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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales Fresh Voices Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on August 8, 2021. It featured graduates from the Institute for Excellence in Sales’ Women in Sales Leadership Forum Gena Gleason (Intel) and Kellie Earle (Deltek).]
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GENA’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “My advice for any listeners after today is to go sign up for something that makes you totally uncomfortable. Go do something that’s not your plan, not your path and gives you an opportunity to meet some new people. I feel like every time you build your network and expand your network, you find new opportunities and ways to be creative and be fulfilled. Go do something that’s not even in your plan for the next half of this year.”
KELLIE’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Trust your gut, say what you want to say and speak up for yourself even if it makes you uncomfortable to that point. One of the best things I think I ever did was went and took a public speaking course. I still think it’s great to continue to take, but if that’s something that makes you uncomfortable, I agree with Gena. Do it, get yourself out there. One of the things also is use tools that are out there that make yourself uncomfortable. If people never see you again, they never see you again.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, everyone. Today we have with us Gena Gleason from Intel and Kellie Earle from Deltek. Both were part of the very first forum, which seems like eons ago already. They made us know we were onto something big. Welcome, ladies, it’s so good to see you both. Let’s get started by you telling us a little bit about yourselves. I always like to know right from the start, did you think you were going to end up in sales? What did you study in school, and this is the career path you thought you were going to be on? Kellie, let’s start with you.
Kellie Earle: Thanks again for having me. My name’s Kellie Earle and I’m currently a Principal Account Executive at Deltek. It’s a funny story whenever I get asked that about starting, did I ever see myself in sales? Absolutely not. I actually went to school for criminal justice and sociology and my goal was to be an FBI. When I graduated, they weren’t hiring and then once they were hiring, it was a hiring freeze. I moved into accounting, I ended up then moving to Alaska with my husband in the military. Came home, wanted a fresh start. I had some friends beg me to get in sales and I’ve never looked back, I’m just bummed I didn’t do it a little earlier but I wouldn’t be where I am today unless I had those experiences.
Gina Stracuzzi: How about you, Gena?
Gena Gleason: Thanks, Gina. My name is Gena Gleason, I work for Intel Federal which is a subsidiary of Intel Corporation. If you’ve been watching the news lately and you’ve heard about how the US is falling behind in manufacturing competitiveness, I worked to help merge Intel technology with the US federal government and give us a national and strategic advantage. I absolutely didn’t think I was going to be in sales, I got a degree in economics. I got what I thought was my dream job working at the Federal Trade Commission. I got on the metro every day with my big girl suit and my lunch and I was miserable.
After a couple months, I actually took an internship at a high-performance computing company and thought I was in my next dream job of marketing. I happened to be at a trade show and one of the sales managers was like, “Your pitch is really good, I need somebody. Do you want to come work for my team?” I said yes, and that became my career in both high performance and computing, which I had no training whatsoever in, in sales.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love those stories because sometimes you just have to let the universe guide you a bit, even if it’s to where you absolutely don’t want to be. Because as you pointed out, Kellie, it’s what you learn along the way that sets you up for success once you get there. That’s great. Let’s talk about your first leadership roles in sales. How did you move from getting into sales into areas where you were given more responsibility and how did that feel? What did you do with it? Gena, we can stick with you and then we can move over to Kellie.
Gena Gleason: My first leadership role came after being an account executive for only about three years or so. I actually got in charge of a really large government program and we were competing for competitive RFP and I lost, and I lost big, I lost the whole deal. The next year, we regrouped and we did a sweep of the program in all six sites. After we swept the program, our sales manager said, “We’re really onto something here. We need to apply this to other ‘big deals’” so they asked me to lead a team. We were literally called “the large deal team.”
We would go in and provide leadership and strategy advice on how to bid on big deals, because a lot of account executives only have to do that once every year or two in their territory. If you don’t do it often, it’s a little bit of a technique. I was nervous about being brought in to other people’s accounts, but as we started winning deals and people saw the value in it and that there wasn’t really competition about the accounts themselves, we really grew bigger and bigger and it was a great learning experience.
Gina Stracuzzi: I can imagine that there was some trepidation there, especially when you’re going to go in and tell people, let me tell you what you’re doing wrong with your sales, you could have done this instead of this. I’m sure you were much more politically kind than that, and kudos to you that you showed your strengths right away to them. Even though that sale lost, I’m sure that what you pointed out or what you learned from that experience really set you up for success otherwise. Kellie, what about you?
Kellie Earle: Gena, that’s a really cool story to hear that you felt a little nervous getting into accounts, but obviously people saw that you weren’t there to do anything but help. Good for you. I’m still an individual contributor and that’s something that I love being at the moment. I’ve actually coached girl soccer for the past 10 years, I had a team since they were five and they’re moving into high school now, so I lost that.
But in that, I loved being that leader type, mentorship role and speaking of mentors, one of my female mentors, she actually suggested me for this forum a couple years ago. Ever since then, I’ve really had leadership on the mind and have been speaking with different people in my organization and outside of the organization on different leadership roles and how they got to their leaderships, so when the time is right, I’m going to be ready to make that jump.
Gina Stracuzzi: We see quite often in the forum, more and more, that there are women that have chosen to stay as individual contributors because they actually feel like they have more impact in helping their clients. It might work for their lives personally as well, but they also like the personal connection of the clients they have built and the relationships. They don’t want to give that up for what they perceive to be a lot of paperwork and a lot of having to deal with things that right now they’re free of. A lot of them will talk too about how they really are still managing their relationships with their clients, with their vendors, with their colleagues and managing up, and that is so true. You don’t have to have leader in your title to actually take a leadership position in what you do. I’m sure some of your soccer coaching has come in very handy with clients and coworkers, so I’m sure you’re a great mentor, Kellie.
Kellie Earle: To speak on that, one of the things that the forum actually did for me personally was helped me learn how I like to be led and how I can help others lead. But really, how it’s not even about calling it management, it’s about leadership and how I like to be coached. It was a really cool thing for me to take away from the forum of learning about myself as well.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love that. I actually hadn’t heard anyone speak to that, that you learned how you liked to be managed. That’s an awesome takeaway and I’m not trying to turn this into a commercial for the forum, but when you talked about being an individual contributor, it really struck a chord. I’m finding that more and more individual contributors, some of them quite senior in terms of how long they’ve been doing this, that’s really where they feel the most energy and the most excitement. A lot of them have really big clients and they’re like, “I just don’t want to give it up.”
I think there’s a real power in knowing what works for you and what you want, and not just taking an opportunity because it’s there and you’re afraid another one won’t come along. How about you, Gena? What have you learned from some of the roles that you have had?
Gena Gleason: When I first joined the leadership forum, I felt a little guilty because I’m not a quota-carrying salesperson right now, yet I’m selling every day. One of the things that I learned is that I like working with customers and I like connecting company objectives and customer objectives. I learned that you don’t have to have a quota to be influencing and helping with that collaboration.
When you’re at a company as big as Intel, the other thing I’ve learned is I really like connecting different groups and helping everybody get on the same page towards a single objective. I think anytime that you’re working in an account or working in a particular opportunity, communication and leadership, as you said, Kellie, are part of the every day. I like doing it in my own way but I still consider myself a salesperson every single day, even though I don’t have to carry a quota.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s probably the best kind of salesperson [laughs] you get to sell but you don’t have the pressure. Let’s talk about your current roles and what you’re able to do with those, and where would you like them to lead you? Gena, why don’t you keep going?
Gena Gleason: The current role that I’m in is actually an area of technology that I knew nothing about before I joined about two years ago and have been on the job training. A lot like in my initial start in the technology area. What I found is that I like to follow projects that are really interesting to me, and I have followed my areas of interest and seen that they really give me a lot of personal fulfillment and growth meeting new people and connecting different customers.
The biggest thing that I’ve realized in the technology industry is it’s very small. Whether you’re going to a local DC Metro area networking event or you’re calling on this government customer, you all end up in the same circles at different times and your problems all are labeled with a little bit of a different flavor. I can see this role that I have now continuing to evolve as technology evolves and grows. I think that’s what’s exciting is that if you’re in there in it day to day, you can follow the things that really ignite your passion and do something that’s good for you, for your company, for the community, everything.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s wonderful that you have such flexibility and freedom within your position that’s allowing you to learn new things and see an issue and come up with your own solution, which is nice. I think everyone needs Gena’s job [laughs].
Gena Gleason: It’s a lot of fun, but it’s really crazy too.
Gina Stracuzzi: That keeps it exciting. What about you, Kellie? Talk to us about your role and where you see things going.
Kellie Earle: I work with the government contracting role and it’s very interesting once I got into that space to realize how many people I knew that were in the government contracting space that I had no clue, people that were in my inner circle, for the most part. I do see familiar faces all the time and that’s so nice because I get to speak with new people but also get to see faces I’ve worked with for the past five years.
The nicest part I really like is going to those conferences and having that relationship and build on those, the collaboration. From an information technology world, the conversations are similar but everybody is so unique. I’m looking forward to continuing to have those more in-depth conversations helping to be an advisor and discuss different ways that their business is moving with everything the world’s going through as well. My biggest challenge was not having that face-to-face, I’m ready to get back into it.
Gina Stracuzzi: As a real people person, it’s been hard. Let’s talk a little bit about the challenges that you face as a woman in sales in what is still a highly male-dominated career field. Do you find that there are still road blocks for you? Do you have problems in your sales efforts as a woman or do you see change happening?
Kellie Earle: I think that there’s a lot of change happening. There’s a lot of change happening within Deltek too, such positive change. It’s made me really excited to be a woman in sales right now. I do think that there’ve been challenges, whether it’s in your organization, outside of your organization, every day life. But my biggest thing was more personal, finding my voice and using my voice. That voice that’s always been in my head, I think I was always a little timid to speak up on it and mainly going into sales, that wasn’t what I was used to.
I did back-office accounting, I was in my little cubicle and if I wanted to speak up, maybe I’d say something, maybe not, it didn’t matter. Now I’m like, it does matter, and just getting that out there and making sure I know my words and speaking that. I think that’s been game-changing for me, but I really see the world changing and I think it’s awesome what I’m seeing.
Gina Stracuzzi: How about you, Gena?
Gena Gleason: When I started on sales over 20 years ago, I remember sitting in meetings and conferences and literally being the only female or sometimes there are two or three of us in a room of a hundred, and just being in awe. I’m definitely seeing that change which is wonderful to experience, but it’s also been a little bit of a growth for me because for a long time, I had to learn how to operate in male-dominated conferences and meetings. I see the change coming too and I see more and more women at the table and women in leadership positions, and it’s also changed how you interact among your peer groups and how you interact up.
I feel like I’ve been learning with everybody as well. I definitely see a lot more focus training for women among women, that’s why I think the leadership forum was really positive for me. Being in a safe comfortable environment where you can talk about exactly what you’re experiencing in your day-to-day career. Hearing from other people that are not in your company that are going through the same things and how they’re adapting and adjusting. I definitely see the tide changing and I know that I’m growing, Intel in particular has a lot of diversity and inclusion programs that I’m very excited to be part of. We’re also starting a small little groundswell in our small divisions as well, I think it’s finding a way to unite women and also unite women in the middle of the pandemic who have a career and also have a family and are trying to figure out how to do it all.
Gina Stracuzzi: That is really encouraging to hear. I think a lot of companies stepped up to the plate during the pandemic and I think for a lot of them, it was really eye-opening because now you’re in a woman’s home when you’re talking to her and you see her kids climbing all over her or screaming from the next room. Then it becomes real and it’s like, “That’s a lot.” I’ve really been very encouraged as to what companies are doing to help women and appreciating the level of tenacity that it takes to do all these things, and often care for aging parents on top of it. All these things and still show up. I’m glad that companies are responding. Gena?
Gena Gleason: I would also say, I think as positive as it has been for women, we’ve seen out male colleagues in the same way. I’m watching my peers and managers juggling their toddlers, trading off lunch time with their spouses and they’re trying to hold it down as well. I think when we’re all watching each other do this, you get a lot more individual compassion for that whole work-life balance. I think it’s been very unifying, even across those men and women.
Gina Stracuzzi: I agree with that.
Kellie Earle: To piggy-back on that, I’ve seen that as well. I feel like my team is pretty even on male and female, couples with newborns and young elementary kids. Just seeing how our company allowed the women to take a step up but also the men as well, and just that home life that you saw the interactions between other companies. If the men had to step up, their wives or partners, on the other side you could tell their companies were helping them out as well. Very good win on that.
Gina Stracuzzi: I’ve actually heard some men talk about how, because they found themselves in the same position, they really had a greater appreciation for the women on their team but also their wives. “This is what happens when I go to work and you work from home” or whatever the case is. I think in many ways, the pandemic gave us all an opportunity to pause and really look at what everybody’s going through as individuals and members of the opposite sex. I think it’s been good in that respect, which is a good lead-in to my next question.
What advice would you have for companies that are trying to recruit more women into sales? And I’m not talking just women coming right out of college, because a lot of companies have really fabulous programs to recruit and hopefully mentor new generations of salespeople. Maybe for someone mid-career that’s coming into sales, because a lot of companies are after them because they have knowledge about a particular industry. What advice would you give any company when hiring women from other industries?
