or how much they were missing.

Kristi Houssiere: I knew how tired I was. [Laughs]

Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] Well, you did, but some didn’t. Let’s talk how you got into leadership. Now, Meghan, you told us a little bit about how you did, and I remember from discussions we would have in the forum, you were kind of de facto managing, and then you got the opportunity, it sounds like.

Meghan Cohen: Yeah. I had done leadership type things in the past. Like I said, when I was working in restaurants, I would do shift manager or assistant manager, things of that nature. Then even after my first was born, I took about a year and a half off, found out stay-at-home-mom life was not for me. I know a lot of amazing women who do it, it is not my thing. But I found that out because I started doing a lot of volunteering. My husband was in the army at the time, and so there was a lot of volunteer opportunities. Even there, I was volunteering as the family liaison for my husband’s little group of like 10. Before the year was out, I was the family liaison for the entire combat support hospital that he was part of. They did a deployment and that was like a volunteer thing. But again, I find that I gravitate to taking on those challenges, taking on new things.

Here at immixGroup, I’ve had a lot of opportunity. I just make it known. I’m interested, I want to learn more. Especially earlier on in my time here, I would ask. I would say, “Hey, can I sit in on this meeting? I just want to listen. Can I attend because I want to learn more?” Or I would talk to our training department and see that things were on the schedule, and even if I wasn’t signed up to sit in on it, I would ask, “Can I sit in on this training? Can I sit in on these different things? I promise my work is done, or I’ll make sure my work is done, but can I sit in, because I want to learn more? I want to learn more because I’m interested in moving up.”

That was really the route I’ve taken. I’ve had really great bosses who both understand and support being a working mom. For the most part, I’m always here. I’m always going to get my work done, but sometimes I got to go. I’ve had great bosses that understand and support that and understand and support my goals of moving up and taking on new challenges and learning new things through career growth.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is great advice. It’s a great lesson that everyone could learn from, is asking to sit in on things that you’re interested in. Especially if from where you are to where you want to go isn’t such an obvious move. You need to get yourself over there. Volunteering to just sit in on meetings and help with a project that maybe takes a little extra time or whatever, however you can interject yourself into the area you want to be in is great. I love that, Meghan. Kristi, how about you? How did you get into your leadership position? Your very first one, what was the move that you made?

Kristi Houssiere: I don’t think it’s any one thing. I would agree with Meghan, always keep learning, put yourself out there, try to expand what you know and how you can do things better. My mom always told me when I was growing up, is, “Kristi, I don’t care what you do for a living. Just try to be the best you can be. If you want to be a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger you could ever be.” Folded into all of that is keep learning. Learn your craft, learn new skills, be better at it. I think one of the other key things is always add value to what you bring to the table. If someone asks you to do something, don’t just give them the answer. Give them more than what they asked for when you can, because then you become more invaluable to the company that you work for or whatever, and it builds trust, and it builds the idea of leadership. I think it’s all of those things.

I found myself many times in college in clubs and volunteering, just like you, that I guess I didn’t really think of myself as a leader. I had those qualities, but I didn’t really think about it, but we’d be in a group setting and someone would be like, “Well, Kristi, you’re going to do it. Right?” I’m like, “Why was I picked?” They’re like, “Well, you’re the leader.” I’m like, “Was there a vote but I missed it?” It’s just the qualities that you bring to the table. You can’t identify it as one thing, it’s many things. But I think that those are the aha moments that I had and I went, “Okay. I’m in this role.”

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great too. The truth is some people are just by nature more take-charge. We don’t even realize we’re doing it and then suddenly you get voluntold to do something. It’s like, “Oh, right, okay.” But it can really benefit you. That doesn’t mean that people can’t grow into those roles, but if you are like the three of us seem to be, you kind of just step up without even realizing it and things come from it. We’re getting close to the end of our time. We’ve got a few more minutes. I’m going to ask you for one final tip when we do close, but I would like you to talk a little bit about, just quickly, what advice you have for companies in recruiting more women into sales. And where do you see yourself in five years? Meghan, do you want to go?

Meghan Cohen: Sure. I think the biggest thing, and this is obviously something we see across every industry, is folks want to bring in folks that remind them of them. If it’s a lot of men in leadership, then they gravitate towards those folks. I think the biggest thing, and this is something I’ve done so many times over the past career to get to where I am, is you got to step out of that comfort zone. You got to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to give someone a chance. Anyone can learn. You can teach anyone anything if they want to learn it. Go for someone who wants that job, who you can tell when you’re talking to them, they want that opportunity, because you’d be surprised what they’ll do if you give it to them.

Gina Stracuzzi: Where will you see yourself in five years?

Meghan Cohen: Hopefully a step up from where I am, who knows? It’s a little far down the road. But again, I always say as long as I’m learning and growing, that’s the direction I’m going to move in. Wherever we see the opportunity.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s a very diplomatic response. I like that.

