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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on November 3, 2020. It featured Datasite International Sales Leader Nertila Asani]
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EPISODE 294: Women in Sales: Datasite UK Sales Leader Nertila Asani Tells How a Finance Background Can Help Boost Your Sales Career
NERTILA’S INSIGHTS FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Never be nervous, just believe in yourself, never think there’s anything that you can’t do. Never think of gender or anything as an obstacle. Always think about your successes, your strengths, what you’re good at, what you love, what makes you happy and be confident about it. Talk about it, go for it, there’s really nothing that you can’t achieve. It sounds cheesy but it’s really like that.”
Gina Stracuzzi: I’m really excited about our guest. If you all haven’t voted, make sure right after this you get out there and do it and then we can talk about it next week. We’re super excited, this is our first international guest and she’s wonderful, we’ve been chatting ahead of time here a little bit. Nertila Asani from Datasite, she’s their VP of Sales in the UK. Nertila, I’m going to let you tell us all about yourself, welcome.
Nertila Asani: Thank you so much, Gina, it’s such an honor to be here and to be your first international guest. Thank you for allowing me to be that, I’ve been listening to some of your podcasts now and I’m a big fan so I’m very happy to be participating in this. A little bit more about myself, I’ve been with Datasite for five years now, my background is I’m actually Albanian but more German in a way, I grew up there, my family is over there, went to high school there and then my studies took me to Vienna, Austria where I studied international business administration with a major in finance. Afterwards I moved to London, the most international city in Europe where I started my journey at Datasite.
I started as a junior sales executive and then moved onto a senior sales executive role, I was a director for some of our strategic accounts for two years, last year responsible for our top strategic accounts and then as of February 2020, I’m a VP of Sales in the UK leading our advisory team which is quite an exciting role, especially this year and very nice challenge. A little bit more about myself, I speak four languages fluent, a few others I’m trying to learn and I love to travel as I know you do as well and many others of us. It’s a challenge this year but I also look forward to when we can do that again, I think we’ll appreciate it even more. I love to be active, play tennis, do Pilates, cook and read a lot and spend quality time with family and friends.
Gina Stracuzzi: Before we started, Nertila was telling me that she’s got family in both sides of this country which is really awesome and I hope that next time you come to the area, especially when you visit your friends and family in New York and New Jersey that you’ll stop in and see Fred and I when we can all get out again.
Nertila Asani: Absolutely, I’m very excited for that.
Gina Stracuzzi: Before we get started, we’ve already got a couple questions which is really awesome. The first one comes from Christina, she says, “Any tips for women sales executives looking for international opportunities who do not have what you might describe as a multi-cultural background but who may have studied abroad and have a basic conversational proficiency in a foreign language?”
Nertila Asani: Definitely a yes. There’s a lot of opportunities and as the first year VP at Datasite, this year I’ve been part of the hiring finally which has been very exciting and I actually just hired three new people in my team. I think the most important is the background doesn’t actually matter as much, we’re a very diverse team here, I come from a finance background myself which makes it easier to understand the industry and our client base. I have people in my team from an engineering background, people in my team from a psychology background and that makes the team and the job more exciting because people have different view angles to the situation. As a team we just function so much better so there’s definitely opportunity. I don’t think in order to apply for an international sales role you have to have traveled a lot or already worked for an international sales company, it’s how open you are about things, how empathetic you are towards different cultures and everything, I think that’s what matters. Definitely a yes.
Gina Stracuzzi: I know way back when, when I lived in Europe there were a lot of laws around work permits and the company has to sponsor you, I don’t know where any of that stands now but there are opportunities for people to work for international companies that have offices in many places and then travel being what it is, in the virtual environment it may be easier than ever, who knows?
