"Against the Odds - How I Built a Successful Career in Tech Sales"
I sat down with Stephanie Samuels, Regional Sales Director, to speak about how she began her career in tech sales, how some of her life challenges became the best things that could have happened to her, and what it's like to work on the sales team at MongoDB. She also discusses what her experience has been like as an African American woman in tech sales.
Jess Katz: I'm excited to sit down with you today and learn about your career path. Let's first start with, how did you get into tech?
Stephanie Samuels: Beginning my career in tech started with a series of unfortunate accidents. I'm from St. Louis but was in college halfway across the country in Boston when I found out that my family and I could no longer afford college tuition. I had to figure out how to fulfill my potential by graduating from college despite the financial challenges that so many students face.
After withdrawing from school, I began working full-time as a receptionist at a start-up software company to support myself. The CEO recognized my potential and gave me additional opportunities to learn the business.
During this first year, I was able to claim myself as an independent in the state of Massachusetts, which allowed me to apply for different types of loans since I was no longer classified as a dependent of my parents. Once I had myself established as an independent, I took the bold step to apply to Harvard University and was accepted!
Here's the cool thing — I worked full-time during the day in tech and went to school full-time at night at Harvard and graduated Cum Laude. My Harvard experience was extremely non-traditional. It was a struggle to work full time during the day and maintain a full course load at night but this struggle is what exposed me to technology. I would venture to say that I value my degree more than most because it was so hard to come by and provided me my introduction into technology.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from that time in my life is that even painful and difficult experiences have the ability to positively impact one's life if one embraces it and works hard. Had I not had to initially leave college for financial reasons, I would have never ended up at Harvard University nor would I have been exposed to the technology field. That unfortunate event changed the entire trajectory of my life in ways that I could never have imagined.
JK: That's incredible! How did you get into tech sales?
SS: I got into tech sales because I worked at some awesome technology companies and was exposed to great salespeople. I loved their energy, their drive, and their passion. They weren't stuck in a cubicle all day, every day. They appeared to own their earning potential and that was appealing to me.
Later on, post-graduation, I worked in consumer packaged goods sales for a couple of years, and that was truly the worst job of my life. In that role, my bonuses were linked to a team goal. I was not the master of my own destiny. I realized then, that I had to be in a sales role where income was based on individual contribution and merit, not a team goal. So, I talked my way into a very unconventional interview at PTC, and thus began my technology sales career. The rest, as they say, is history!
JK: I know that diversity is something that you are really passionate about. What has your experience been like throughout your career as a woman of color in tech sales?
SS: As an African American woman in tech sales, my experience has been that generally, I am the only African American in a room. Up until the last 5 or 6 years, frequently I was the only woman in the room. With extremely rare exception, I am the only African American woman in the room. In many ways, this makes me a unicorn of sorts.
Some might perceive being an African American, or being a woman in technology sales as a disadvantage. Like so many other things in my life, I see it as an advantage. One of the biggest challenges a salesperson faces is differentiating themselves from others. In my instance, people always remember me because it isn't often that they run into someone like me in technology sales.
Being a person of diversity, is a distinction that I am honored to have. It's not lost on me that a generation ago my work experience in technology was not possible. I am extremely good at what I do but I have also been blessed with great mentors. That is why I'm honored to mentor women both in and outside of MongoDB. I get involved wherever I can in schools, talking to middle school kids and teenagers, about what is possible, especially when it comes to inspiring our young girls. I'm hypersensitive around the lack of encouragement that girls and young women receive in schools around achieving success in math and science. I believe that this lack of encouragement is why there are disproportionately fewer women in the technology field today.
JK: You've worked in tech sales for many years now, and joined MongoDB in February, 2019. What made you join MongoDB as a Regional Director (RD) in Enterprise Sales
SS: I came to MongoDB after working for just shy of 13 years at my last company. Leaving that company and joining MongoDB was a leap of faith that I decided to take for a few reasons. The first is, I needed a better work-life balance. As a working mom, I was on the road every week. I needed a fulfilling and challenging job; however, I needed far less travel. I knew from the interview process that the sales leadership within MongoDB values the whole person, not just the employee. MongoDB recognizes that people are mothers, fathers, spouses, friends, etc. We have outside interests that define who we are.
The second reason why I joined MongoDB is I knew MongoDB would challenge me in ways that I had not experienced before. Although I loved the people and grew a lot in my role at my last company, I had gotten too comfortable and needed new mental stimulation. As a rapidly growing company, MongoDB is always changing and always innovating — not only in our technology, but also in our sales go-to-market strategy. We are always challenging ourselves and those around us to be the very best we can be and to build the best sales organization that has ever sold technology. I have been so impressed by the fact that my peers are as equally driven for continuous improvement as I am, which is also a tribute to our sales leadership. This team is unparalleled in the technology business. It is no wonder that I have grown more since joining MongoDB than I have in a long time.
The final reason why I joined MongoDB is the technology. I am excited to work for an organization delivering best in breed technology in a market where we have only scratched the surface. I have sold technology for a long time. Never have I sold technology that works like MongoDB! There is a reason why MongoDB is the most wanted database by developers. I have seen first-hand how our technology is the best way to use data, allows our customers to intelligently put it where they want it, and provides the flexibility to use it anywhere. No one else in our space can say that and this is why our customers love us. Who wouldn't want to sell in this type of environment?
JK: As an RD, you are tasked not only to grow the company, but also to lead a team. What is it like to lead a team here as an RD?
SS: Our sales leadership is committed to building the best salesforce in technology… period. This means, inspiring and enabling success for everyone on the team. As a data company, it may come as no surprise that MongoDB uses data to inspire its people — but at MongoDB, we take it to the next level. We use data to provide a roadmap for our people to understand how to achieve their goals. We know what "good" looks like and we know how to get our teams there. This knowledge allows us to onboard new people quickly and continuously develop our ramped salespeople.
Many sales organizations train the individual contributor. Few organizations train the leaders on how to inspire the individual contributor. MongoDB provides the opportunity for all managers to sit with their peers and collectively learn from each other about how to better develop our people, recruit, retain, and use our data to get the best results for and from our people. I have not seen this in other organizations.
It's important to understand people's personal motivations. For example, if an Account Executive has a goal of buying a new home, as an RD, it's my job to help them achieve that goal. Armed with data on what success looks like, I sit down with them and evaluate specifically what we need to do to get there. We map out the best way to leverage the comp plan to achieve their personal goals. We are very detailed about it. Some people might view this as micromanaging, but it's not at all — it's leveraging data to help achieve success. As an Enterprise Account Executive, you leave this meeting feeling inspired because as RDs, we show you how to get to where you want to be. We jump in the boat with you, and tackle these plans in bite-sized, doable, pieces together.
JK: For many people, changing roles is a huge step to take. What does MongoDB do to help new salespeople during their first year?
SS: I am glad you asked that question Jess because MongoDB's onboarding process is second to none. From day one, people joining the sales organization are greeted with a thorough onboarding plan which is a step-by-step guide to learning and enablement. For example, at about the one month mark, new hires attend MongoDB's sales bootcamp where they learn our technology, sales strategy, and pipeline generation playbooks. After bootcamp, the learning and enablement continues in the field.
I mentioned before that MongoDB is a sales-driven organization. This is evidenced by the resources the company dedicates to training and enablement on the first year that a new hire is onboarded. Our technology is great but, our ability to onboard people and make them successful and productive quickly is one of our unique differentiators in the business.
One cannot talk about onboarding new salespeople without discussing the earning potential in your first year and beyond. Upon joining MongoDB, you will have the opportunity to see success and make money in your first year. The RDs at MongoDB dedicate time to new hires and all salespeople on coupling the pipeline generation plays with their comp plans to achieve amazing results.
JK: Your story has inspired me in many ways and I know that it will inspire others. Is there anything else you would like people to know about the sales team at MongoDB?
SS: Yes, there is Jess. If you are looking to be a sales leader at any point in your career, now is the time to join. We have already grown very strongly in the past 1-2 years, and expect to continue to grow. Given our growth expectations, everyone in sales is positioned to experience amazing leadership opportunities. As an organization, MongoDB believes in promoting from within. Over 50% of all current Enterprise Account Executives and Regional Directors have been promoted this year. As good as MongoDB is at onboarding new talent, the company is equally good, if not better, at teaching leadership skills by giving people the skills, tools, and data they need to inspire their people. Most organizations don't have this depth of leadership experience or training.
MongoDB is a special place. Make no mistake about it, all of us here are committed to working hard in order to build something unparalleled in the industry. If you are interested in pursuing a sales career where you will work harder and smarter than you ever have before but be rewarded with amazing growth, learning, experiences, and earning potential, then you should apply and join MongoDB right away!
Interested in pursuing a career in sales at MongoDB? We have several open roles on our teams across the globe, and would love for you to build your career with us!
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.