Meghan Cohen: Five years is so far from now, to be honest.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, it is and it isn’t. If you think about what has happened in the last five years, just think about how quickly almost two years has gone by. It is insane how fast time goes.

Meghan Cohen: I’m also still in that get-my-feet-under-me in a new role phase. It’s hard to see past that.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’ll give you a pass on that.

Meghan Cohen: If you asked me like six months ago, I’d have been like, “I’m going to be running this place.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, secretly, you might even think that. But yeah, I get it

Meghan Cohen: But now I’m back at the bottom of the mountain and I’m like, “I got to learn so I can be good at my current role.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Kristi?

Kristi Houssiere: I’ve been in the cybersecurity space most of my career. Most of the time I was the only woman on the team, or one of very few. But it’s improved. It definitely has improved, but there is a disconnect between the good intentions of hiring women in the space. Some of what Meghan said that you’ve hired people like you, then you’re going to hire more of the same thing. I think we can make some progress in hiring women in leadership roles by looking at, “Well, how do women look for the jobs?” Because I’ve had openings and I’ve tried to seek out a more inclusive, diverse team for my team. I just noticed there’s, I don’t know if it’s my industry or the industry in general, there’s not a lot of women out there that apply.

That was inquisitive for myself, is why are not women applying for these roles? Actually, the Harvard Business Review did a study. They said that women apply less than men to jobs. Then also, in that same study, they talked about when women are looking at the job description, what are they looking at? Most of the time women, for the same role, 60% of women will pass or be selective on a job role because of the way the job description is written. They’ll say, “Well, I don’t actually meet all the requirements of this job description so I’ll pass.” Where a man will look at the job description and say, “I don’t meet all these, but I’m going to apply anyway.” Men are applying more and women are being more selective.

I think when we look at what does the job description look like? We need to look at the words, because words matter. What kind of words are you using to describe the job? The job description should really be about the outcomes and the results that you want, because women can bring those results to the table as equal as men can. But if you use words like rockstar, or ninja, or soldier, maybe women don’t identify with those terms. Think about that and think about even posting salary ranges. Posting salary ranges on the job description confirms to every applicant that equal pay is taken serious at that job. Those are the two things I think that companies could do immediately to maybe change the dynamic there.

Where do I see myself in five years? Again, this industry changes so fast that 24/7, 365, globally, bad, evil is happening everywhere. What’s going to happen in the cybersecurity space? I’ll definitely be in the cybersecurity space if I’m still learning, which no doubt I will because it’s so dynamic. If I’m still having fun, I’ll still be in the space. If not, I’ll be walking my dog on the beach somewhere close by.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, and that’s true. I’m chuckling to myself because as I mentioned about the She Sells Summit, which I am representing IES and the Women In Sales Leadership Forum in that summit, you guys have stolen a good portion of my speech in terms of what employers can do. I wished I’d thought of the job description piece of it too, Kristi. That’s really good advice. I hope employers will listen to it.

We are out of time officially. I would like you to leave the audience with one piece of advice or an action item that you would recommend especially to someone who’s maybe getting started in sales, a woman in sales, or someone who’s interested in leadership. What would be one piece of key advice you would give them? Kristi?

Kristi Houssiere: Well, this came out of the forum, Gina, and it’s something that I’ve always done. It’s a little plug and something that I learned, and actually out of the forum, I did this with my team. It’s really learning how to tap into your inner voice or your intuition and taking time every week to be quiet and be still, and self-reflect. I think people, everyone, it’s not a woman/man thing, there’s always a lot of things floating around in our head. Sometimes we’re just on a go, go, go habit trail of motion. Being still, unplugging, being quiet, and really focusing on what you want to work through mentally, and having that quiet time is really, really important. I would say self-reflection so that you can listen to your intuition and your gut. It is really important having that time.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you for sharing that with us as a lesson that you got out of the forum and something that you’ve taken forward and shared with others. I love that. How about you, Meghan?

Meghan Cohen: I think for me probably a good piece of advice would be make sure that you are letting your boss, or your leadership, or whoever, know of your interests. If you’re really good at your role and you’re really self-sufficient, they’re probably not paying attention to you. They’re focused on their problem children, or their fires, or whatever the case may be. You think to yourself, “It’s so great that they let me be so autonomous. They let me just do my job and leave me alone.” But you want to make sure you’re staying on their radar, letting them know what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, so that when opportunities come forward, they think of you.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is great advice too. You guys are just awesome.

Kristi Houssiere: [Laughs] So are you, Gina.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you. I’m honored that you came through the program, and that you came on the show, and that you shared so many great tips and ideas and your personal stories. I wish you both very well. You know I’ll be in touch. Everyone, thank you so much for sitting in on the Women in Sales Podcast. We look forward to talking to you next week. Bye, everyone.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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