EPISODE 564: Tech Sales Success Strategies with Sumo Logic’s Rachel Nusbaum

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Rachel Nusbaum, Vice President, North America Mid Market Sales at Sumo Logic.]

Find Rachel on LinkedIn.

RACHEL’S TIP: “Reach out to three different people that you admire, either from a leadership perspective, someone at work that you admire, and just talk to them, network with them. Figure out how they got to where they got and then take their advice. If somebody suggests you do something that you really look up to or admire, go do it. Take those next steps. Every single week ask yourself, did I do that extra thing to take those next steps? I would say networking and doing those extra things to take those next steps and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. You’re amazing, be confident, don’t be afraid.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I’m super excited to talk with our guest today about that. We have Rachel Nussbaum. She is the VP of North America Mid Market Sales for Sumo Logic and she is one of the youngest tech VPs in this space. I’m super excited to speak with her. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel Nussbaum: I appreciate you having me on the podcast today. I’m really excited.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Well, cybersecurity and that area that you work in is obviously such a critical field. I’m really excited to talk to you about the space in terms of opportunities for women. Before we get to that, why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about your journey to where you are today, how you got into sales, all that kind of stuff?

Rachel Nussbaum: Definitely. Well, thank you so much. I actually started out, I went to college for communications, public relations and advertising and at the time didn’t have any feeling at all that I was going to get into technology sales. I came out of college and I started working for a company called Gannett, amazing company, a small newspaper called The Wave Coast Press in Beachcomber.

I did advertising for a small newspaper, and quickly realized that probably didn’t have a huge area for growth as far as my career and figuring out how to continue to get into a leadership role. I always wanted to be a leader, but I wasn’t sure exactly in what space. I ended up moving to a software as a service company called iContact. It was an email marketing company, and absolutely loved the space. I love the software as a service space. I loved that kind of helping people figure out how they can meet their business outcomes in a way that you’re not physically going and buying something. It was something very new and exciting for me.

Again, it was a smaller company, absolutely amazing company but the opportunity for growth there wasn’t as large as maybe at a larger scale company. I moved to a company called Cisco Systems, which I’m sure many people know of. It’s one of the largest and most amazing technology companies out there. I have really grown my career there prior to joining Sumo Logic.

I started out as a virtual sales account manager at Cisco Systems and spent my first year really digging in, calling smaller customers, figuring out how to sell and really wanted to get out into the field. What I did was I interviewed for an enterprise account manager position in that space which if I look back, moving from a virtual sales role to an enterprise account manager role in the field was nearly impossible, but I told myself at that point in time, I was going to do everything I possibly could to get into that role.

I made sure that I studied up, I had whiteboarding ready, I created interview decks that just were so different from what everyone else was doing and I was lucky enough to get the role. That was one of the pivotal moments in my career, because when I moved from that virtual sales account manager position to that enterprise account manager position, it was extremely hard.

I think you always think you can do something, and then you get in it and you’re like, “Wow, this is very hard.” I love that part of a journey because I feel like that’s the biggest part of growth journey. It was a tough year of trying to figure out who I was as a seller in an enterprise space with large enterprise customers.

One moment that we can probably talk a little bit further about that really resonated with me is, I walked into my first enterprise customer meeting, and they called my boss immediately afterward. I was in my mid 20s at the time. They called my boss and said, “Hey, this girl is too young, she’s too green. We’re used to having more seasoned reps on our account, I don’t think this is somebody we want to keep on our account.”

My boss at the time said, “You know what? She’s going to prove you wrong, I will tell you that.” He called me and let me know. A little bit of advice he gave me that I probably wouldn’t have people follow today is he said, “Wear a pantsuit when you go in there, put your hair in a bun or put your hair up, and maybe just have more of a professional look when you’re going into the office.”

At the time I was extremely professional. You can see I wear fun earrings and I wear bright colours and that’s just my personality. I think that at the time I switched into that mode and I wish that I didn’t, because I always encourage people, as long as you’re being professional, to look yourself and be yourself at all situations. Long story short, I proved the customer wrong, I provided them value and we came out of that relationship, extreme growth and trust.

When I was in enterprise, I decided to get into a leadership development program with Cisco and that’s where I really found out I wanted to be a leader. I started doing mentorship and coaching and that’s where I thrive and that’s what I love. I’ve had so many amazing leaders that have gotten me to where I am today that I wanted to be that person to help others do the same.

I started to look for regional manager roles and I was lucky enough. I met one of my sponsors who’s now my boss, who helped sponsor me in to my first leadership role at Cisco. I was one of the youngest RMs at Cisco. That’s another thing I’d love to talk about at some point is, I went into a role managing people that had much more tenure than me, much more experience and having to figure my way out through that first leadership role was really exciting and it was a huge learning experience as well.

I ran a team in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey and then I ran an even larger team called our Capital select team, which was DC and Northern Virginia, over $100 million worth of gold at Cisco. Absolutely loved it. I then decided to have two little babies. I actually have two boys, two under two. They are the light of my life. They’ve completely changed the reason why I come to work every day and why I do what I do. It’s to give them a better life and to give them some of the opportunities that maybe I didn’t have growing up.

Between that, going through COVID pandemic, so many obstacles from being a leader and figuring out how to navigate your way through that was really good. Again, growth opportunities. Now I’m lucky enough, for the past seven months, I’ve been running a team at Sumo Logic, which is one of the most incredible technology companies. I look at Sumo as one of those companies that I think one day everybody’s going to really know the Sumo name. It’s going to be a large brand name.

I run North America Mid Market Sales here. I have an excellent sales team of people. Sumo is all about the data analytics space. All of our experiences right now, our digital experiences, whether you’re a customer consuming digital experiences or whether you’re a business trying to give your customers the best digital experiences, Sumo really allows people to figure out where their data is coming from, and keeping it reliable and secure. Taking that observability and security and figuring out how to analyze it to give your customers the best experience possible. That’s a little bit about me, my career journey, and I’d be happy to go into anything else that you want to dig into.

Gina Stracuzzi: Okay. Well, gosh, there’s a lot there. I have to say what you said you were lucky enough to get positions, I would hazard that luck had little to do with it and it was more about your tenacity which I’d love to hear. When we use our voices as women, especially in male dominated world, people will listen but we have to do it with that conviction.

We can’t say, “I think maybe I could possibly do this.” No, it has to be that all-in and luck will get out of your way and let you ride the wave. Congratulations to you on everything you’ve been able to achieve. Let’s back up a little bit and let’s talk about the field that you are in, data and cybersecurity and all of those things, because that is such a huge piece of technology now. Where do you see opportunities for women who maybe are in a different side of technology sales? What advice would you give them and where do you see that there’s real opportunity there?

Rachel Nussbaum: That’s a really good question. I think traditionally, the technology industry has been male dominated. One of the best things one of my mentors ever said to me is she said, if there was a job description that said, you have to breastfeed to get this job, you know how many men would apply for it? A ton, because men will apply for anything and I think that’s great. But as women, we see a job description and we think if we don’t meet every single thing on that job description so clearly, we’re not going to put ourselves out there to try to get a job role.

That’s one thing I think as women in the technology industry, we have to take a step back and say, “We can do it no matter what it is.” I think there’s a ton of room and there’s a ton of space for women to get into the technology industry, whether that’s in sales leadership, whether that’s as an engineer or a salesperson but we have to first realize that we can do it. It’s intimidating.

When you hear cybersecurity and data and all that kind of stuff, I think sometimes as women we think, “Well, maybe we don’t have enough of that knowledge to jump in and do something like that,” but we certainly do. I find that the best teams in all of the teams that I’ve worked with and for are the teams that have diverse talent. It’s not just diversity from gender, but from race and culture and everything in between.

I think it’s our job as women to, like you said, be confident. Say what we can do and figure out how to do it. I can’t tell you how many times people ask, how did you know you were ready for the next role? There’s a ton of good things to answer from that perspective of making sure your current team feels supported, that they can be successful without you, but you’re never ready for the next role. You need to just jump in and believe in yourself and you learn and that’s the biggest growth experiences.

I think from the aspect of women being able to be in the technology industry, we as women in the technology industry just have to talk about it more and make it more normal. It’s an amazing space to be in and you learn so much and that’s really where the world’s going. I encourage women to get out there, to learn about technology, to jump in and to try to do something new because we need more women in the technology industry.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. As I coach women that come through the forum, it’s like a job description is a wish list. It is a wish list by the employer. Like wow, if we could have everything, we would be it. Well, nobody’s going to bring absolutely everything on that list, but it’s learning what have you done before that mirrors this in some way?

I really applaud you saying that because I think women need to hear it again and again. Don’t let those job descriptions deter you from saying, “I want this job and I know that I can do it.” Like you said, when you got over to the enterprise sales level, it was way bigger than you thought but you rose to the occasion. That’s the thing, we will rise to the occasion, we just got to get there.

Rachel Nussbaum: Exactly. That’s such a true statement. I feel like every new job I’ve taken, no matter what it’s been, I always get in it and I’m like, “Wow, what did I just get myself into?” There’s so much to learn. Then a year or two years later, you feel so comfortable, and you want to move to something that makes you uncomfortable again.

I had a leader once who told me, every three years, switch jobs whether that’s taking over a new team, whether that’s taking over a new area of the business. Not necessarily switching companies, but switch jobs because it keeps it fun. It keeps you uncomfortable and it continues to help you grow. If you stay in one job too long, I never like to feel comfortable. I don’t think anybody likes to feel comfortable or bored in a job and I think that’s something that’s really big.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah. I will say though, staying comfortable, maybe you’re not bored but you are comfortable is someplace that people will stay. Sometimes it happens more to women because they’re not comfortable raising their hand and saying, “I want that position,” or, “I want this opportunity to go over there and try something new.”

Also, there’s the mentality quite often that if I keep my head down and work really hard, someone’s going to notice and tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, Gina, it’s your turn.” We know that doesn’t happen now. But it is very easy to look up and have five years gone by or seven years have gone by and you’re doing effectively the same thing. Let’s talk a little bit about that advice that you just gave. How would you recommend if someone’s in a position and it has been like, say, three, four years? If they want to try something new, let’s say there was somebody on your team, what would you advise them to do?

Rachel Nussbaum: I think there’s a couple things. One is make sure to network as much as possible. I can’t tell you how often I get opportunities or offered opportunities that I got coming from networking with different people. I think that advice comes with also having to make sure you can prove the things you’ve done, and that you’ve worked hard to get to where you are.

I’ve had people that have networked with me and have done incredible things and they show that they’ve done incredible things and then there’s people that will network or reach out that maybe want an opportunity before they’ve done the things to get that opportunity. My first piece of advice, work hard, and do all you can to figure out how to stand out amongst your peers.

Then start networking and asking people, “Can I shadow you?” One time I had a coach that told me, do situational interviews just to better understand what people are doing throughout your company in different roles. Not necessarily to interview for a job, but ask people, “Hey, can I interview you on the job that you’re doing? How do you like it? What are some of the things that you do day in and day out?” and start to figure out what people are doing.

Like you said, Gina, people need to raise their hand and say, “I’m ready, I want to do this.” Sometimes you’ll raise your hand and say I’m ready, I want that next step or I want to move into this role and it takes a year or two of that networking and of shadowing and figuring things out, but until you raise your hand and say that, nobody knows and people think that you’re happy and comfortable with where you are.

I think that’s why that happens a lot. Like you said, especially as women, if we work hard and we put our heads down and we think somebody’s going to come tap us on our shoulder. Once in a while that does happen and that’s absolutely incredible, but we have to make it known what we want as career next steps constantly and then known to as many people as possible.

I think that’s something that’s a little uncomfortable, so advice I give women all the time, especially women with children is, you believe your children can do anything. If somebody asked me right now, if my one and two year old could be President of the United States, I would say yes, of course, I know that they could do it. Really, I don’t know that for sure but I want them to think and to try to do anything that they set their minds to and I want them to see that their mom will do that as well. That’s the advice I give. If you believe that your young children, when they were just little babies could do anything in the world when they grow up, why can’t you? We can do anything, we just have to push and set our minds to it.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that. That is such great advice and a real mindset to have. One thing that happens is women, we are nurturers and we will do things for other people that we won’t do for ourselves. We sometimes dig a rut in our jobs because we do them so well and so efficiently and so effectively. Why would companies move us? We’re making sure things are happening right there. If you don’t raise your hand and you don’t believe in yourself, then you will get mired in something and then opportunities pass you by.

I love all of that advice. That is really, really great. You bring up your kids. Let’s talk a little bit about how you try to balance things. We know that this idea of work life balance is a myth, and we jump from crazy to crazy usually, which pot’s boiling over and which one can I just move to the backburner for a bit. Tell us how you do it.

Rachel Nussbaum: It’s so funny you say that because I don’t believe in work life balance. There is no balance whatsoever. There’s times where I feel like I’m drowning and there’s times where life’s a little bit easier. But I think the biggest thing, and I always tell my boss this, I thrive in chaos. I think women a lot of times do thrive in chaos. If there’s so much going on, you figure out a way to organize it in the best way possible and to get yourself out there and to just work really hard.

I would say right now is one of those times in my life where it’s really hard but it’s so rewarding. There was so much chaos. I took over a new job seven months ago running North America Mid Market Sales for Sumo Logic. I have two kids under two, one which has some health problems that have been difficult to deal with in this timing of my new job. We moved to a new state, we’re building a home.

When you start to say all those things, it seems like a lot, but when you take a step back and you prioritize, that is where I think you find that balance or as close to balance as you possibly can. I tell everybody, prioritize your life and then prioritize work. I prioritize for myself in my life. My kids always come first. My family will always come first no matter what. I let my team know that and I let everyone around me know that because that’s why I come to work every day, and then I prioritize work after that.

When I’m at work, I prioritize my team, and then I prioritize our customers. I think it’s so important to figure out and my prioritization levels are not perfect for everyone. Everybody should have their own based off what they want to prioritize in life. But if you can sit down and prioritize things, it’s so easy to stay organized because if two things come up, and I can either A, I need to take my kid to a doctor’s appointment, or B, I have a work meeting, I know personally because I have my kids prioritized first, I am going to figure out a way to take my kids to their doctor’s appointment.

It makes decisions so much easier and you’re able to really go to market in a quick, efficient way and plan your schedule that way. Otherwise, your schedule is just going to be all over the place and you’re going to be hopping from thing to thing. Biggest advice for any woman who’s trying to balance it all, you can do it all. It’s hard, and there’s times where it’s going to get easier, but just prioritize.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is really great advice and I particularly like that you let your team know where your priorities are. That takes courage. It takes courage to be able to say, “Look, this comes before you all. Hands down, there’s no question.” When you do that, it allows people to give you the grace you need to do what you got to do. But if they don’t know where your priorities are, if you haven’t made things clear to them, then they’re scratching their heads like, why isn’t Rachel here? That transparency which comes to women naturally anyway, but we are a little more guarded at work and we’re fearful like, well, what are they going to think if I take off more time kind of thing? We have to do away with that.

Rachel Nussbaum: It’s so true and I think one thing that is so big about that is, initially when I first became a leader, I was scared to have those sorts of conversations of being transparent about prioritizing things in my personal life. I think as long as you come to work and you give it 100% your all and your team sees that and they understand your priorities, then everything is good.

Something else that I never realized until I started doing that is it also shows your team that they can prioritize things as well. They see you as a leader giving it your all working hard, but also realizing that there are parts of life that are extremely important and work is so important, but there’s nothing more important than family. It shows them that they can then prioritize their family at certain times in their life as well. When we as leaders show up as role models in that way, it builds an entirely new, strong, trusting relationship with our employees.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, Rachel. We’re at that part of the program where I will ask you to give our listeners one piece of advice that they can put into action today to strengthen their career. Maybe taking some of what we talked about, what would you give them to do today on their to do list?

Rachel Nussbaum: I think the biggest thing would be reach out to three different people that you admire, either from a leadership perspective, someone at work that you admire, and just talk to them, network with them. Figure out how they got to where they got and then take their advice. That’s the big thing. Take their advice. If somebody suggests you do something that you really look up to or admire, go do it. Take those next steps. Every single week ask yourself, did I do that extra thing to take those next steps? I would say networking and doing those extra things to take those next steps and don’t be afraid. That’s the biggest thing. Don’t be afraid. You’re amazing, be confident, don’t be afraid.

Gina Stracuzzi: Wonderful, that is great advice. Well, Rachel, this has been just such a pleasure to talk to you. I think you’ve given everybody a lot of value and a lot to think about and I hope you’ll come back and see us as your career grows.

Rachel Nussbaum: Yes, and I will definitely answer anybody who reaches out to me. I’m here to help. I love all the people that helped me in my career, and want to help others as well. Gina, thank you so much. You are so inspiring, and I appreciate you having me on the show today.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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