How My Relationship with LGBTQIA+ Pride at Work has Evolved Over the Years

How My Relationship with LGBTQIA+ Pride at Work has Evolved Over the Years

Donnie Schumann, Head of Partnerships at Flockjay and proud member of our internal Flockgay community, took a moment to reflect on a question we’d like to extend to the tech industry:

How has your relationship with LGBTQIA+ pride at work evolved over the years? 

My journey to self-acceptance and Pride in the workplace took me longer than I would have liked. I remember when starting out in the corporate world during business school, I was terrified to be my true authentic self. Constantly worried that if I were “outed,” being gay it would be a barrier to securing new clients or even progressing up the ladder in my sales career. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco and began working in tech that I saw brave LGBTQIA+ leaders at startup unicorns and Silicon Valley giants alike. With it came a sudden realization that if they could excel without having to conceal their identities, then why should I hide in the shadows?

I can confidently say that embracing Pride in my identity as a gay man in the workplace over the years has contributed to the vast majority of my professional successes and career milestones thus far. I was lucky enough early in my career to have an incredible work family and supportive leadership that made my coming out at work a non-issue.

As a result, being authentic allowed me to build more genuine relationships with both colleagues and clients alike. I learned to lead from a position of empathy when moving into management and focus on amplifying the quieter, less confident voices on my team. Not to mention gaining the confidence that comes with shaking the weight of judgement from others, which propelled me to speak on stage at conferences with audiences in the thousands. But perhaps best of all, I realized that if any client along the way didn’t want to work with me because of my identity as a gay man, it was a client who probably wasn’t best to work with at all. 

Because of this lived experience, I now relish the opportunity to celebrate Pride in the workplace and feel so grateful to be with Flockjay where inclusion and celebrating diversity is core to our mission.

I hope that by being visible in the workplace lets other LGBTQIA+ folks out there know that living your truth is not a limitation to your potential and embracing your identity can be the catalyst to your professional success! Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

celebrate lgbtq+ pride at flockjay

7 Sales Development Questions Answered by a Leader at GitHub

7 Sales Development Questions Answered by a Leader at GitHub

After graduating from St. Olaf College in 2008, Keshia Hohenstein, the Global Director of Sales Development at GitHub, got accepted into the Leadership Development Program at Quad/Graphics, a commercial printing company.

For the next nine months, she would do three-month rotations in different departments of the business such as manufacturing, marketing, and customer success. By the end of the program, Keshia was convinced that she wanted to pursue a career in marketing.

However, after enough of her friends, parents, and professionals in her network recommended that she at least consider a career in sales, she decided to check it out. “Whenever people would ask me what I wanted to do, I would tell them that I wanted to have plenty of autonomy, work in a group setting with a lot of camaraderie, and have healthy competition,” says Keshia. “That’s sales in a nutshell. So after my rotational program, I decided to take the plunge. I ended up loving it.”

Keshia was gracious enough to share her time with our internal flock and lead a weekly fireside chat for current students. We host different leaders each Monday in an effort to offer our students access to authentic, successful, bold industry leaders! Keshia shared insights on everything from interviewing, to becoming a badass SDR, to being a woman and person of color in sales. Read on to see what you can learn from Keshia that will help you on your career journey.

Keshia Hohenstein’s Journey Into Tech Sales

Keshia went on to work in sales at Quad/Graphics for the next three years, where she fell in love with the art of selling. But she also developed an itch to work in an industry that could make a bigger impact on the business world as a whole.

Soon enough, she realized that the tech space could scratch it. However, since she didn’t have any experience working in tech, she struggled to even land an interview.

“I applied to 30 or 40 companies and was also trying to get my foot in the door at other companies, but I got auto-rejected by a bunch of them. And honestly, I don’t necessarily think there was a skills gap because I had some sales experience at that point, but I just had zero tech sales experience,” says Keshia. “These companies interview tons of people who have tech sales experience, so they weren’t as interested in somebody who came from a different background.”

To overcome this obstacle, Keshia decided to apply for a broader range of roles at smaller-sized companies. She knew that she only needed one company to take a chance on her and that when they did, she was going to carve a career in tech. She knew the passion was there.

In 2012, Keshia landed her first job in the tech industry as a Corporate Account Executive at ClearSlide. Seven years later, she not only rocketed up the sales ladder, landing a role where she heads up the global sales development team of over 50 SDRs in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Sydney, and Japan, but she also rocketed up the tech ladder by doing it at GitHub.

Read on for Keshia’s direct answers to the five top questions asked during our fireside chat. 

1. How do you ace an interview?

“After you do enough interviews, you’re going to hear some of the same questions. Don’t let that tire you out. I’ve interviewed somebody who had already done a bunch of interviews with our team and I felt like he had just had a super long day. It wasn’t a good interview. So always make sure to bring the energy.”

“I also try to find out what you’re telling me through your actions. Within the time frame that we’re interviewing, I’ll take note of what you say you do and what you actually do. That way, I can line up your resume with your actions and see if everything’s consistent.”

“Additionally, be your authentic self. You don’t want to get hired into a role because you faked it because now you’ve got this persona to uphold. So be you and be honest with what you want out of the company. It will shine through.”

Key Takeaways: Bring the energy, make sure you can walk the walk, and be your authentic self.

