EPISODE 562: Leading Stronger by Learning to Say No with Gong EMEA Sales Leader Wendy Harris

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Wendy Harris, EMEA Vice President for Gong. It was hosted by Gina Stracuzzi.]

Find Wendy on LinkedIn.

WENDY’S TIP: “Choose a boss, not a job. If you don’t believe your boss has your back, then you need a new boss. Your boss can make or break your career. If you are clear with them and you trust them, and you trust that they’re advocating for you behind your back, then that’s great. If your boss is not giving you feedback, does not have a clear promotion path for you, and does not seem interested in your career aspiration or anything else, you need a new boss.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Wendy Harris is the head of the EMEA at Gong, and she lives in Ireland. We’re very excited about that. Wendy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you came to be the head of the EMEA at Gong and your career path?

Wendy Harris: Absolutely. I have a very weird career path. I studied business and French at Trinity College in Dublin. Thereafter, while I was in my final year there, I started interviewing with Goldman Sachs, and I did 32 interviews to get in there. They hired me two months before I finished college and I started a week after I finished college, and then I spent 11 years there. I worked in London, Chicago, yeah, it was full-on. I was never leaving after 32 interviews. I spent 11 years and I worked as a sales trader, algorithmic trader across London and Chicago. I loved my time there.

But ultimately, I wanted to move back to Ireland and I wanted to transition. My two brothers work in technology, so I was trying to transition out of finance into tech, which was incredibly hard and far harder than it should have been, frankly. But I eventually got a job at Facebook as a contract marketer in content marketing. I took a job there, earning significantly less than I used to be on. Then worked my way up, became head of UK Ireland sales at AdRoll, which is a retargeting firm. Then went from there and moved on to Dropbox where I ended up running European sales for Dropbox. Then my last job prior to Gong was at CarGurus where I was head of European sales. I joined Gong in June of a year ago as their head of EMEA, as their first boots on the ground in Europe, which is very exciting and a real privilege, built the team out. Now we’re at 69 people as of today. It’s been a wild journey so far.

Gina Stracuzzi: Wow. That is a great career. I’m fascinated by all of it. The 32 interviews must have been incredibly daunting as a college student.

Wendy Harris: It was.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think as a seasoned professional, you might say, “Is this really necessary? Combine some of these.” But as a college student, I can imagine, really just nerve-wracking.

Wendy Harris: Yeah. Well, what they were actually doing was they were testing your resilience. Some days they’d do super days, back to back 10 in a row, and then other days they’d be more intense, just longer interviews with more senior people. But they would test things like, “Look, who have you spoken to already? When you’re on your seventh interview of the day, do you remember the names of all the people you’ve already spoken to?” There was method in their madness because the work at Goldman Sachs is nothing if not intense. I used to start work at 6:00 AM and work 12 hours a day and be at my desk in front of nine monitors essentially for 12 hour days. It was intense. They’re testing your resilience and ability to cope with intensity. I passed apparently.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, that’s a good way to look at it. I’m sure you’re right, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Wendy Harris: No, it wasn’t. But I will say, I absolutely loved my time at Goldman. I worked with some super people and I laughed every day I was there and we worked really, really hard. It was a great grounding for life and for career. It’s just everything from attention to detail that’s needed, to intensity, to integrity, to good communication skills. It’s an excellent foundation. But at the end of the day, you don’t succeed at Goldman Sachs if you don’t have great work ethic. I do believe great work ethic is the foundation for everything.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a great segue into, let’s talk about your experience when you went to change industries, because a lot of women are coming into sales from other industries, or considering it. I have talked to a lot of women that are just like, “I’m not sure where to begin or how to make it happen.” If you could talk to us a little bit about your experience and any advice you might have along those lines.

Wendy Harris: I spent over a year trying to change industries and had every door slammed in my face. I actually also have connections in the industry. As I said, my brothers worked there, worked for Google and Facebook, and so they were able to introduce me to people, and I met recruiters, and I met managers, and I met various different people, but it was incredibly hard. I think the first thing is you’ve just got to accept changing industries is extremely hard. I don’t particularly enjoy networking, but it is something that’s absolutely necessary to do. You’ve got to knock down doors and be persistent and meet as many people as possible, because somebody might just remember you when a pivotal moment comes along. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is understand where your gaps are. I didn’t know what I didn’t know when I wanted to move from finance into digital marketing. I had no idea. When I was interviewing, frankly, when I look back in retrospect, I was interviewing for roles that I was not qualified for, and they were right not to hire me, because my ramp would’ve been too long. What I did was I did a digital marketing course and I actually showed real intent in up-scaling in the industry. You can do it if there’s online courses. I actually did a hybrid version of one, but I was self-aware enough to go, “Okay. Where are my gaps?

The third thing is try and make contact with people. Don’t be afraid to badger people on LinkedIn, people who actually work in the jobs that you want to work in. I’ve just actually come off an interview an hour ago with somebody in Sweden who said to me that when they were prepping for the job with us, that they went and they messaged different SDRs on the team, and they set up calls with them and they just asked, “What’s your day like? What works? What doesn’t work?” It helps. I think if you go the extra mile and put aside any level of embarrassment, or, “I’m wasting people’s time,” people will give you their time if you ask for it often. Look, people are generally busy, but I think if you ask enough people and educate yourself enough and really understand their world and the world you’re trying to get into, then you’ll be able to talk the language of prospective employers and you will show that you’ve done true research and due diligence, and it will help you with your job.

Gina Stracuzzi: I particularly like the idea of taking a course that can help you learn some of what you’re going to need for the job that you’re hoping for. Because, you’re right, first it does give you a good base, but it does show real genuine interest in that field and that industry.

Wendy Harris: The other thing I’d say is people get really hung up on titles. Don’t get hung up on titles. When you’re changing industry, you’ve got to accept that you will probably have a lower role. It’s extremely hard to change industry and keep the level of compensation or this level of seniority that you have. If you can afford to do so, be willing to be humble and swallow your pride. I swallowed my pride to the point that I took a contract role, it wasn’t even full time, and I was doing work that other people might consider “beneath them”, but you have to be willing to take a few steps back to change industry, and understand then that you will progress, do the best of your work when you get there. But if you get hung up on titles and compensation, it’s going to be very hard to change industry.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is hard, you’re absolutely right, to take a step back. But particularly in sales, you have the opportunity to make up that income and then some. If you can manage not to get hung up on titles, as you suggest, then it’s an open game. You can earn what you need and then some. Let’s take a little bit of a step back, because it dawns on me that there might be people listening who aren’t familiar with Gong. I have to say myself, when I first came across the company, I had to educate myself as well, because I wasn’t familiar with your company. Tell us a little bit about your company and your role in it and how you feel your experience to up for this role.

Wendy Harris: Gong is a revenue intelligence platform. What that means is, the way it works is we capture all phone interactions, phone, web conference, and emails. Between, for example, your sales reps and your customers, or your prospects, we capture those interactions, transcribe them, we apply artificial intelligence, pull out insights into three key areas. First, your people, what are your top sales reps doing differently and how can you actually scale that and train your other reps? Secondly, your deals, where is the risk in your deal pipeline? For example, if a deal is in forecast but your rep has never mentioned pricing, or if the prospect is ghosting us. Then the third thing is we can show you areas into market insights. For example, what are your prospects saying about your competitors? How is your new sales messaging landing? What is the feedback on a new product that you’ve launched?

All of these are insights at scale which help you run your business based on reality, not on opinions. It’s incredibly powerful new technology. Honestly, it’s an absolute privilege to be in the position I’m in. At the end of the day, one of my pieces of advice specifically for women is, nobody ever feels ready truly for any job. But if you do, you should probably question. You can check your ego a little bit. I would say there is no CEO school, there’s no head of EMEA school. I didn’t go to head of EMEA school, but at the end of the day, if you have work ethic, and you have EQ, and you’re willing to be humble and ask questions and admit when you don’t know something, well then you’ll figure it out.

I back myself to know that I hire great people around me that make me look smarter and I ask for help when I need it. The job of running EMEA for Gong is not just my job. To make it a success is the job for the whole company. I’m very good at badgering my cross-functional colleagues in the US and in Israel to help me make the product EMEA ready and make the marketing land properly in EMEA. I consider myself a bit of a circus ringmaster where I’m just trying to bring all the different pieces together and influence. But again, everyone’s got imposter syndrome and there is no school I went to to figure this out, but I just back myself to get to a position that I am good enough and I will ask for help if I don’t know what to do.

Gina Stracuzzi: You’re right, imposter syndrome can hit at every stage of your career, and there’s even a, I don’t know if it’s a YouTube video or what, but some of the most incredible people in the world talking about when imposter syndrome hits them. Like Tom Hanks and basketball legends. It happens to everyone.

Wendy Harris: I think it’s a good thing, though. If you get to the point that you believe your own hype and you’re like, “Well, I’ve got it all figured out,” well, that’s the problem. I remember, there’s a lovely quote from, I think it’s Michelle Obama who said, “I’ve been at every great table in the land, and let me tell you, they’re not that smart.” I take great comfort in that.

Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] Well, and I always like the saying too that, “If you’re the smartest in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” because you’re not challenging yourself at all. If you’re all about adoration, then maybe that is the best room for you. But if you want to continue learning and being challenged, then you need to be scared a little bit.

Wendy Harris: 100%. Totally.

Gina Stracuzzi: Out of your career, what would you say is the lesson that it’s taken you the longest to learn?

Wendy Harris: I would say the lesson that’s taken me the longest to learn is how to mind my health at the same time as push for my career. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It’s not like I can only have a great career if I basically sacrifice my health. For example, it’s something for a while it took me to get to a point of having essentially developed a seizure disorder. I had my first seizure on the trading floor of Goldman Sachs at 10:00 on a Friday night, which I’m not proud of. I ended up being off work and having so many neurological tests, and I suffer from chronic headaches. I do live with chronic pain and I’m able to manage that now, but I’ve realized that what I have to do is I have to shut my brain off. How do I do that?

I close my laptop in the evenings, and I have my weekends, and I take my holidays. Now I’m someone that’s so passionate and really stand for people taking their holidays and not mailing my people on weekends, because unfortunately I learned the really hard way. My brain was always on, I was always thinking about work. I’m someone I have tremendous work ethic, but you also need a rest. Also, my brain literally misfunctioned. It was a very hard lesson to learn, I still live with the repercussions today, but I really hope to help other people not fall into that same trap, and know it’s okay to take your holidays.

Especially Americans, no offense, but Americans are really bad at taking their holidays. They feel like they have to show that they’re always online. I think that’s ridiculous. If I’m good at my job, I don’t need to prove to my CEO or COO that I’m online at 8:00 PM on a Saturday. It’s just ridiculous. We have to stop that mindset and stamp it out. Thankfully, nor does my company want me to do that. Leaders need to lead by example on this and show when they’re going on holidays, and show they’re not working weekends, and show they shut their laptop in the evening.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s particularly true, I think across the board, real high achievers suffer from this issue. For women, it’s particularly hard, especially if they’re stopping to take care of the kids in the middle of working when they’re working remotely, and then they’re still going at 10:00 or 11:00 at night. They’re just burning themselves out and wearing themselves down. Happily, most people don’t have to suffer the kind of wake-up call that you had. I can only imagine how terrifying that was. But sometimes, if we’re not willing to do it, our bodies will do it for us, like, “You have to stop.”

Wendy Harris: It was literally the most dramatic moment. Literally I started having a seizure just because I wouldn’t stop working. It just shows you. But it’s also, the point about kids, I don’t have kids, but I do see exactly what you’re talking about there. My friends who have kids, they go and pick them up and then they log on again in the evening. I think you should make comfort. I would love every woman to make peace of the fact that they will never get all the work done in one day, and that’s okay. There is another day. Make peace with it, I will never get through everything that I have to do, or read every email within a day, and that is okay. Think about the urgent, unimportant. As long as you get the urgent done, then it’s okay to wait another day, or take a few days longer to get back to people.

Gina Stracuzzi: One thing that comes up in the forum that I run for Women in Sales Leadership is don’t get caught up in other people’s version of urgent. Because people, they’ll put those high importance whatever, and it’s like, “Is it really?” You have to be able to say, “I’m sorry. I don’t deem that as urgent right now,” or however you need to get through it, but don’t fall into that trap.

Wendy Harris: That’s great advice. Just as an offshoot of that, I would say learn the importance of saying no. If you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else, because there’s so many errors in the day. I have learned to say no a lot more now than I say yes. It is important because your time is the only thing you have. We all, CEOs, presidents, SDRs, AEs, we all have the same amount of hours in the day, so it’s how you spend it. You must learn to say no and it’s okay, and not take guilt with saying no.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is honestly the best piece of advice, because I think women particularly get caught up in, “If I say no, they’re going to think I’m not a team player,” or whatever the case is, or, “I’m going to hurt my career,” or whatever it is. We let people pile things on us, and of course, they’re going to keep piling if we keep saying yes.

Wendy Harris: Well, I also think that a lot of respect comes from setting your own boundaries and from actually people will respect you more, not less if you say no to things. I think that’s counterintuitive, but I would also encourage women, I ask a question often in interviews, which is, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it for you to be liked? I think women often are at the upper end of this, we want to be liked. I’m not saying that’s a mass stereotype, but I think anyone who overarches on the need to be liked is going to fall into this trap of always wanting to say yes, never wanting to say no, never wanting to push back, never wanting to upset anyone. But you will never be a really successful senior female sales leader if you cannot learn to say no to things as well, and accept the fact that somebody might be annoyed with you for a second. Who cares? Frankly, it is what it is. Make peace with it. You can’t be everyone’s best friend and that’s okay.

Gina Stracuzzi: You probably heard us talk about this PWISE designation we’re doing. As a company, what type of flexibility do you feel that companies should be providing not just women, but families? Because I think the pandemic was the great equalizer. I think CEOs and men in general got a great take of what it can be like to be a caretaker for aging parents, or children, or whatever the case is when everybody was home. Now companies that we talk to are really struggling with, “How do we keep flexibility? Not make women and families feel like they need to be on at 12:00 at night,” as you say, because this coming round now it’s like, “You’re always available. That’s great.” People take advantage of it. What are you doing inside of Gong and what do you recommend that companies might do to find this even ground?

Wendy Harris: First of all, clearly there is no easy answer to this. For example, Gong in Dublin, it’s hybrid work. Actually, we have an office, but it’s also some employees work from home, some people come into the office. Ultimately, most people will be at the office two or three days a week generally. I may not be a parent, but I always say to my leaders, like, “At the end of the day, if you have something that you need to do with your family, that is the priority. The job is always going to be here.” You also know, as a leader, you know people on your team who are genuine and who get their work done, but sometimes they need some flexibility that they need to leave at whatever it is, 4:00 PM, or they need to come in late because there’s an appointment with their child or something.

I measure them on their output, not on the amount of free time I see with them. It’s not how many hours I look at them a day. I assume good intent. You will always know, leaders know when people are actually not being upfront or not being honest about the level of whatever’s happening at home. But for the most part, I really assume good intent. To date, I have not been burned on this. I would just say, let’s be reasonable about it and show flexibility. By the way, you engender such good will with people when you show that you’re willing to work with them with their lives as well. It is something that, look, I think we’ve all had to pivot. Honestly, prior to the pandemic, I was not a proponent of work from home at all. I’ve changed my opinion on this. I believe in hybrid work now. That is something that literally just came out because of COVID. I wouldn’t have believed it could have worked before, and now I do.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think you’re not alone. A lot of leaders and companies have been pleasantly surprised, but it has led to this blurring of lines. I can’t speak to the entire world, but in the United States, that’s a lot of what people are concerned about, that there’s this sense that you’re always supposed to be on. Again, I think it goes to your point of saying no. If somebody’s sending you something at 10:00, it doesn’t mean you have to reply.

Wendy Harris: Totally. But I would also separate this conversation from whether they’re in office or at home or any, because I feel like this has been a cultural difference between EMEA and from Europe and Americans forever. Americans, we wear our holidays like a badge of pride. The Spanish and French take August off. I’d love to take the month of August off. I don’t quite get that far. But I do think Americans could learn a little from the Europeans at how much they embrace the work life balance. You know what? I’ve never had a problem with hiring people with great work ethic here, but we also believe in living our lives. I hope if anything comes of COVID that might help is that our American colleagues embrace their holidays a bit more, and embrace their weekends, and get rid of this FaceTime nonsense.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, I had the pleasure of living in London and living in Barcelona, and I have to say that I was like, “This is nice.” [Laughs] Everybody just shuts down and it’s real. It’s quite nice. It’s very civilized. Then you come back here, and then I moved to LA, and I felt a little shell shocked. In our last few minutes, and we touched on what holds women back a little bit. Is there anything else that you think or you see that you believe holds women back in their careers?

Wendy Harris: I’d say two pieces of advice in this. I actually wrote a LinkedIn post on this before, because I realized it. First of all, I also used to do this. I was a woman that would never take the call. I’d be so loyal to the firm that I’m in that I would never take a call from a recruiter, I would never have a call with anyone. I’d be like, “No, no, no, I’m not interested in any job.” Now, I would not be here in the job I’m in right now if I never took a call, because I was not open to opportunity. It’s not about being disloyal to the firm that you’re in, but if you are never taking any calls, you’re doing yourself a disservice, because you’re not understanding your market value and you’re not understanding what’s something different that might be out there. That doesn’t mean you’re disloyal and it doesn’t mean you need to leave, but you’re basically educating yourself on your options. That’s the first thing. I’ve seen it is so much easier to get men to pick up the phone when you’re looking to hire someone than it is women. I would not be as far along my career if I wasn’t more open to that.

Then the second thing is, women have to take responsibility, in my mind, to three words, ask for more. I have always asked for my promotion. I’ve always asked for more money. I’ve always asked for more equity. Women I think oftentimes sit and wait, believe that doing their work is good enough, and they’ll get noticed and they’ll get promoted. I remember there was a lady, who’s head of Microsoft Ireland, who said that when the job came up before, she sat there fully expecting to get it and didn’t get it. She said to the boss, “Well, why didn’t I get it?” He goes, “Well, you never asked for it.” It’s a lesson. You’ve got to ask. Crystal clear, no one’s a mind reader, crystal clear what your expectations are about your next job, crystal clear on timelines, and crystal clear if you don’t think you’re getting paid enough money, ask for it. You’ve got to take ownership of your career.

Gina Stracuzzi: I need to have you come talk to one of the cohorts for the forum, Wendy, because this is it. This idea that if we put our head down and work hard, someone’s going to notice and they’re going to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Wendy, it’s your turn.” Yeah, it doesn’t happen. Employers are not mind readers. If you want something, you need to make it known, like, “This is my career path. This is what I want,” because people can’t help you get there if they don’t know.

Wendy Harris: And you can be sure your male colleagues are doing just that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly. Men, they’re not shy about saying, “I want to be VP of this,” or whatever the case is. That is really great advice. We like to ask our guests, as we close out the episode, for a piece of advice that our listeners can put into play today to improve their careers. You’ve given us some amazing advice for women. Have you got something that they can do today to help themselves?

Wendy Harris: Separate to anything I’ve said already, one other thing I would say is I have a bit of a mantra of, “Choose a boss, not a job.” If you don’t believe your boss has your back, then you need a new boss. Your boss can make or break your career. If you are clear with them and you trust them, and you trust that they’re advocating for you behind your back, then that’s great. If your boss is not giving you feedback, does not have a clear promotion path for you, and does not seem interested in your career aspiration or anything else, you need a new boss. You have to take ownership of who you work for because your boss literally can make or break your career. Ask yourself today. It’s not about your boss being nice to you all the time, you should be getting constructive feedback, but you have to be able to have someone who’s truly invested in you and wants you to continue to grow. If you don’t have that, find a new boss.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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