4 Tips for Navigating Startups, Mastering Sales, and Growing from Individual Contributor to SVP:
A Conversation with VideoAmp's Alli Felter
Alli Felter likes competition. Challenge her to a game of soccer or a sing-off, and she'll be there, ready to give it her all.
That made a career in sales a natural fit.
She found her way into the field early on. It helped that her dad was a long-time salesman. Then an early internship cinched her interest. Even while she was cold calling 100 people a day and getting a bit tongue-tied when someone was actually interested, she loved the work. Her internship turned into a part-time job during college, where although she worked just six hours a week, she was outperforming full-time employees. That's when she realized the first of several sales (and life) lessons that helped her on her path to becoming an SVP of Account Sales at advertisement investment platform VideoAmp just eight years out of college: quality of work is more important than quantity of work.
We're excited to share some of Alli's tips for building a career in sales, particularly in fast-paced startup environments.
1. Be strategic as to how you spend your time
"It's not necessarily how long you work or how many emails you send," says Alli. "The important thing is to focus on the quality of your work and to consider the bigger picture." For Alli, that means taking a long view and investing in herself to make sure she can bring her best self to work. "I think a lot about what's going to have the greatest influence on my overall success—not just tomorrow, but a couple of months from now and beyond. Missing workouts and eating like crap may mean I can cram a couple more things in, but longer term, it's unhealthy and it impacts your relationships with clients and colleagues, which are pivotal to the success of your career. It definitely makes it easier to focus on this balance when working for a company that makes health and wellness such a priority. VideoAmp offers daily workouts and really encourages us to make time for fitness and mental breaks."
2. Create value-based relationships
Alli credits her career—and her rapid ascension to a leadership role—to her hard work and the strength of her relationships.
Several years ago, Alli found herself in the final stages of the interview process with a company she was excited about. She called a client-turned-confidant—someone she'd worked with at another job and whose opinion she respected—to get her advice on whether she should take the offer. The ex-client told Alli that before she said yes, she should check out VideoAmp, where the ex-client had just joined. Alli zoomed through the interview process in a couple of days and ended up getting an offer from VideoAmp, too.
That new opportunity presented itself only because Alli had invested in the relationship long before it was time to ask for advice or a favor.
As a saleswoman, and now with a team of 20 people reporting to her, Alli has a rule: never just "check in." This applies to networking as well as relationship building with clients and prospects.
"Just 'checking in' is my least favorite thing to do. If you're reaching out to someone, what is the value you're offering that you feel is worth them giving back to you?" she says.
3. Evaluate job opportunities with this framework: people, mission, funding
With two offers in hand, Alli had to buckle down and figure out which company was right for her in the long run. Having worked for a company she'd loved, followed by a company she didn't like so much, she assessed why she loved the first company and what she found lacking in the second. From there, she created a framework to evaluate her options.
"I really think that asking the right questions before you join an organization is key. Make sure you share and understand their views and support their mission, this will enable you to flourish and grow in your personal life and as well as your professional life," says Alli.
She realized the first key factor in evaluating a startup is understanding what the people are like. "Is every single person at the company just unbelievably excited to be there? Do they have that energy? And do you feel something when you're speaking to them? I think a lot of companies underestimate the importance of culture. You can tell when colleagues like each other, when they want to spend time with each other, and when they genuinely feel like they're in it together," says Alli. "And I felt that with VideoAmp from the moment I started the interview process."
The second factor to consider is the mission and whether the company knows what they are building towards. "Do they know what problem they are trying to solve?" she asks. "It's okay if it's not entirely clear how they'll get there—being part of the problem-solving is why many people are attracted to startups—but knowing where they're headed is key," says Alli. "At that time, VideoAmp was about powering the convergence of linear TV and digital to enable brand marketers to make better decisions between desktop, mobile, tablet, OTT, and then the big screen or television," she says. "And today, we really have been able to do so effectively."
Don't be swayed just by a fun team and an exciting mission, though. Alli advises that anyone considering a role with a startup be a realist, too, and ask to see the numbers on funding. "That has a huge, huge impact, especially in the startup world, on what kinds of programs a company is able to offer, what kinds of things they're able to do, how they're able to take care of employees and how they're able to build a presence and a name in the industry," she says. When she was interviewing with VideoAmp, they had just closed their series A round of funding and Alli felt comfortable enough with their growth path and potential to sign-on. Looking back, she's confident she made the right choice: "Right now, we've raised over a hundred million dollars to help us continue on this journey of solving our mission," she says.
If you've gotten an offer from a startup you like that passes Alli's criteria, she suggests you take it: "I challenge people to pursue opportunities outside of their comfort zone and to be scrappy — to have the power to drive towards a goal and build something that doesn't exist."
4. Identify your leadership style and use it to lift up others
When Alli was an account executive at VideoAmp, she was an individual contributor, which meant clear metrics for success: she needed to produce a certain amount of revenue and have a certain number of meetings.
But as she became a VP and then SVP, she had to shift her focus from her own performance to start focusing on building competency in others. She says she learned that "managing is about creating a mindset and a culture that you want to facilitate and foster."
Creating that culture has meant learning to not have all the answers and allowing your team to grow into their own working styles. "One of the things my mentor at VideoAmp, Laura Tormey, has taught me is to lead by example. It's important to create a framework for people to be successful but to also trust them to figure it out on their own. Show your team how to do something, instead of telling them what to do, and then watch how they make it their own," she says.
Three of the sales leads who work for her are women—"which is really, really rare for a sales organization," notes Alli. She wants to create a culture that encourages and empowers all employees, especially women.
"I try to promote speaking up and grabbing a seat at the table. You're not going to get what you don't ask for," she says. "I'm also always mindful of the words used to describe women's working styles, because language really matters. A woman can be perceived as bossy or aggressive, when really, she is just being direct. I try to create an open dialogue and conversation to empower my female colleagues."
Do you have questions for Alli about working in sales as a woman, growing into a VP or SVP role, or navigating the world of startups? Leave a comment below!
Branwyn Baughman, recruiter at Lockheed Martin, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
Take a look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as some top-notch tips that Branwyn outlines on how you can make your application stand out.
To learn more about Lockheed Martin and their open roles, click here.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.