2. What does the day in the life of an SDR at GitHub look like?

“It varies, but I would say you’re going to slice and dice your time between following up on emails and following up on LinkedIn. We don’t make as many calls anymore because emails and LinkedIn are doing great. So you gotta make sure that you’re sending out those messages.”

“We also have our SDRs sit in on their Account Executive’s calls to glean some best practices. Then, when their AE trusts them enough and believes they’re good enough to lead a call on their own, they let them take the reins. Their AEs will give them feedback after. And if that goes well, they’ll let them sit in on the entire sales cycle because they want to prepare them for their next role. It’s like having the training wheels on.”

“On the flip side of things, our SDRs are always learning about the product and the company. They have to understand the product that they’re selling. And since we have a multitude of products that have a lot of different industry use cases, there’s a ton of different personas and value props that they need to know. There’s no shortage of material to learn, so they need to take the time to study our solutions.”

Key Takeaways: Following up with prospects through email and on LinkedIn, sit in on AE’s calls and track prospects’ entire sales cycles to prepare for next role, and constantly learning about the product. 

3. What does a top SDR look like in your eyes?

“I’ve had some SDRs get promoted lightning-fast, like I’m talking about two rounds of promotions in three months. So these things can happen quickly if you come in and learn fast. To do this, the top trait to possess is having a growth mindset, where you constantly solicit feedback. Anytime somebody gives you feedback, take it like the gift that it is. 

It takes a lot of thought and attention to give somebody solid feedback. The best gift you can give back is to implement their recommended changes and ask for more feedback after. Showcasing that you’re hungry to learn, that you want to keep pushing forward, and that you’ve got thick skin is huge.”

“The next best trait to possess is a strong work ethic. Sometimes, you don’t want to send that extra email, but the person that does is doing what everybody else didn’t want to do, kind of like Michael Jordan. You gotta make sure that you put that hard work in every day, not just in quick spurts or binges. You gotta be consistent.” 

Read: Flockjay Grad Elise Cox Promoted Twice Since Breaking into Tech

“Another top trait to possess is a sense of urgency. You can do something tomorrow or next week, but if it’s going to make a big impact, why not do it now? Let’s make it happen. And the stuff that’s not going to make a big impact, it’s okay to leave for later. So let’s just zero in on the stuff that is making things move.”

Key Takeaways: Adopt a growth mindset where you’re constantly asking for feedback, develop a strong work ethic, and have a sense of urgency.

4. What are some of your tips for giving elevator pitches?

“Tailor your responses. For me, if I look at a company and see that they’re hiring a bunch of app security people, I’m going to talk to them about advanced security and how we make it easier and faster. Or if I see that they’re hiring a bunch of engineers, I’m going to ask if they need help onboarding — fast — and if they want them to be good from day one.”

“At GitHub, a lot of people have heard of us in the open source community, so they’ll ask us why they would ever use us for their huge company projects when they’ve only used us for their side projects. It seems risky. But that’s where we re-educate people and meet them where they’re at. So instead of giving a pitch about why they should use our enterprise solution because it has so many great features, we start the conversation off with questions about how they use GitHub in their personal life, what exactly is the open source project that they’re working on, and if it’s code that they’re going to use at work. The reason being is that I want to get an understanding of where they’re at before I give my elevator pitch. However, every prospect’s style is different. Sometimes, people will just be like, ‘Nope, just tell me what GitHub does.’ If that happens, I start at a really high level.” 

“As you all are practicing your pitch, just know that it’s okay to fail often. Honestly, that’s what it’s all about. When I first started in sales, I was like, ‘Oh, I have to say my pitch in this exact manner. I’m young, so I need prospects to see me as a mature sales rep who has been doing this for years.’  But eventually, one of my first managers sat me down and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: ‘Imagine you’re talking with one of your best friends over wine. That’s how your pitch should be — conversational.’ So just relax. It’s not a high-pressure situation. Everyone’s human at the end of the day.”

Key Takeaways: Tailor your pitch to the prospect’s specific situation, get an understanding of where your prospects are currently at, and talk to your prospects like you’re talking to one of your best friends over wine or coffee.

5. How do you handle objections? 

“Back in the day, I cared a little bit less about being perfect. Try to think about taking calls that way. So imagine somebody answers your call and says, ‘Oh gosh, I just stepped into a meeting or I’m in the middle of a meeting right now and I can’t talk.’ Normally, people would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.’ But what I would say is, ‘Oh, that’s so strange. You picked up your phone during a meeting.’ Then I would let that sit for a few seconds.

Eventually, they’d be like, ‘Uh, okay. I have a couple of minutes.’ Other times, my prospects would hang up right away, so I’d call them right back and say, ‘Oh gosh, we must’ve gotten disconnected. I’m not sure what happened.’ And they’d say, ‘Yeah, okay, go for it.’ Obviously, when you do this, don’t be rude. But it’s okay to play around with prospects a little bit. It’s okay to think logically about some of the things that prospects say to you, especially the stuff that stands out.”

Key Takeaway: It’s okay to call your prospects out for giving you an illogical objection.

6. How do you manage being a woman/person of color in sales?

“Most sales teams have lots and lots of white guys, but the good thing about sales is that there’s a scoreboard. For me, I wanted to prove my worth through my actions. If I’m not at the top of that scoreboard, maybe I don’t deserve the respect that I think I do. So I hunkered down and just thought, ‘Where do I need to get to?’ I once worked at a company where there was a pushup contest on the sales floor. And while they were doing that, I was the one on the phone closing deals. I was like, ‘I’ll let you do your pushups because I’m still looking at the scoreboard, where I want to be at the top and stay at the top.’ For me, I was very focused on proving my worth through my numbers so people would take me seriously.”

“In regards to micro-aggressions, they suck. But that doesn’t mean you should interrupt back. Because that won’t make it better. Let them finish. But make sure to speak up after. Don’t just let it pass. The only caveat here, though, is that you need to know which battles are worth fighting for.

When I first got into tech sales, I wanted my colleagues to feel convinced that I could do this. But did I feel that every day? Did I feel that every minute? Definitely not. There are moments that feel so strange. Even in my role today, I second guess myself like, ‘Oh, am I really here? Is this really my job? How did I get here?’ Just know that it’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes, but make sure to take a step back, look at what you’ve already done in life, and, most importantly, believe in yourself.”

Key Takeaways: Prove your worth through numbers by working hard and hitting quota, speak up about micro-aggressions before they pass, and trust it’s okay to doubt yourself. You’ve got this.

7. How can you leverage Flockjay to make a move up in your career?

“Flockjay has more clout than you think. I’ve talked to a lot of different industry leaders who definitely know who Flockjay is. One of our newest members on the Sales Development team at GitHub actually came from Flockjay. And they’re probably a month or two away from a promotion. So lean into the coursework and lean into what you’re learning.

You might not have sales experience right now, but you’ve invested in a program like Flockjay, which is giving you that experience. So during your interviews, talk about some of the skills you’ve acquired. Talk about some of the tech tools you’ve mastered. Use these things to your advantage. You should also use Flockjay to prove that you’re dedicated because you’re actually doing something to get into tech sales.”

Key Takeaway: A lot of leaders in tech sales have heard of Flockjay, so speak to the skills that you’ve acquired, the tools that you’ve mastered, and the level of commitment you’ve given during the program in your interviews.

Thanks again to Keshia for joining us to share her expertise, and to our Tech Fellows for submitting thoughtful questions and participating during the live conversation! We appreciate you. 

New to Flockjay? Read real student testimonials to learn more about our program. 

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Is Your Employee Lifecycle Equitable? Recap

Is Your Employee Lifecycle Equitable? Recap

“Equity is the acknowledgment that we have a history of unfairness in the United States and society as a whole,” says Hakemia Jackson, the moderator of our latest webinar with ThinkHuman and 15Five

“In many ways, reparation is needed to even that playing field. But when will we get to the point where we can simply say that we’re all on a level playing field? That’s when we can all bring equality into the equation.

However, we’re nowhere near that. And so at this moment, we have to engage in a conversation about equity. And until these systems of oppression are completely dismantled, we cannot have a conversation about equality because it doesn’t exist.”

Equity is not just a trendy topic that has caught fire in recent years. It’s a mainstay in the people operations field because it’s crucial for creating fair, safe workspaces that give everyone equal access to upward mobility. 

Last week, we partnered with ThinkHuman and 15Five to host a webinar with five of the brightest minds in people operations, Francesca Walker, Jennie Yang, Kavita Vora, Shaan Hathiramani, and Hakemia Jackson to discuss employee lifecycle equitability. 

Read on to learn about the key takeaways from the webinar. 

What Is an Equitable Employee Lifecycle and Why Is it Crucial for the Modern Workforce?

An equitable employee lifecycle is a framework for creating as much fairness and inclusion as possible in a corporate workforce. Equitable employee lifecycles create psychological safety for their employees, especially ones from marginalized groups, so they can be their authentic selves to work without fear of judgement or punishment. 

Equitable employee lifecycles also create a more fair and objective system for career development, which gives employees the hope and optimism that they can excel in their careers, regardless of their background. 

Make Sure You Stay Aligned With Your Values

After you design an equitable employee lifecycle for your company, you need to ensure that you actually practice what you preach. And according to Francesca Walker, the Assistant Director of Student Experience at New York University, one of the best ways to stay aligned with your values is to make sure that you don’t recreate the trauma that your employees have experienced at past workplaces. 

“If my team is comfortable sharing the ways that they might have experienced harm in other organizations, then I need to ask how can I ensure that I am not reproducing that harm. I think that there’s two things to that. One, it acknowledges that harm has and continues to be done. And two, there’s a commitment to action.”

She went on to say, “Of course, that’s not to say that I’m not going to make mistakes. I’m human. But what we’re doing there is we are opening the conversation to get feedback from the people that we are supporting and constantly holding ourselves accountable to what we say we value. And that puts you in a place of being proactive rather than reactive to what may potentially happen down the line.”

For Jennie Yang, the Vice President of People & Culture at 15Five, setting the tone that you want to hear everyone’s voice at each meeting is also an effective way to stay aligned with your values. It creates a safe space. 

“As a leader, I cultivate psychological safety on my teams at the beginning of our meetings, especially if it’s a brainstorming meeting or a post-mortem. This sets the intention that I want to hear everyone’s voices. I want to hear your opinion, your experience, and create an inclusive environment.”

Jenny added, “Because as we all know, there are going to be colleagues who are louder than others. So I think it’s also a matter of saying, ‘Hey, I want to hear from you’, but not necessarily doing it in a way that calls someone out for not talking. It’s more of an invitation than anything.”

To Hakemia Jackson, asking your employees who identify with marginalized groups about how you can help them reflect and heal the wounds that social injustice has inflicted on them is another way to stay aligned with your values. 

“I know that a lot of institutions, especially higher education institutions, had calls for employees to take a day off to reflect, heal, and deal with the challenges of what’s going on in our society right now. The challenge there is when you have employees who are already overworked, even the idea of taking a day off to heal actually feels unattainable.”

So in this particular moment, Hakemia suggested that what we should be doing is looking to our colleagues who identify with the Asian-American community and, “Ask them, ‘What can I take off of your plate right? And yes, you can actually have this time to heal.’ Those are the kinds of questions that we want to be asking from a place of genuinity so we can embody our values.”

How to Get the Majority to Commit to Equitable Employee Lifecycles

At first glance, it might seem like getting the majority to commit to equitable employee lifecycles might be a tall order. But according to Kavita Vora, the former Chief People Officer at Splice, Jopwell, and MakerBot, creating a safe space for them to discuss diversity and inclusion can clear a path towards greater understanding. 

“The majority needs psychological safety too. That’s why it’s important to create a space where we can provide them with feedback on how they are doing along the continuum of understanding cultural mindsets and how they can progress further along that continuum. Something that we did in my last company is ask the board and the executive team to take a self-assessment called the IDI continuum, where you can assess how you view yourself and people who are different from you.”

Through that, Kavita revealed, “We were able to see where we are and where we think we are. And newsflash, everyone thought they were further along than they actually were, including me. So we all learned that we have work to do and have blind spots and areas to focus on.”

In addition to creating a safe space to talk about diversity and inclusion, Hakemia Jackson recommends being human and realizing that everyone makes mistakes and is capable of change. This not only helps you bring the majority guard’s down but also makes them more receptive to your diversity and inclusion efforts. 

“You have to understand that mistakes and missteps happen and you’re not at a point of no return when it happens. You can repair harm. I don’t think that people hear this enough. You actually have the ability to repair harm that you’ve done.” 

3 Actions Organizations Take Right Now

In order to create as much equity as possible in the workforce, there are three actions that organizations can make today: Invest in coaching, add a bias checker to the compensation and promotion process, and fully commit to employee equitability. Here are three final actionable takeaways from this panel: 

Coaching

“Get coaching. If you need to tap into third-party organizations, do it. Whatever you do, you have to make sure that you’re committed to equitability and viewing it as a value add instead of a cost on your balance sheet.” –Hakemia Jackson

Bias Checkers

“Add a bias checker to the compensation and promotion process. That’s a big trend I’m seeing. So whether it’s somebody at your company or a neutral third party that trains managers on different types of bias, you need to have somebody who can call out bias if they think they are seeing it. It’ll make a huge difference in the compensation and promotion process and make employees feel that it’s more transparent and fair.” – Kavita Vora

Full Commitment 

“There are no half measures in this type of work. If your company supports initiatives that make you feel like you’re comfortable bringing your authentic self to work, but you do a sales call and your manager tells you to speak with more polish or professionalism, then that dissonance means that no matter how many resources that you’ve poured into employee equitability, there’s still more work to do.”

Shaan went on to suggest that:

“Viewing this work as a value as opposed to something that needs to be optimized and can hit a number will help many folks realize that they are part of a system that has centuries of compounding privilege in the workplace. This is full court press kind of work. Because even if there is a hint of that dissonance I mentioned above, then all the energy put into your initiatives is for not.” – Shaan Hathiramani, CEO of Flockjay

Want to learn more? To further digest this valuable information, watch the full webinar.

 

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5 Sales Lessons from Gong’s Gabrielle Blackwell

5 Sales Lessons from Gong’s Gabrielle Blackwell

On LinkedIn, Gabrielle “GB” Blackwell calls herself the Sales Development SaaStress. And if you scroll down to the experience section of her profile, you’ll see that it’s for good reason.

GB rocketed her way up the tech sales ladder from to Sales Development Manager in less than two years after doubling her on-target earnings as an SDR and then hitting 193% of her quota as an account executive. Today, she works at Gong as a Sales Development Manager for small to mid-sized businesses and commercial businesses.

We recently sat down with GB for a fireside chat with our latest batch of students to discuss some sales lessons that they could apply to their careers in tech sales. Here’s what she had to share.

1. How to Calm Your Nerves During an Interview

Your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.

Okay, interviewing for a job in tech sales might not compare to spitting the most epic freestyle in hip hop history, but it can still be an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. So how can you calm yourself down before a big interview? According to Blackwell, detaching yourself from whether you get the job or not will allow you to truly be yourself.

“When I was interviewing for my first SDR role, I just focused on preparing to do my best because by doing so, I was able to trust myself and be okay with whatever outcome came my way. Not every job or company was for me, so I was going to learn from each interview regardless of what happened,” says Blackwell. “There has to be a detachment from any outcomes when you interview because if you’re too caught up in acing the interview, moving on to the next round, and getting a job offer, you’re not going to be fully present in the moment and you might even be an anxious mess.”

2. What You Should Look for in a Company and Manager

Interviews are a two-way street. Obviously, the hiring manager will be vetting you for most of the conversation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t screen them either. According to Blackwell, there are four different questions that you can ask yourself to see if a company and a hiring manager are ultimately a good fit for you or not.

How Did I Feel During the Interview?

“I highly recommend reflecting on how you felt during the interview process. How did you feel after you got off a call with one of the interviewers? Did you feel like, ‘Oh man, I’m super hyped and I freaking love this company’? Great, wonderful. That’s a positive sign,” says Blackwell. “Because I’ve been in an interview where I felt like I’d been smacked around. I felt deflated after the interview and remember legitimately laying out on my bedroom floor and questioning my life.”

Will this Job Make Me Feel Alive?

“Take the time to think through what you really value and what’s going to fuel you at work. When you think about going to work the next day, what are the things that make you excited to go to bed so you can get to work the next morning?” says Blackwell. “Those are going to be the questions that you ask during the interview experience.”

Will Any Aspect of this Job Make Me Feel Dead Inside?

“I also think about the jobs and experiences that I had where I felt demoralized, where I felt deflated, where I felt like I was dumb. It didn’t matter how much I showed up every day, I still felt like nothing,” says Blackwell. “Where are the places where I felt like I had to overcompensate where I wasn’t accepted, where I couldn’t be my fricking self? Right? Like, so what was about those environments that made you feel that way? What was it about your colleagues that contributed to that feeling?

Will this Job Fulfill My Needs?

“If you’re going to be interviewing at a place where you are reporting to a VP of sales, ask yourself if this VP of sales can actually give you the coaching, training, and attention that you need to thrive. If the answer is no, then it’s nothing against the company, but it’s just that they’re not going to be able to satisfy your needs” says Blackwell. “It’s a beautiful thing to have needs and to respect them. There are way too many instances where folks jump on a job without properly vetting it because they’re not aware of their needs. They don’t know their boundaries. And they walk into situations that are triggers for them. It’s really important to know yourself.”

3. How to Make a Good First Impression as an SDR

Making a good impression as an SDR is not only crucial for your success in your current role but also for your success in your tech sales career. That said, when you first start, Blackwell recommends remembering that you just started so there’s no need to be so hard on yourself.

“No one’s expecting you to know anything except your first name and what company you work for. I hardly knew how to pronounce the name of the company that I joined because I had been speaking French all day, every day for the past two years and had forgotten some English,” says Blackwell. “So just show up on time and be prepared to learn. That’s the beauty of starting something new. You get to start fresh. There’s really no expectations other than you’re going to learn and you’re going to work hard.”

 

“Every expectation that I’ve had for SDRs during their first week is just like, ‘Hey you’re going to have certain KPIs or activities, but they’re only going to be about 25% – 30% of a fully ramped rep because you’re going to be figuring out the process,” says Blackwell. “You’re just figuring out what happens when you press a certain button or link. That’s literally it..”

However, if you end up falling a little behind when you first start, it’s mission-critical to over-communicate with your manager and to learn from your mistakes.

“One of the biggest things you can do for yourself is being incredibly communicative with your manager, especially in a remote environment. Because I can’t see you and you can’t see me. We’re not physically next to each other. That means you could be floundering for a full week for all I know. You could say, ‘Hey, I had this KPI goal of 20 calls today, but I only made 15 of them.’ All right. Let’s take a crash course on this then. What was going on? How can we maneuver? How can we set up a daily structure that can help us get back on track?” says Blackwell.

 

“Because whatever you’re doing in that first week is going to impact your third or fourth week. So if you’re not figuring stuff out in your first week, that means you’re not going to see results until your fourth or fifth week. And if that continues, that could be the difference between hitting your quota or missing it during your first month on the job. I would highly recommend daily reflections at the end of the day. Like what went really well? What were some hiccups? How can you set yourself up for more success tomorrow?”

Most importantly, though, don’t forget to have fun.

“I remember there was one of my SDRs who was begrudgingly going through one day to the next. He was hardly ever finishing the daily activities that he needed to hit. The first time I saw him smile at work was when I was just like, ‘What do you like to do? What brings you joy?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, I love this donut shop that sells croissant donuts. So I was like, ‘Cool, I want you to talk about donuts in every single email and every single call that you have. I don’t care. Cause if you’re having fun, then your prospects are going to have fun,” says Blackwell.

 

“I can’t tell you how many times where I’ve messed up and crashed and burned on a phone call. I couldn’t talk. And I’ll just be like, ‘Honestly, I’m so sorry, Megan. Today’s not my day. I’m having a terrible time on the phone. Thank you for bearing with me.’ And the person’s like, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We’ve all been there before.’ You’re dealing with humans. And most of them don’t suck. So they’re going to be cool. And just to add onto that,  people appreciate when you are human. When you’re not perfect, when you do mess up and you acknowledge it. No one’s perfect. And I’m convinced that I got as many meetings over email by being human because you could tell it was a human writing.”

4. How to Crush it in Sales

According to Blackwell, there are two main things that you can do to succeed in sales. The first is curiosity and the second is taking charge of your career development.

“Curiosity is the first part that I think contributes to an SDR or salesperson doing really well. Just being really curious about the customer or the prospect and sales as a practice or as a process or a methodology. And then of course, curious about how this solution that I’m selling, how does it serve our customers? So that’s the number one thing — be curious,” says Blackwell.

 

“As an individual, it behooves us all to put our careers into our own hands. And by doing that, we take our own enablement into our own hands. So for me, I was meeting up with AEs. I was meeting up with my boss. I was meeting up with literally whoever would talk to me that had been successful in sales. Like I would just hit up my network and I would ask them like, ‘Hey, what helps you the most? What do I need to know to be successful? How can I educate myself right now?’”

5. How to Handle Objections

In tech sales, objections will get thrown your way more than you can count. To handle them with grace, Blackwell recommends embracing them, not combating them.

“I just try to be curious and compassionate. When I approach an objection, I embrace what the person is saying. So if someone’s like, ‘Hey, I’m not interested.’ What an embrace can look like is, ‘Hey, listen, I know you’re not interested. May I ask why?’ So I’m diffusing the escalation of things that they can ask. Like could you help me understand? I hope this isn’t too presumptuous. I don’t mean to be pushy. Right. That’s what I like to do, but that’s just my style. That’s the style that I felt most comfortable with,” says Blackwell.

 

“Otherwise it’s like, ‘Hey GB, I’m not really interested right now. We have another solution-’ ‘Shut up. Let me tell you why you should be interested.’ You know? I don’t have to say shut up to make them feel like I told them to shut up, but you catch my drift? To really hear them out, I embrace their objection. I don’t want to push them into anything. I’m really just more curious than anything else. Like would you be open to telling you more as to what’s going on here?”.

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8 Tips on Building Diversity in Tech Through Sales Roles

8 Tips on Building Diversity in Tech Through Sales Roles

“We believe diversity and equity matter everywhere, not just for ourselves but in the companies we work for, lead, and invest in.” —Shaan Hatharamani, Flockjay Founder & CEO

Sales roles have the power to catapult coachable folks into a life-changing, lasting career in tech. We know this at Flockjay because our diverse graduates have proven it to us. Traits like grit, curiosity, and a growth mindset can be some of the greatest indicators of success for sales candidates. None of those things have to do with a fancy piece of paper or pile of college debt.

Sales is an onramp with limitless potential for anyone who wants to build a career in our industry, regardless of a lack of “traditional” experience. So, why does this onramp seem so hidden? Why are there so many secret rules baked into breaking in the tech industry?

To explore questions like this and discuss effective solutions, we gathered the following tech leaders and hosted a panel discussion on Building Diversity Through Sales Roles

Each of our panelists brought incredible heart and perspectives to this energizing discussion. It’s time to rethink our approach to recruiting and referrals, reassess diversity data, and focus on attributes like coachability to get the right candidates in the door. It won’t be easy, but it’s vital to increase the accessibility of sales roles and strengthen the future of our global industry. 

As Ebony put it, “Have the courage to make suggestions, push back, have tough discussions, and really become comfortable being uncomfortable.” 

The panel made one thing clear: Driving the needle forward on building diversity is going to take all of us, and it starts today with these actionable tips.

Miss this discussion in real-time? Watch here.

1. Hiring Managers Need to Take on More Responsibility 

In the words of Kelly, Head of Sales Training at Flockjay, who excels at keeping it real:

“Hiring managers need to take on more responsibility. We are quickly coming to a time when, if you’re a hiring manager and you don’t have a pretty diverse team, that is not going to be a great look for you.” 

If your team isn’t diverse, pointing the finger at your recruiting team isn’t going to fix the problem. Dishing out blame isn’t effective. All stakeholders have to work together to build diversity that lasts and allows your business to operate more effectively. If you’re a hiring manager growing your sales team and focusing on DEI, lean into discomfort. Make it your responsibility to become and act as a partner with the recruiting team.

Frederik, Co-founder at BLCK VC, said:

“In the hiring process, you should feel uncomfortable. Because if you don’t feel uncomfortable, that means you’re falling back onto what you’ve done already, the things you’ve been anchoring to. And this has to feel different. You should have a pit in your stomach. Lean into that discomfort, that is okay. That is how we drive change.”

2. Understand That Your Customers are Increasingly Diverse 

This might feel like a no-brainer, but it’s an important takeaway. Because your customers are diverse. You’re competing in a global market. Diverse sales teams can better support a diverse customer base.

After all, sales teams are the front lines with your customers and represent the face of your company. What face do you want to show the world? What will your increasingly diverse customers see? Hire wisely when growing your sales team. In Kelly’s words: 

“The reality of it is most of us are building products for a diverse set of consumers, and so how do you expect to build and sell and do all the things necessary to be successful without inviting in all these different perspectives to the conversation?”

Our founder Shaan echoed this:

“It’s not just about providing pathways into sales organizations. It is rooting future leaders at companies, so that, when you’re making decisions with your technology that impacts millions of users, you have a different perspective in the room that actually can move the needle and create a better economic outcome.”

He added, “Sales teams are the front lines with your customers, that’s where you’re getting the feedback loop on your product and what you’re building. If you aren’t reflecting that diversity of customer base that’s growing with your sales team, then you have lost the most fundamental opportunity to improve what you’re doing as a product.”

3. Expand Beyond the Traditional Employee Referral Cycle

Take a moment to stop and think about your current sourcing process. If you operate like most companies, your sourcing process is largely made up of employee referrals. And, when it comes to who our employees refer, it’s largely people from their network – which tends to be largely homogenous. Put simply, employee referrals disproportionately benefit white men.

Jacob, Founding Member at LatinxVC and Partner at Shasta Ventures, mentioned that while familiar tech recruiting processes can be effective, they’re “absolutely a double-edged sword.” Why? Because, well, you’ll get more of the same.

Jacob said, “As companies grow past the founding group, we need to be opening up networks drastically, and part of that is structure.”

Unsure where to begin? You’re not alone. We all have to start somewhere. At Flockjay, we don’t want our referral program to be the enemy of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Because of this, we openly share this important data to consider with all referring employees prior to submitting:

  • Referral programs disproportionately benefited white men ⮕ white women were 12% less likely to receive a referral, men of color were 26% less likely and women of color were 35% less likely
  • Referrals from a close friend/family member were most common, but had lowest level of engagement outcomes
  • Targeted referrals (such as cold messaging someone at target company) were least common, but had highest level of engagement outcomes

At Flockjay, as we look to grow our team, we know that our networks are an important source of referrals. But we also know we need to look beyond our networks. And, the data shows that when we do, we see high levels of engagement with these candidates.

Jacob added a proactive example of expanding beyond your traditional network: discouraging warm intros. In his own experience he has found that “When everyone fills out the same standardized information and it’s sent and filtered through recruiters who are external to the first round, they can bring together the best candidates for that role from a larger pool.” 

For recruiters and hiring managers looking to balance out the employee referral cycle, restructure incentives to minimize systemic bias. Consider throwing out traditional network-based hiring processes and replacing them with employee referral programs that lead to a diverse slate of candidates. Encourage your employees to engage with your job postings and share them with underserved groups and networks.

Want to diversify your sales talent pool with elite SDRs? Hire with Flockjay

Fun Fact: When an employee referral joins our team at Flockjay and hits their 90-day anniversary, the first reward the referring employee receives is a $250 donation Flockjay will make in their name to a non-profit organization of their choice. To me, that carries more impact, because it reinforces company alignment to our mission and speaks to our greater purpose.

4. Drop Secret Barriers to Entry with Increased Transparency 

As the old adage goes, “Secrets, secrets, are no fun, secrets, secrets, hurt someone!” And in this case, the “secret rules” that have long been implied in tech hiring are actually hurting your company, in addition to the candidates you’re leaving out.

Kelly, our Head of Sales Training, brought up a couple common “secret rules,” like only considering candidates with 1-page resumes and active LinkedIn profiles. Many companies employ these secret rules without really questioning why, but Kelly urges you to start assessing your own barriers for hires today.

As we move forward, the onus to break these barriers down does not fall on one team, it requires collective acknowledgment. It is the companies’ responsibility to demystify the process and make sales more accessible, and it starts with removing barriers to entry for candidates.

5. Align Attributes with Sales Success (a College Degree Doesn’t = Grit)

Piggybacking off the last tip, one of the most critical barriers that need to be reassessed is requiring a college degree for an entry-level sales role. In reality, a fancy degree doesn’t actually tell you much about a person’s ability to find success in a sales role, but it does tell you they had access to opportunities.

So really think about it, hiring managers: What skills are you looking for that you’re using a 4-year degree as a proxy for? Reevaluate requirements to focus on attributes. 

Sales is teachable, and traditionally diverse candidates do well in sales because they possess several of the inherent skills and attributes that align with that success. Hire based on traits we know are predictors for being a top sales rep: grit, hustle, strong communication, tenacity, emotional intelligence (EQ), perseverance, curiosity, optimism, gratitude, and self-control.

Jacob nodded to the importance of grit and brought up an excellent point about some of the best CROs he knows being immigrants. He said:

“They [immigrants] have found tremendous success in leveraging the multi-faceted skillset that it takes to be an outsider in the United States in order to build social connections, networks, and be able to exert influence to an outcome. And it’s a tremendously difficult, high EQ skill that I think a lot of people don’t even notice for people that aren’t from the U.S., or look different than what we think a person from the U.S. looks like.”

The most impactful thing you can do is hire diverse coachable individuals with a growth mindset. There are so many diverse candidates who have the potential to excel in sales roles but don’t even realize it yet due to misconceptions about the profession. None of this can happen without aligning stakeholders on hiring from the top down. It’s our job to push management teams to lean in more aggressively and understand it will take all of us to effect changes.

Ebony said:

“I encourage everyone to take an honest inventory of all of our blind spots and be flexible enough to be willing to try new solutions. Have that courage to make suggestions, to push back, have tough discussions, and really become comfortable being uncomfortable.”

6. Build Support Systems from Within to Retain Diverse Sales Hires 

Building lasting diversity in tech doesn’t stop with the hiring process. If you’re looking around the room at a sales team with a diversity of talents, backgrounds, and ethnicities, that’s one piece of the puzzle. But if you want those people to stay with your company and reduce common turnover, building support systems from within to nurture lasting inclusion is essential. Sales is a highly consultative role focused on supporting and guiding customers. And without support, sales can be a lonely place. Ebony said:

“Sales is like a game of tag, even though you’re on a team of people who are supposed to be friendly, it’s still a competition. And this can make people feel even more lonely sometimes in their roles.”

So how can we start improving the support we provide today? Kelly said:

“People think it’s so much more complex than it is, but check on your team. A ‘hey how are you doing? or’ I know you’re part of this community that was really affected by police brutality, are you ok?’ or ‘Can I support you right now?’ goes a long way. Asking questions, being human, getting more resources behind them, and connecting folks with mentors on your team are all places where you can start.”

She added, “A big part of the reason we started Flockjay is we know that diverse candidates need support to be successful in tech in the long term. If you try to go at it alone, you will not be successful. I know from my own experience.” 

Ebony, CEO at Salesforce Foundation and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce, said:

“We have to start programs and support organizations within our own companies that will give people the access to social capital, give them the skills, give them the networks and experiences. If you’re not able to do that within your company, companies like Flockjay that have programs where people can go and get those networks are so vitally important.”

At Flockjay, we have built support systems from within in a few different ways. Our students begin fostering a sense of community from day one. Our Alumni Network focuses on providing additional support to Tech Fellows going through the stressful and exciting hiring process.

We have established various Flockjay Identity Groups (FIGs) with internal leaders and students that serve as a place for different groups to connect. And, we check in our team (their whole selves).

6. Evaluate Diversity Data as You Would a NPS Score 

Transparency around where you are now and where you’re going matters. Ebony said, “I wish there was a way to have a metric on bulk inclusion – like a Net Promoter Score, for example – that your team could rate you on anonymously so that we as executives in our companies could really assess who is doing well with this, not just for the team that looks the most diverse, but is also feeling included.”

A Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a tool that, “measures customer experience and predicts business growth. This proven metric transformed the business world and now provides the core measurement for customer experience management programs.”

It is a simple way to get a pulse on how your business is doing, which is why NPS is so widely accepted as a metric in our industry. We’re at a point where it’s time to start evaluating your diversity data in a similar, routined way. Normalize collecting, analyzing, and sharing your diversity data in a fully transparent way. Analyze your attrition/promotion rates. 

Kelly said:

“Did all of the ‘diverse’ people on your team leave after 6 months? Were you able to actually hire, retain, support, and promote diverse candidates? That would be something that’s interesting to know.”

Look for opportunities to improve DEI within your findings. Then, improve. Don’t shy away from the findings that reveal you have more work to do. Ebony said, “Companies always talk about where they’re succeeding, rarely do you hear companies be really transparent about where they failed. I think it’s important and it’s something we’ve started implementing in our reviews.”

When Ebony sends notes around to her executive leadership team, she says she includes a win in addition to some opportunities for improvement. She wants her team to share the lessons they’ve learned and evaluate the aha moments they’ve had. She said, “If we start opening ourselves up publicly around this, it’ll be okay for companies to struggle, but they can get ideas for how to move forward.” 

Ebony said:

“Companies need to know that, not only are your current and future employees going to demand it [diversity], but it also is going to show up in your customer base. Customers are going to be looking at you, at your leadership board, your executive leadership team, at your data and numbers around diversity, and they’re going to make a business decision whether they want to be working with you or not.”

8. Consider Top Level Sponsorship vs Mentorship

Mentorship is an incredible tool, but Frederik says that layering on mentors to help new sales hires tactically understand how to be successful in the role can only go so far. Enter: sponsors.

Frederik said:

“Sales is this front door into an organization and it’s not just a pathway up a sales ladder. I think if we can really move toward getting more senior managers to be sponsors to those folks that are coming into the organization, that’ll help.”

Sponsorship extends beyond mentorship by acknowledging that entry-level sales hires are at the beginning of a journey, and being transparent with those people right away about all of the pathways they could go within the organization.

Sponsors are true advocates who want to make opportunities clear beyond being promoted from an SDR to an AE. They can do so much to provide a mirror for new hires that lets them see what opportunities around the corner look like.

Shaan said that “From my experience in running Flockjay, the most successful sales orgs are the ones where there is a high level of sponsorship for investing in support and the continuous reskilling and upskilling of your sales team.”

Partner with Flockjay to Start Building Diversity through Sales Roles

If you missed the panel in real-time, you can watch the recording on-demand here for more tips. This work matters. At Flockjay, we’re passionate about helping people from historically excluded backgrounds break into tech sales, where they can seize opportunities to grow professionally and personally. We’re also passionate about shaking up the tech industry, for the better.

frederik groce on diversity flockjay webinar quote

As Frederik put it, “Diversity isn’t just about doing the right thing because it feels good, it’s about building organizations that can perform and operate more effectively.”

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and email partners@flockjay.com if your sales team is growing and you would like to connect with elite SDRs.

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3 Lessons on Managing a Diverse Remote Sales Team

3 Lessons on Managing a Diverse Remote Sales Team

The last six months have been humbling as a sales manager. Overnight, I transitioned from being a 100% IRL manager to being 100% remote. Initially, I was overly confident, thinking how hard can this really be!? Got this in the bag. 🏆  But I quickly realized that managing a team of remote salespeople presented some unique challenges. 

Managing sales teams remotely is different than managing any other team for a few reasons:

  1. Sales reps hold extra stress from carrying quota (especially in a volatile market)
  2. Sales reps no longer have the opportunity for real-time social learning
  3. Sales reps miss the motivation of friendly competition

As a sales professional in this new remote world, I realized that I needed to invest in learning how to manage a diverse, measured, social team if I wanted to maintain a high performing team. 

These are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. If we make it a point to do a better job of understanding and supporting each other within a remote framework, our teams have the freedom to get better, grow stronger, and thrive onward. Not to mention, reduce attrition and decrease ramp time, which helps us hit our numbers. 

At Flockjay, we connect top tech companies with diverse, pre-trained sales reps. (more…)