Nertila Asani: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things I love about Datasite because I really wanted to work for an international company and be able to say, “Maybe I want to spend 5 years in New York or Tokyo or Hong-Kong” and we have had a very strong track record in accommodating that, moving people across. Actually, one of my other colleagues and VPs, she used to be in a New York office and managed a team over there and was a sales rep and now she’s working alongside me in London, so we’ve had a very strong track record where we have moved people across offices. It’s proven to be very successful and I think that’s really great, to know that a company provides you with those opportunities and it’s something that I would be looking out for if I was looking for a job.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s good advice. Andrea says, “It’d be nice to hear from you, thank you for creating this space for everyone.” I think she’s eager to hear what we’ll talk about in the course of this conversation. Yasmine is asking, “What personal skills make a good salesperson according to Nertila?”
Nertila Asani: I think being empathetic is definitely one, being a good listener. If you’re very empathetic, if you have a lot of emotional intelligence and are a good listener, you will be more successful because people buy from people, and people see how genuine you are about them and all of that. Especially this year, I think that became even more so important because out of nowhere we’re not able to meet clients face to face anymore and build that trust relationship, we had to come up with new ways of getting in front of them like virtual happy hours, virtual workout sessions, virtual pop quizzes and all of that. After post-lockdown when we met up with them in person again, they were actually highlighting how much that meant to them and how much they remembered that we were trying and finding our ways to be in front of them. Being empathetic, being a good listener, listening to what motivates them, what drives them, what they’re looking out for, what’s important to them. Even small personal things about them, let’s say their daughter’s birthday or which sports they like, which team they like, what they support, where they travel to, where their holiday house is and all of that.
Another personal skill that I think is important is to be authentic and to be yourself because people feel that, people think that if you are real, if you are genuine they will trust you and they will want to work with you, they will want to buy from you. Also knowing the product that you are in charge of, being an industry expert around that product, being a product expert around that and being able to picture that in front of the client. I think these are some of the skills that are very important and being a team player as we all know. I think that’s one of the things because we can be more successful together.
Gina Stracuzzi: Your background is finance, what made you decide that you wanted to move over into sales?
Nertila Asani: That’s a very interesting question, Gina. Growing up I was writing news articles for a local paper, I wanted to be a journalist and my parents were always like, “Listen, as a journalist you have to run after people all the time” so I thought more about it, I gave that up, then I wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t want to be stuck in Germany and go after German law. I knew always where my strengths are, it’s languages, people, I love to chat and I thought, “I’m interested in businesses, I want to travel, I want to work with people all across the world” and that’s how I got into international business. I didn’t think that much about sales early on when I was younger but I had people, actually even my own father who’s a sergeant and works for a lot of medical salespeople telling me that I would actually really be good in that and that I have all the soft skills needed to influence people, to work with them and all of that.
Then I started thinking about that during university times, just worked as everyone else in retail and understood I really liked that part of the job, I liked working with people, I loved listening to their problems, to their challenges and finding a way around them. That’s what got me into sales and I think especially coming as a university graduate as I did and if you’re looking to even build your own business or whatever you’re looking for, you gain all the skills that are needed for everything because you have that book of business that you manage, you have people, you have resources, you have product and all of that. Combining the ladders between each, you gain so much knowledge that I would have never thought before. That’s my journey into sales.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have another question, Mary wanted to know what advice you have for young women who might want to move from a specialty area probably like finance into sales. In this area that we’re in there’s a lot of technology people and there’s a lot of selling to the government, it’s very easy to get caught up in a role and not find a way out. Do you have any advice for someone who might want to make that move over?
Nertila Asani: Especially if you’re already in finance – and I only studied finance, I didn’t have any practice in it, I just knew the theoretical background- I think you already know the industry. It’s an easier transfer, I’m not saying that you cannot transfer. As I mentioned before, we have people from engineering, psychology, from real estate from everywhere. I think a move is always possible as long as you believe in yourself, you’re open to new opportunities and you know what you want and you’re up for the challenge. I don’t think it’s any problem at all getting into sales and in particular into our company, from finance into sales it would be easier because our clients are in finance, the people we sell to. Regardless which industry, I think the industry doesn’t really play a big role moving into sales as long as you’re a people person.
Gina Stracuzzi: Jamie would like to know, “Have you had to interact with an inside competition inside any of your jobs?” Perhaps someone wanting your job or presenting things to knock you off balance or how you cope. You and I had a short conversation before and for the audience, let me just say that Nertila has had an enviable career in that she’s always been supported by the men in her organization, by the other women in her organization and honestly, it would be so great if everyone had that level of support. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and sometimes it’s not that anyone means to undermine you, it’s just a particular culture in the company that lends towards a certain kind of behavior or sometimes it sounds like Jamie might have somebody that’s attempting to sabotage her career or maybe they’re going after the same job. A lot of times you know that there’s only a couple of tracks to get to where you want to be and you know that there’s competition, it sounds like maybe Jamie is coming up against some of that and maybe somebody is not playing nice [laughs]. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that in your career or if you’ve seen it or maybe you’ve heard about it from other people. What kind of advice might you have for her?
Nertila Asani: Just so I understand the question correctly, Gina, is it more inside competition from other people or is this more about being a female in a sales leadership role or in a sales role?
Gina Stracuzzi: She says both. I think what she means by both is that it is both inside competition and perhaps that inside competition might be a guy.
Nertila Asani: I’m quite fortunate that I never had to deal with that challenge, I have friends in the venture capital or private equity, I’ve heard stories but myself, it’s been such a nice journey at Datasite. You and I were catching up before and we’re actually four women in our leadership team and five male, it’s such a cool team and especially diverse team. I’ve been part of many different conferences and forums, for example, the Women in Private Equity in London. Three years ago at my first conference they were speaking about how important it is to find a mentor within your company and be guided along, I was quite lucky to have that in my manager who’s actually a male and I don’t think that in my career gender has never played a role. I understand I’m lucky about that and he’s always supported me to speak up and to be quite confident about my ambitions and where I want to bring my career, what I believe in. I would say especially at the start of my career, you’re fresh from university, you’re less confident and maybe a little bit shy and all of that, and he’s actually supported me a lot across my five years and taught me how to get my thoughts together and to be confident, to speak up and not think too much around everything.
I haven’t had to deal with that inside competition, I’ve always felt that everyone is treated based on what they have to offer. If you work hard, I think that comes with success regardless of whether you’re male or female. Success equals more opportunities and that’s what got me here after five years so it’s pretty exciting. I think having a good mentor is really a very important thing in every company and I’m happy I was able to have that.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have so many discussions around the importance of having a sponsor and a mentor which are two different things, and I’ve often wondered for somebody who’s been at a company for a while and maybe now, like Jamie, they find themselves in a situation where they’re on a track, they’re looking for this promotion, they’ve got competition. How do you find a mentor when you’re in that environment and you need to address certain things that are really bothering you? When you come in and maybe you’re new, you approach someone to be a mentor, “I want to know what you think about the company and I really want the support along the way to make sure that I’m capitalizing on this opportunity”, that’s all genuine and fresh and eager. But if you’re there for a while and you don’t have that mentor yet and then things like this start to happen, I think it’s probably a little harder to find a mentor because you’re coming at it with a little bit of concern about who’s side people might be on or what their feelings are about inside competition. I feel for people in Jamie’s situation.
Nertila Asani: I totally feel for that as well. I’ve always focused on myself, where I want to grow my career and I think it’s important to be confident. I’ve read studies about statistics that women usually tend to less ask for promotion than our male colleagues do and I’ve never thought about these things because I’ve always been encouraged to be confident and to lay down my ambitions on the table. When I’ve discussed those type of things or promotion or something where I’m in competition with people internally or externally, I’ve always focused on my strengths, I’ve focused on what I have done so far, the challenges that I managed to overcome and what I achieved and brought them to the table, presented them. I’ve always tried to make it about myself and about my accomplishments and not driving any comparisons to anyone else. I think it’s helped me a lot at least down my career line during my five years here.
Gina Stracuzzi: How many people are on your team?
Nertila Asani: 8 people.
Gina Stracuzzi: What kind of lessons are you learning as a fairly young manager and leader? What are you learning from the people you manage?
Nertila Asani: I’m learning a lot from them. I’m a manager since February 2020, I did that in person for a month and then we all went into a virtual management, I didn’t know that would happen. I’ve been – again, that goes to my background – the top revenue producer in our company for the last two years and all I thought about was myself and my customers and how I can be #1 and super successful and that’s great but I was looking for more rewards. I didn’t want to look after myself, I wanted to build people, build them up, their career lines, help them buy their first house and what drives them, what motivates them, I think there’s no greater reward than seeing the dreams and ambitions that they have and being responsible to support those people. It’s been a challenge, the first month was in person and then I had to come up with ideas not only for our customers but also for my team because I was worried about each person. How they’re doing, what they’re cooking with, which environment they live in, do they have flat mates?
Do they have people or are they living by themselves? Being accommodating, listening to them and where they want to get in their career building out a strategic plan for them if in a year, in two years that’s where they want to get in the company how do we get there? What are the variables that will get me there? Laying that down for them and then coaching them, being able to transfer the success that I’ve had myself. I was coached by my manager and how he managed to lay down his success to myself and how I was learning. Honestly there’s not been a more rewarding thing in my 5 years, it’s been so difficult the last months, this year nothing has been more rewarding than being responsible for people, celebrating with them their first wins when they close a deal, seeing them happy, that their hard work pays off and being there for them.
Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s back up a little bit. You were the top producer and then those successes brought you to where you are now. Talk to us a little bit about how you got to be the top producer and what it is that you think propelled you to that place and then opened doors to get into leadership.
Nertila Asani: There’s many points. First of all, know your market, understand your customers, understand what drives them, what do they live and breathe in, their background and all of that. At Datasite we get provided with a lot of tools and market insights, we get to know a lot about M&A activity, where it’s taking place, the industry, use cases and all of that. We have a lot of help in that respect and myself also, since I’m selling to people from a finance background I knew the industry but again, that’s not a hurdle at all because you learn everything new. That helped me quite a lot as well, then partnering with different divisions across the company like product, being able to work very closely with the product team, get them in front of clients and see what clients have to say, adopt their feedback on the platform, the technology and all of that, partner with our marketing team to deliver thought leadership topics that are important to our clients. Things like our customer service team, across different divisions we work so closely together. In London in normal times we’re in one office but then also globally we work so well and this year showed even more how connected we are and we grew even stronger through the entire crisis together.
Working together on that we shifted very well and our service team is so amazing, that’s #1 what the customers buy and being able to work with them even through a work-from-home scenario, they were so good adapting in that and working closely with us. That’s helped me a lot building my own professional brand, not only externally with clients but building trust with them and also internally being a product expert so you gain respect and trust everywhere around. Then empathy, I think I mentioned earlier how important that is, being empathetic especially this year where we all had to deal with a very new situation that no one ever thought about and being creative in how we keep in front of people, the virtual hours that I mentioned, we’ve done webinars for every region with very strong panelists. Another tip is find a good mentor and sponsor as you mentioned as well, I’ve been attending many conferences where that’s the best advice and I think that’s guided me a lot throughout my career, having a mentor and having someone I can rely on and that knows me, that challenges me every day. I was lucky enough to have that in my manager and staying authentic. That’s one of my #1 things that I love to point out as well and it can mean anything but people feel how honest, how genuine you are and people buy from people so the more you are yourself, the more they will trust you and want to work with you. I think that’s internally, across different divisions in the company and that’s externally as well. You can achieve a lot as a team. Know your market, partner with different divisions, build your network, build your professional brand, be authentic, find a good mentor. I think those are some of the key takeaways.
Gina Stracuzzi: Clearly at Datasite you’ve fallen into an enviable career path with lots of opportunity and lots of support, but there have to be some challenges working across multi-cultural offices. Maybe it’s language, maybe it’s different ways of going about business. It’s funny because in the DC area when you’re dealing primarily with the federal government it is like a little entity unto itself with its own quirks and challenges and benefits. One of the things that we find is that there’s so many people moving from company to company and everybody knows everybody else and it’s very insular in many ways. Your situation is completely different from that in that you probably deal with people that you may never meet even before the pandemic because they’re in a whole different part of the world or in an office that you’re not likely to visit. Are there challenges with working with cross-cultural norms? It’s so much different than it was even 20 years ago, so much of that has melted away as we become one world, as the saying goes.
Nertila Asani: I think it’s one global world in the end. You and I were talking about this earlier as well, my challenges were more like I came from Germany and London is a very international city where you have people from all parts of the world and that’s why I moved here. My culture is to be very direct, to be short in my emails and to say what I think and what I need and that didn’t come across very well with the British people so I had to learn to address that and I had to learn how to express myself in a different way. It’s benefited me as well, now when I go back to Germany and I go to the supermarket and I ask people how their day was, say thank you and have a nice day and all of that, people are so surprised to get a real conversation out of a supermarket chat. I think it’s being open to different cultures, I just love to get to know people, where they’re from and to learn more about different cultures and countries across Europe and different states across America and all of that.
Adapting good things from different cultures, I think that gets you across very well but those were my challenges at the start, I’ve learned a lot to form my emails in a different way, not to be too direct as I used to be. I think no matter where people are in the world, as you said, we’re actually doing a live webinar for our South African market on November 12th to stay close to our customers over there. You just need to know what’s going on in South Africa, what are people going through and the challenges they’re facing and need to address that and need to know about it. Company-wide also, I think the pandemic showed me even more how strong we are as a company and how close we are whether we are in Madrid, Frankfurt, New York, Atlanta or wherever, there’s so many good lesson I’m taking out of this year.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have another question, Andrea wants to know if you could give some examples of how you became more open in your writing thinking about email communication. That is difficult sometimes even within the same culture and it goes a lot to the emotional intelligence that you were talking about earlier, you have to pick up on who the person is that you’re corresponding with.
Nertila Asani: A big shout-out also to our marketing communications team, Martha and Laura, John over in New York who empower us with all the tools in terms of business, email writing and how you approach people from different backgrounds, different cultures. That’s #1, the company supporting us in there and then #2 is learning from mistakes, learning from approaches and people telling you how they actually received that email that you wrote. Being empathetic towards that.
Gina Stracuzzi: And probably open to hearing the feedback on it. I like the fact that you have a marketing department that supports your writing skills, sometimes there can be a fine line between a marketing approach and a highly technical response to something and sales can be somewhere in the middle of it which needs to incorporate both pieces but it is good if you’ve got guidelines and you’ve got someone that will look something over and give you some feedback to be able to craft a more genuine message.
Nertila Asani: Absolutely, it’s just workshops that we do and different things which I think is really great. I’m happy that we have them.
Gina Stracuzzi: You’re going to have a bunch of people sending you resumes when this is over, I think everyone’s going to want to work for Datasite, myself included, I’ll be sending mine [laughs].
Nertila Asani: Please, Gina, I would love to have you part of Datasite [laughs].
Gina Stracuzzi: It would be fun to come back to London. We have just a few more minutes, is there any parting piece of advice that you would like to give the women on the call who just may be nervous about trying something new or branching out into international?
Nertila Asani: Never be nervous, just believe in yourself, never think there’s anything that you can’t do and speaking of myself, this is pretty much my first job and I had the finance background but I didn’t really have the sales background, just during university times as I mentioned, in retail. Never think of gender or anything like that as an obstacle, always think about your successes, your strengths, what you’re good at, what you love, what makes you happy and be confident about it. Talk about it, go for it, there’s really nothing that you can’t achieve. It sounds cheesy but it’s really like that, don’t think too much about it because regardless of which industry you’re in or what you’re doing, there’s never a wrong time to start, a late time to start or an early time to start. Go for it, believe in yourself, speak up, work hard and try it out.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo