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Find Katie on LinkedIn. This interview was conducted by Gina Stracuzzi.
KATIE’S TIP: “Women give up too easily when we’re being talked over. I just keep talking. If I have something to say and it’s my turn to speak, I will just keep talking, and somebody’s going to stop and it’s not going to be me. Women are hesitant to do that because when we get talked over, and I see this all the time, when somebody talks over a woman, she’s going to stop talking. Almost a hundred percent of the time she’s going to stop talking. I just don’t do that. Keep talking!”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: Katie, you run the Digital Service and Operations Management product line in the Americas at BMC. Talk to us a little bit about how you got there, and how you got into sales, and how you made your way to the top at BMC.
Katie Carty Tierney: Thank you for having me, I’m excited to be here. My way of getting into sales leadership is very unconventional. I actually graduated from Texas A&M University back in the early ‘90s and started as a programmer. I was doing COBOL programming, I was doing PowerBuilder programming. I did that for a handful of years. Then I got married and we decided to start a family, so I decided to retire – retiring with basically what ended up four kids in five years because I’m an overachiever that way. I enjoyed that, but I had an opportunity back in 2007 to come back into the workforce working for the guy who had been CEO of the first company that I ever worked for out of college, his name is Steve Papermaster, really good tech entrepreneur guy. He lives in Austin. Really great guy.
He was experimenting with what he called nontraditional labor models. He had people who had left the work to care for aging parents, or left the workforce to have kids. He brought them back in, very casual, 20 hours a week, as you wanted to. It was the beginning of the ability to do some remote work. I did that and that 20 hours lasted all of a month. Then I became pretty much full-time. I was running a recruiting team and I had a recruiter who worked for me who went to work for BMC and he said, “Look, I know you want to get back into technology, and there’s an opportunity at BMC for a technical salesperson. Do you want to put your name in the hat for it?” I was like, “Well, recruiting is a sales job. I’ve got that. I’ve got the technical background. Yeah, I would like to put my name in the hat.”
I did and I must have done a great sales job because I beat out two other people who had long experience in technical sales and knew the product lines backwards and forwards, but there was something about me that they saw some potential and so they brought me on. I started when we did our first SaaS solutions. I actually was asked to come be the technical liaison for those SaaS solutions, and then I was asked to lead a competitive team, and then I was asked to be a regional sales manager, and I just worked my way up. Today I run our product account managers who look after the Digital Service and Operations Management product line, think IT back office, for the Americas. I’ve gone from being a brand-new technical sales rep in 2009 to running the whole geography, the whole western hemisphere, basically, for the product line in 2023.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love hearing stories like that, and kudos to Steve Papermaster because he was ahead of his time. Really this is all what we’re dealing with now, and a big part of the PWISE designation that IES is working on bestowing on particular companies who have those kinds of really flexible work programs and understand the constraints, especially for women. He was ahead of his time.
You were dead square in the middle of a very male-dominated workplace or work industry. That is something that comes up a lot in tech sales. Let’s talk a little bit about your experience coming up through those ranks and the challenges you face now, and what risks you took, and how they went, and what advice you might have for other women in this same position.
Katie Carty Tierney: It’s very interesting because especially coming into it via the tech sales route, being a technical person, there were very few women who had those roles. We pulled together a group of technical sales folks here at BMC and we called ourselves The Unicorns back in the day. We were magical and special and we worked together to ensure that we had the type of visibility that we needed with the leadership. BMC, it’s a unique culture here. It is very, very much a meritocracy. When you work and you provide results, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, you’re going to be able to take the next level. I did take a two and a half year break where I did some other things and then came back to BMC. I will tell you, I just didn’t see that same culture in other places. We’ve been really blessed at BMC to have that culture and be able to know that if you’re doing the right things and you’re driving results and you’re driving the results that are right for the company, that you’ll get to that next level.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, let’s talk about calculated risks that you perhaps don’t see women taking that they should. Or if someone is listening to this and they’d like to take some risks, but they’re afraid to fail, what advice would you have for them?
Katie Carty Tierney: That’s actually one of my big things, is the whole fear of failure that I see mostly women not wanting to take risks because they don’t want to fail. But sometimes failure is important. I say it like this, failure is not failure. Failure is just an opportunity for you to get better as you do it again and again to the next thing. I had a demonstration one time that I took a risk to go do this demonstration. I wasn’t really quite comfortable with the product yet and I screwed it up royally. It was bad. My boss was there and he was trying to coach me and I wouldn’t let him coach me because I was going to do it my way. I learned a ton from that failure and I was able to take it when we needed a demonstration for an analyst, somebody asked, “Hey, who will do it?” Everybody else in the room was looking the other way and pretending they hadn’t heard anything because they didn’t want to do it because it was going to put them in front of an analyst, and that’s a really stressful place to be. But I said, “Hey, I’ll do it.” That was actually probably the first demo. There was a VP from marketing who was on that demo and all of a sudden he knew who I was and he was going to make sure that I was getting the visibility into leadership that I needed so that I could continue to grow my career. I know it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes you have to look at it like you’re jumping without a parachute, but you have to take calculated risks or you’ll never get past where you are.
Gina Stracuzzi: This comes up quite a bit in the Women in Sales Leadership Forum that Fred mentioned. How comfortable women feel taking those calculated risks really depends on the culture, and the atmosphere, and the support that she will get if she fails. That makes a big difference. Let’s talk a little bit about that reality. You seem to have found a really great environment where you are, and BMC can be an outlier in that respect in many ways perhaps, because not every woman that comes through the forum or that I speak to at other events feels that same support system should she fail. What advice might you have for those people that find themselves in that kind of situation?
Katie Carty Tierney: I think you still have to try and you’ve got to take the risk. If you fail, you just need to be assertive in why you took the risk. You have to say, “I took the risk because this was the potential reward. Yes, something didn’t go right. I recognize that, I’ve learned from it, and I’m going to move on,” and not to let people drag her down into a pit of failure. If you don’t look at it as failure, if you look at it as a lesson learned, other people aren’t going to be able to look at it as failure either, because they’re going to see how you are portraying it. You’re saying, “Hey, look, I learned a lesson, here’s the lesson I learned, it’s going to help me be better in the future. Let’s move along.” You can’t fix stuff that’s already happened. You can’t go back and change history. I think just owning it and moving forward, that’s the way you get past it. That’s when it stops mattering if you’ve got somebody who supports you because you’re supporting yourself.
Gina Stracuzzi: There’s always allies somewhere in the company. They could be women or they could be men. Find them and surround yourself with them and they can help you if you falter for a minute, but as you say, it’s a lesson. It’s an opportunity. It’s like PR, visibility is visibility. Even if you do fail, there will be someone who notices that you took a chance, and that’s huge. Let’s talk a little bit about how your failures, or those moments when things didn’t go right, really motivated you to try and reach for, let’s say, a big promotion. How do those things feed each other?
Katie Carty Tierney: Anytime that I’ve had a situation where it just hasn’t gone right, I’ve taken away a lesson. I’ll talk about that, failure’s not failure. It’s just a lesson learned. It’s a way for me to move forward. If I take a look at the demo that I did that I failed miserably at, I took that as, “Okay, you learned something. You learned how to be coachable, and now you can take that onto the next role.” There was a role here at BMC that I interviewed for, a leadership role, that I didn’t get. I took that and I sat down and said, “Why didn’t I get that promotion?” I talked it through with a couple of my mentors and realized that part of the reason that I didn’t get it was politics. What I learned was, “Okay, you’ve got to play a more political game the next time that you go up for a promotion,” which sounds icky, but it’s true.
Gina Stracuzzi: But it’s reality.
Katie Carty Tierney: You don’t get to the next level if you don’t at some point have a political angle to it, where you know the right people and they know who you are. Putting together presentations where you talk about all the things that you’ve done, you think about all the things that maybe you didn’t do so well, but you write down all the things you did well, and having that so that you remember. “I actually did okay. Look at what I did, I was 110% of my number last year. I was chosen to be in chairman’s circle,” whatever it is, but having it written down. The failures are what help you recognize and embrace the successes.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love that you brought that up, Katie, because it’s one of the things, as I coach the women that go through the forum, that we talk about. You want to call it a brag book or just a reminder sheet. Gathering that information not only can bolster you when you’re feeling a little down, but when you go for that promotion or that raise, being able to say to the person you’re sitting in front of, “This is what I’ve done.” Because, trust me, they’re not going to remember, because they’ve got other things going on. It’s not their job to remember everything you’ve done. Being able to do that really strengthens your position. I love what you said, because that’s really true.
Katie Carty Tierney: The other thing that I recommend women do, you put together a one-pager on yourself, but you also need to think about the relationships that you need. Who do you need to influence? How engaged are you with that person? Do you need to be more engaged with that person? So that when the time comes for that next promotion, you’ve got a champion plan. Here are the people who are going to champion me for that next level. Sometimes people will do the one-pager and they’re like, “Okay, I’m done.” Well, you’re not, because now you need to figure out who needs to know about this one-pager, who needs to know about your brag book, and how engaged are you? Be honest with yourself. I do sometimes see people who put together these plans and they say that they’re super engaged with person X, and I’m like, “I think you’re overestimating your engagement with that person.” Let’s think about that more honestly with ourselves. Those kinds of things are necessary.
Gina Stracuzzi: If you are writing your accomplishments or your little wins, even if it’s you helped somebody adjacent to you and they closed a deal, make sure you note that. But then put that in front of one of your allies, or a trusted mentor, or someone who can really say, “You might want to think about this one.” Just so that when they get to that point and they’re asking for that promotion or that raise, they’ve already thought through everything they’ve got there.
Let’s talk a little bit about how women speak up in meetings or how they don’t speak up in meetings, if they raise their hand and say, “Let me try that. I’ll do that.” What you see about the way women communicate that you think could be strengthened, or what do you see that women are doing that you would love? Take us down that path a little bit.
Katie Carty Tierney: At BMC, we’ve got so many strong women in our sales organization. What I really like is this past year, there’s been a focus by several women who had been phenomenal individual contributors over the years. But last year they said, “I’d like to try my hand at leadership.” They stood up, they said, “I would like to be a leader.” They put forth the effort and the understanding of where they’re going to have to grow, where they’ve got really good things now, and where there’re going to be some challenges for them. They stood up and put their proverbial hand up and said, “I want to take the next step.” I still don’t see that a lot in the rest of the organization.
I see some phenomenal individual contributor who I think would be great in leadership roles, but they don’t want to take that step out of their comfort zone. But taking that step out of your comfort zone is how you get ahead and how you get to be a leader. Bob Beauchamp, who used to be the CEO of BMC, used to talk about the fact that he started as a rep and then every time he took on new responsibilities, it felt like he was getting a pay cut. His wife had mentioned to him at one point, “You got to stop taking these promotions or else we’re going to be poor.” But he did it with a grander thought in mind on what he wanted to be and how he wanted to lead the company one day, and he did that.
I don’t necessarily see a lot of women who are willing to take that risk, but if they truly want to be leaders, you have to. You have to say, “Okay, I need to step out of being an individual contributor. I need to start being a leader.” By the way, you can start being a leader even as an individual contributor. I’ve got folks on my team who are running programs around women in sales and they’re being leaders, but they’re still individual contributors. When they get ready and want to take that next step, they can say, “By the way, I’ve already led all these things.” It doesn’t have to be formal.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s interesting because one of the facilitators in the forum, she talks about that, getting involved with industry organizations, professional organizations. Taking a leadership role in an event or something, it gets you visibility, it gets you experience along those lines, and it helps you start to look at what’s involved in being a leader, which is a great opportunity, especially for individual contributors. It’s interesting because we’ve had a number of individual contributors come through the program, and then two, three months after the program, they’re like, “You know what? I do want that.” Now they’re VPs.
It’s so gratifying to see, because I think we talk ourselves into things, “This is what I want to do. This is the best thing for me. I’m really good at this. I don’t need a change.” It’s either fear, or just as you mentioned, the comfort zone. Then when we get a little taste of something, we’re like, “Maybe that would be okay, actually.” I love that idea too, that you have internal organizations that are working with women in sales and really helping them to get stronger and stronger. Then if they want to move, they can.
One thing that comes up also that we talk about a lot, and it is something that even when I go to networking events, women still feel like either people aren’t listening, or they’re just not big enough presence-wise to take on those people who are unavoidable in the world, who speak over you, who always think they have a better idea. What advice would you have around that?
Katie Carty Tierney: I’m a pretty big personality, so I tend to not get talked over in meetings, but there have been times where people have tried to talk over me. Women give up too easily when we’re being talked over. I just keep talking. If I have something to say and it’s my turn to speak, I will just keep talking, and somebody’s going to stop and it’s not going to be me. Women are hesitant to do that because when we get talked over, and I see this all the time, when somebody talks over a woman, she’s going to stop talking. Almost a hundred percent of the time she’s going to stop talking. I just don’t do that. I just keep talking. If I’ve got something to say, I’ve earned my right to say it and I’m not going to let somebody talk over me. Generally I see that, on my team at least, the folks who sell our products are very strong women who are very good at their jobs. I don’t see them getting talked over too much, but when it does happen, that’s the coaching I give them. Just keep talking.
Gina Stracuzzi: Another good strategy is to just pull up Kamala Harris and say, “Excuse me, I’m speaking.” Honestly, I think the sheer horror of someone saying that is enough to stop someone. If it happens again, you just do it again and they really will stop.
Katie Carty Tierney: They’ll get the hang of it at some point.
Gina Stracuzzi: They’ll get the message eventually, for sure. How many women do you have working for you right now in sales?
Katie Carty Tierney: Probably on my direct team, 60% of us are women. I’ve got a direct team and then a broader team. The broader team, it’s probably 40% of that team is women, roughly.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love hearing that. Leadership, is it strong?
Katie Carty Tierney: Yes. Over the past couple of years, BMCs leadership ranks with women has grown pretty dramatically, and we’ve got some fabulous female leaders who are on board. I would say it’s probably closer to the 40% of the leaders in the organization, and I’m thinking globally, are women.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love hearing that, that’s an anomaly. It’s getting better obviously, but we still have a ways to go, but that’s great. Well, we have come to that point in the program where I will ask my guests what piece of advice they have for those listening that they can put into place today to advance their career, or maybe close a sale, or improve communications with their customers. It can be any piece of advice you’d like to give.
Katie Carty Tierney: Everybody is probably struggling with the decision that they need to make about something that they don’t want to do, but if they did it, it’s going to make an impact for their career. Now my advice is say yes to that, especially if other people have said no, say yes to it, and take the opportunity to go out there and do something different and be successful at it. Or if you’re not successful, learn something from it. Just do it.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo