EPISODE 422: IBM Data and AI Sales Leader Jennifer Kady Encourages Women in Sales To Do This for Greater Success

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual lerning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on October 12, 2021. It featured an interview with IBM Data and AI Sales Vice President Jennifer Kady.]

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JENNIFER’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Listen and learn to trust your inner voice. There’s plenty of times where someone else speaks up and I wish I’d had the thought or I’d had maybe even a better thought and I just didn’t do it. Listen and learn how you trust yourself, listen to that voice. Give that a shot. Sometimes we’ll stumble, but the more that you do it, I think the more comfortable you’ll be. I believe that the success will follow.”


Fred Diamond: Jennifer Kady, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do at IBM? We’re going to get really deep into some of your recommendations for the thousands of women in sales who like to listen to our webcast.

Jennifer Kady: Fred, thank you so much for the time, I appreciate it. I love the Women In Sales Leadership Forum, I love that this is a way for us to be able to learn from each other and sometimes there’s pitfalls that we run into. It’s nice to be able to hear from some of our colleagues, so I appreciate the time.

I’ve been with IBM for just over two decades and I joined right out of school. I was a statistics major at Purdue University and the focus there was really around quality control. I will tell you, having that background, regardless of what I’ve been doing here within the firm, within IBM, has always steered me in a good direction. It really does steer you toward what’s the value, how can I bring the best value to my client?

While I’m in sales now, and I’ve been in sales for just over a decade within IBM, I’ve held a number of different types of roles. Whether it’s in offering management, working with our research teams on some of the early iterations for Watson, as a matter of fact. Then also just directly with my clients and my customers. That’s where I find the best energy. I also think it’s a great way for us to be able to think about how we give back to a community as well, when we’re all a part of a structure and a working environment where we’re working together to drive value. That type of intimacy helps not only my client and my customer succeed, but also in their endeavors for whatever it is that they’re working toward as far as their business plans but also to our greater community.

It’s been a very exciting journey being within a within IBM where we do have a forward-thinking approach. I’m in data and AI right now and prior to this I was in our security organization. From a threat vector, control, those are two of probably the hottest topics that we have within today’s technology framework. That’s what I’ve been doing and again, it gives me great energy to be able to work with clients on their day-to-day issues and work through how we can best provide that value.

Fred Diamond: We’re going to get deep into three specific areas that you want to talk about. At the Institute for Excellence in Sales we’ve had a nice history with IBM. Every year we give out what we call a Lifetime Achievement Award, and our third Lifetime Achievement Award was given out to – did you ever work with Anne Altman? She was the GM for Public Sector. Anne was our third Lifetime Achievement recipient and she’s been a great friend of the IES over the year. Every year we also give out a Women in Sales Leadership Award, and this past year one of your senior sales leaders in the public sector space, Courtney Bromley was our recipient.

Before we get to the three things you want to talk about, Jennifer, I’ve been in sales and marketing and tech most of my career. I worked for Apple and I remember when the PS2 was announced and way back, you were still in elementary school at the time. IBM is the most successful company in the history of tech, it’s obviously a very, very small company. Why would someone want to work for IBM in sales today? Let’s say someone who’s starting their career or even someone who’s mid-career who’s thinking about making a jump? Give a little bit of a pitch on why sales professionals would want to come to IBM today.

Jennifer Kady: I’d be happy to, and again, it’s a great question, especially since I’ve been here as long as I have. I have had a number of wonderful conversations with recruiters, those that have been asking, trying to court, why wouldn’t you want to go to XYZ company? You’ve been at IBM for quite some time. I will tell you. There’s absolutely a family feel and we all have our dysfunctional families, but this has been a great place for me to grow not only as a person, but also as a female and as a mother.

From a gender standpoint, regardless of how you identify, we were one of the first to be able to really put at the forefront wanting to support and respect all of us, regardless of who you are and how you identify. For me as a female, I have never felt as if who I am and what I espouse and what I represent has been something that would be curtailed. I feel as if I have a really strong network not only of other women and those who identify similarly to me, I’ve got a great network where we can collaborate and work together. But I’ve also had excellent management that looks like me, that represents me and even those that don’t, there is a respect that comes into play across our entire organization.

I wouldn’t have been able to have and grow with my family in the same way. I have three daughters and for them to be able to see me on a regular basis as well as see what I’m doing, helping them also be able to nurture and grow for themselves as well as their friends, the people who’ve been in and out of the house. COVID was one thing, we’ve all been a little bit more together perhaps than ever before, but I’ve also had a very respectful management team of making sure that from a work-life balance standpoint, that’s catered to almost as much as my career and what I want to be doing with my future. Those are really the particular reasons why if I do get that recruiting call, I’d hesitate to take it even. There’s not many that I would even want to pick up the phone for.

Also, in terms of general career growth, I tend to get bored easily sometimes. There’s an egg timer sometimes on me and wanting to challenge myself and do something different. This organization has done an amazing job of ensuring that you’re continuously improving upon yourself, you’re continuously changing and ultimately evolving your skill set. And ultimately, what it is that we need to be doing for our clients. There’s really no stagnation with respect to technology, it’s constantly iterating and as I mentioned, I’ve been in security prior to this role and it’s constant. Friday nights in particular, for whatever reason, those are the best nights for us in terms of working through some of the threats.

It’s a general feeling of, I am catered to, as far as not only my emotional intelligence, emotional growth, but also really my career growth. It’s been one of our key principles and it’s never changed. I would say it just continuously improves upon itself. We have an amazing HR director now with Nickle, she has done a tremendous job in ensuring that we understand what our career path is and wanting to make sure that we’re comfortable with that and we have the right places where we can vocalize if we do have a challenge and we can speak up for ourselves. Because ultimately, and this is the one thing that I’ve learned that I cannot advocate enough for, I am my own advocate, I will be my best advocate and when I learn that my voice is important and how to use that voice, that really does help you catapult within your career and even just as a person.

Fred Diamond: We talk a lot about the fact that you are the president or CEO of your career and you’ve obviously had a great run at IBM, you’re going to continue there, you gave a great understanding of why IBM would be a great employer for people looking to grow. But at the end of the day, like you just said, you are your own advocate. You’ve got to understand how you speak up for yourself, and Gina talks about this every week on the Women in Sales show. How do you make your voice heard and how do you provide more value to your employer? Which sometimes is difficult to do.

There’s three key areas you want to talk about, client intimacy. Jennifer, one of the things that’s come up a lot in order to differentiate and distinguish yourself as a sales professional is more so than ever before, customers are looking for value. They need sales in theory less and less because they can get information over the internet and social media and other type of partnerships. Salespeople really need to differentiate themselves. Give us some of your perspective on how you get more intimate with your clients, how you become more valuable. You talked about security Friday nights, I imagine based on your background obviously in QA and going to Purdue, which is a great engineering school, you have the mindset of the customer. Talk a little bit about that.

Jennifer Kady: I can’t advocate enough for as far as what you said earlier. All the research that clients do ahead of even having the conversation with me, most of them have made a decision, some sort of buying decision well in advance of actually speaking to a human. It’s just the way things work today. Being able to land that client is one thing, but the sustainability, how do I run that marathon with my client and provide that continuous value? Not just continuous value of the sale itself, but long-term, how do I bridge and build on that value?

I believe clock speed is one of the most important tenets that we can learn. It was a difficult one to learn early, some people have this where it’s just intuitive, they know that, I have to react, I have to maybe pivot but I need to do it quickly. Again, that’s evolved over the past couple of decades but I can’t say enough about right now. Some of my best success is really around listening and hearing what the client’s saying, processing it, but also being able to reflect upon that clock speed, getting the answer back if not now, incredibly quickly.

Ideally, in my field, you’re a technologist when you’re having that client conversation. You don’t have to go and ask a number of different people for the answers. We don’t always have the answer, recognizing it, acknowledging it but then being quick tasked to be able to respond. Those are important measures as a client, as far as they know that you’ve heard them, they know that you care and then ultimately, that you are there with them in lockstep across the field as far as that signature, and then all the way through in carrying out that service, or whatever it is that you’re providing.

The ability to be a solid listener but also know that it’s not a sprint, it’s not a, “I’ve closed this deal and I walk on” because the minute you start to wane, the minute that the product, perhaps they’re not consuming as much as you expect it or they’re not consuming at all. The minute that starts to fall to the wayside, they are looking and it’s truly important that you have your finger on the pulse of what’s important to them and why it’s important. If they aren’t seeing the value, that you’re also ingrained, hopefully, within their walls. I know it’s difficult with COVID, but hopefully you understand what’s happening at the organization, the pressure that they’re up against. Then, you are quickly pivoting as necessary.

But that clock speed I cannot say enough about, it is not about tired old PowerPoints. It is truly about having an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation to whatever extent you can, and then responding in short order.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from another Jennifer, “She works for IBM, how nervous is she about competition?” You’re IBM, you’re one of the most well-entrenched technology companies, but you also mentioned that you’ve got to be responding quickly or the customer may look other ways. Is that truly a risk that you face? Are you living paranoid that you’re going to be losing customers? Talk about that for a minute.

Jennifer Kady: No, I think anyone in technology, you absolutely need to understand that clock speed. Because again, like I said, the minute you start to wane, the minute that you’re not showing continuous innovation, there are clients that will be looking elsewhere. Am I worried about it for IBM? I’m not necessarily worried about it for any one entity as a part of IBM. I’m more concerned, to be honest with you, with what does the client need? Where is that client and am I meeting your needs where you are? Then ultimately, delivering upon my commitment. When I make that commitment, I’m darn well sure that we’re going to be able to tie that out and like I said, run the marathon with them.

I grew up in services, so when I was in security, the services side and the consulting side really was my penchant and that’s where a lot of my heart remains. I’m working software now from a services standpoint, it is truly around that long game. And as far as the competition, it’s constantly adjusting and changing. I have a large firm and there’s a number of different niche providers out in the field. Yes, you do have to make sure that you’re stacking up appropriately and you do need to make sure that you’re innovating. Like I said, pivoting as an offering team and not just as a sales team.

But as a seller, my responsibility is to my client and if there are times when we have other manufacturers, other teams who might want to partner with. Knowing that that pivot is the right one, that I can usually work through very quickly because I know my client and I have developed that intimacy. Back on the worrying side, I don’t think that there’s anyone that should be sitting pretty in any part of the technology field right now because like I said, it’s continuously innovating. Unless you’re ready to continue that marathon run, stagnation does not necessarily mean you have growth.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Daniella, “Jennifer, how has networking and client relationship management changed over the pandemic? Are you looking forward to going to more in-person events again?” We have a lot of large companies that are members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales and some are being very conservative. We’re still in the Delta variant world, if you will. Talk a little bit about what is IBM’s position and how are you dealing with that and what are you telling your people.

Jennifer Kady: I wouldn’t call it necessarily a hard stance, but we’ve taken a very safety-friendly stance as far as how we’re working through this pandemic. From the very get-go, it was around what makes you the most comfortable and how can you make sure that you are safe in and of yourself, in and of your family? There were essential workers that needed to be in certain locations, and being able to handle that working through a passport process for all of us. We have an app for anyone to be able to go and be able to show in terms of vaccines or how you choose to share that content securely and safely. We started that from the very beginning. I wouldn’t say it was March of 2020, but it was shortly thereafter.

From there – and this I think was announced maybe about a week ago – all of us in the company are required to be vaccinated. That is certainly a hard stance. Whatever your affiliation is or however you choose to live, it’s not my position to say but it certainly is a line in the sand that says that there’s an activity of taking this seriously and wanting to make sure that not only are we safe ourselves but also for our clients.

I can say, back to the original part of the question, I am eager to be back in front of people. That is where I find my energy. I will be on a flight next week, I will be headed to Seattle and I’m incredibly excited for being able to be present and doing this with not only one of our great partners, another large technology firm, but also with one of our clients. That’s a wonderful way for us to be able to do this safely as best as possible, and that’s what my company has taken the stance of. I wasn’t a part of the decision, but at the same time I respect it and I respect why we’re doing it.

Fred Diamond: A follow-up before we get to your second point here about trust. You mentioned intimacy again, give us some of your thoughts. The elite sales professionals, they really are intimate with their customer from a solution perspective. Not features perspective but from a, okay, I know where you’re trying to go, customer, and I know where your customer’s customer is trying to go. The elite sales professionals, they know that, they’re intuitive.

You talked about really being embedded inside the walls. Give us some of your thoughts on how the women in sales and the sales professionals listening to today’s show can get to that level, and some things that you would encourage them to do to really take their game to the next level to be of value to the customer.

Jennifer Kady: I have a really good example from a CISO in Arkansas, this is actually building into this next comment in terms of being intuitive and trusting your instincts. We were in a pitch and he was going down a path of needing something that we just didn’t have, and we knew it. There was a way that we could have continued to try to cobble something together and have a Frankenstein-type solution for him, it wasn’t the right thing. One of our engineers, she’s in tech sales, raises her hand and says, “Listen, you could do this but this is the better path,” and it was one of our competitors. “This is the better path for you, we are here to support you, we are here to be with you but being honest about this is the right approach for you and what your business need is right now.”

We stopped the meeting and he said, “Thank you, I will always buy from you, I will always be working with you. I will take your approach and I will take your recommendation, but you’ve just gained my trust wholly.” It was a unique situation, it’s a true story, he’s a wonderful CISO and again, it’s built out of long-term trust since then. We’re talking about almost a decade of continuous business and new content that’s been worked through him being a speaker for us, us being a speaker for him.

These are really important milestones in being able to admit sometimes, back to that earlier question, you don’t have something. How can I help cultivate that from my client? How can I be trustworthy for them? This is a small world and a lot of times, there are partnerships, today’s competitor could be tomorrow’s partner and I’m certainly seeing that within my company and within the business that we operate under Arvind.

But long-term, being honest and forthright with your client, I think there’s no better way of being able to build that intimacy. But then also trusting yourself, that was a bold move from her and it was one that I will never forget. It’s one that I think is incredibly important as we move on and continue to grow that relationship. Trusting your inner voice and not feeling as if you needed to back down. There’s a fear factor there, but embracing that gift of fear is also one that I think is important for us as women and leaders to be able to understand, be intuitive with and then trust yourself with as well.

Fred Diamond: Jennifer, we talk about fear a lot and I love where you’re going with that. My theory is this, if you can eliminate fear or you can understand how to address it, then the possibilities are endless because there’s nothing that’s going to stop you. You can have abundance. Talk a little bit about how you address that. Again, you’re a VP of Sales at IBM, you’ve had a 22-year run, you’re going to have a long great career, you’ve given us so many great ideas. Talk about you specifically, how do you address that fear?

Jennifer Kady: It’s great because you’re leading me right into the next point, to be honest with you. Our first reaction as a human is almost always going to be emotional, and it’s really understanding the brain and understanding how that first impulse from your spinal cord and how this goes into your limbic system, how do you understand that and manage that? How do you understand the emotion around what it is that you’re experiencing in that moment? Sometimes, I think one of the best pieces of advice that I can offer to someone is just taking a pause. Sometimes silence more than anything can be more powerful than trying to feel the need to fill a void.

There’s a number of different ways that that’s important. First of all, getting your thoughts together and not feeling as if you just need to fill the silence. Silence can be very powerful, it gives you an opportunity to also control what’s going to happen next. If you haven’t necessarily processed whatever it is that you are encountering, whether it’s someone who’s being belligerent, whether it’s someone who’s not really hearing what you’re trying to impart, whether you’re being told no 10 different ways to Sunday. Taking some time and giving a pause before you react emotionally is important. This is for females, males, however you identify.

I want to be really careful about that, because the word emotion can emote some strong feelings as a woman, how you react and even just the way our vernacular and our nouns and verbs work in society, it’s not always in our favor as a female. Knowing how that works chemically within your body is a big part of emotional intelligence and learning that competence for yourself, the control and ultimately, the respect. It’s tough to teach this, there’s a lot of great books, there’s a lot of things that you can go and learn, certainly some great podcasts that you can follow up on as well.

But it’s important to understand how you’re going to react and truly, whether you’re starting out in the field, whether you’re changing your career, giving yourself time. There are going to be plenty of times where we’re going to make mistakes. In fact, some of my biggest mistakes are some of the best ways that I’ve learned. You don’t get to a certain level in your career without, unfortunately, losing a foothold or tripping over something that you would have liked to have handled a little bit differently. Learning how you handle that from an emotional standpoint, reacting and handling it with the EQ of what you’re capable of, what you think you need to do more of as far as understanding yourself and understanding the environment that you’re in. Those are important factors and they have been for me.

I recall early on in my career where I felt as if I needed to give my voice and I needed to be very boisterous with what with I was saying, how I was saying it and I needed to talk a lot. I learned that wasn’t necessarily always effective and sometimes, some of the comments that would have come out might have been more condescending than they were uplifting. I’ve learned over time that the more that we lift those around us, the more successful we are as a whole, and I find that to be far more fulfilling than, it was my voice, my idea, I’m the one that got something across the finish line.

Doing it as a team and doing it together is so much more valuable or at least it has been for me. Not feeling the need to bring somebody else down to be able to move yourself up, but also understanding where is this coming from and how can I use this moment wisely? Sometimes just taking a pause, using silence if necessary but then also understanding how you react. Those were valuable lessons for me, especially over the past couple of decades.

Fred Diamond: You were just talking about emotion. Did you ever read the book called The Emotion Code?

Jennifer Kady: No, I haven’t. I’ll pick that one out.

Fred Diamond: I’ll send it to you. Basically, what the author talks about, and Tony Robbins is a big fan and all those types of people, he basically says that emotions are trapped in your body and they will cause you to act and be a certain way over the course of your life. Unless you understand where that emotion is trapped, if you don’t release it, then it’s going to stick with you forever.

This is a random question. I usually don’t ask this question, but I love what you’re saying here. Do you have a motto or catch phrase? I’ll tell you mine, whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. It’s right here on my wall, Henry Ford. What is yours? I’m curious.

Jennifer Kady: Keep moving forward. It’s my handle on Peloton, it’s my handle on Hydrow. We used to have quotes we used to put in, if I were to put a quote somewhere, keep moving forward. I’m stealing it from Walt Disney and honestly, it really is truly around embracing change and embracing that there will be a lot that comes at you, how you take that pause and handle it and then move forward. I cannot affect anything from the past, I can learn from it but I can work my present and I want to be the best I can in my present and I can do more for the future. Keep moving forward.

Fred Diamond: Two quick things. I love that you said that, because one of my favorite responses to a LinkedIn post is #keepmovingforward and of course, the movie, Meet the Robinsons.

Jennifer Kady: Yes! I love it [laughs].

Fred Diamond: Here’s a really interesting thing, I’ve been saying #keepmovingforward thinking it was from Meet the Robinsons. Martin Luther King said that in his famous speech. I’m so happy that you said that, I love that quote so much.

Jennifer Kady: I do too.

Fred Diamond: Jennifer, I just want to acknowledge you. First of all, this has been amazing for me and I’m getting a lot of nice comments here from some of our listeners. Denise said this was fantastic, Jennifer said thank you so much, Martin says thank you. Jennifer, I want to acknowledge you for the great work that you’ve brought to your customers, it’s been a thrill for us to meet you. You’ve given us so many great ideas, but give us one final action step. Something specific that our listeners should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Jennifer Kady: Listen and learn to trust your inner voice. There’s plenty of times where someone else speaks up and I wish I’d had the thought or I’d had maybe even a better thought and I just didn’t do it. Listen and learn how you trust yourself, listen to that voice. Give that a shot. Sometimes we’ll stumble, but the more that you do it, I think the more comfortable you’ll be. I believe that the success will follow.

Fred Diamond: That is a great bit of advice and on the IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum, that’s one of Gina Stracuzzi’s big message. Women in sales, you’ve got to speak up and you’ve got to have the confidence that what you’re saying is bringing value. Thank you all so much. Thanks, Jennifer.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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