Gena Gleason: The advice that I would give when trying to recruit women in sales from other industries, maybe mid-career level, is to really foster success early through either mentorship or shadowing type programs. I think particularly when you’re making a transition into a career where you probably do have a quota, whether you pay your mortgage or put your kid in soccer, depends on how many things you sell, it can be quite a big leap to make that change.
There’s a ramp period no matter what, so building programs where people have the time and the space to learn and to actually follow either other women or other successful sales associates or leaders and really learn on the job. I’ve taken a lot of professional sales development courses, but I think what I’ve always found to be the most successful is actual real-life experience. Going on sales calls with people, strategizing before you go in, debriefing when you come out and actually building a plan for how you’re going to follow through. I think that real-world experience and giving people the space to learn and grow into the job is really important to keep them successful and keep them interested.
Gina Stracuzzi: Kellie, what do you think?
Kellie Earle: I think that collaboration is huge. One thing that I really try to focus on, and I’ve learned this from a lot of my management team, is if I feel stuck or if I feel that something’s not working, why not go to your peers and ask for that? I think that was instilled upon me in the beginning of my career. Had it not been, I don’t know if I would do it as much because sometimes you can see it as you look weak, and I think it’s actually a sign of strength reaching out. Like I said, my VP, previous directors and current ones, they encourage it so much. We have standing meetings just to talk with each other. It could be about nothing work-related, but you still have that comradery there and I really feel like Deltek’s made a big deal about making sure that that takes place. The only way to learn is to learn by example and to go on those calls and just get pushed out of the nest. Collaborate as much as possible.
Gina Stracuzzi: You two could start a business where you consult with companies about how to hire and nurture women, those are great examples. I’ve got two more questions. The first one is where do you see yourself in five years or where would you like to see yourself? Kellie, we’ll continue with you.
Kellie Earle: Like I said, I wish I had gone into sales earlier but everything along the way helped me get here. My goal would still continue to be in sales and I do want to take on some more leadership roles, even if it’s that mentorship that doesn’t necessarily have that leadership title. Just because the title isn’t there doesn’t mean I can’t do certain leadership and coaching stuff that I felt I received. Why not continue to, when other people come on, just reach out, see if they need anything, consistently check in? If it does have that title then so be it, but if not, I still want to make sure that I’m continuing in the next five years speaking exactly what I speak as my truth today.
Gina Stracuzzi: Gena, how about you?
Gena Gleason: In five years, I think I’m still going to be in the technology industry trying to pull together some ambiguous big deal, strategic opportunity with no definition or timeline associated with it. I’ll be figuring it out as I go and I’ll be having a lot of fun. I think as Kellie said, I’d also like to figure out how to start pivoting and doing more mentorship and leadership. I’m more focused at young girls and the STEM areas and I’d like to see how I can support and affect that. Intel has a ton of volunteer matching opportunities and I’m starting to get engrained in that, and find opportunities where I can invest here locally in the Maryland-DC-Virginia area as I have a daughter that’s three and I’m wondering what she’s going to be when she’s going to grow up. Anything that I can do to help that next generation sounds really exciting to me.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s awesome and I love your job description. “I’m going to be having fun and I don’t know what it looks like.” I’m sure that’ll be absolutely true for you, I have no doubt. I’m going to ask you both for one piece of advice, one thing that listeners can put into place today. Up-and-coming women in sales, something they should be doing or thinking about doing and can start researching that today. Gena, we’ll stick with you.
Gena Gleason: My advice for any listeners after today is to go sign up for something that makes you totally uncomfortable. Go do something that’s not your plan, not your path and gives you an opportunity to meet some new people. I feel like every time you build your network and expand your network, you find new opportunities and ways to be creative and be fulfilled. Go do something that’s not even in your plan for the next half of this year.
Gina Stracuzzi: That is great advice and I’m going to do that right when we’re done. Kellie, how about you?
Kellie Earle: It goes back to what I mentioned earlier. Trust your gut, say what you want to say and speak up for yourself even if it makes you uncomfortable to that point. One of the best things I think I ever did was went and took a public speaking course. I still think it’s great to continue to take, but if that’s something that makes you uncomfortable, I agree with Gena. Do it, get yourself out there. One of the things also is use tools that are out there that make yourself uncomfortable. If people never see you again, they never see you again.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo