When I think about trailblazers, I think about women of colour who have forged new paths in fields that have previously been off-limits to them.
Trailblazing women are among the first in their fields to try something new or take risks to pave the way for those coming behind them. This Women’s History Month, I want to share with you the story of a changemaker. I hope her story will inspire you to continue building your network and breaking new ground as a trailblazing woman in sales.
A Salesforce trailblazer, Seanté began her career as a clinical researcher before discovering her passion for sales. After completing her undergraduate coursework with a pre-med focus, she started working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at the UCSF Headache Center in San Francisco.
When asked to tackle the clinic’s lack of research trials, Seanté’s interest in sales was piqued. The leadership team was impressed with Seanté’s ambition and innovative approach to the project. Although she hadn’t taken any business classes, Seanté led her career with a growth mindset and a fearless spirit.
A fearless and agile force
A quick learner and self-taught, she leveraged internet research, networked with clinical trial scientists and doctors, and built a team that executed on her vision and business plan. When she started at the UCSF Headache Center, there were no clinical trials. By the time she left, they were running six industry-sponsored studies (pharma and med device companies) and five investigator-initiated studies. She hired a team and pitched contract research organizations and pharmaceutical companies on her team’s ability to find and enrol qualified patients. Seanté’s efforts generated ~$700,000 in revenue with a 95% patient retention rate and 100% patient enrollment.
Seanté was so engaged with her new project, she realized that studying for the MCATs was the last thing on her mind. The clinical trial project unveiled her passion for helping others, not through medicine, but through providing solutions. From the headache clinic, Seanté transitioned to pharmaceutical sales and then to medical device sales. Although this new career path allowed her to combine both of her passions, patient care and solutions, she struggled with an ethical decision. Building her sales pipeline meant finding people for the operating table, and this was a hard reality to face.
Living in San Francisco, Seanté saw the Salesforce logo everywhere. She looked up at a Salesforce sign one day and said to herself, “I’m going to work there someday!” Four months later, Seanté joined Salesforce as a Small Business Account Executive.
With her curious spirit and can-do attitude, she sought out numerous opportunities to blaze trails. Seanté recalls spending her first month at Salesforce in October 2014 sitting with a solutions engineer because she had no idea what an API was. Application Programming Interface (API) is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. If you use an app to send an instant message, order a meal, or check the weather on your phone, you’re using an API. Despite having no technical background, no personal brand in NYC, and no established network on the east coast, she did not let this stop her career growth.
How to succeed in a leadership role
Here’s Seanté’s advice on how to succeed in a leadership role in a new market, for a new technology company:
- Ask for feedback.
- Act within yourself – do it your way, ask, learn, but make it your own.
- Show up – even if you are sitting in the room where you’re the only one who looks like you. You know what you’re doing; let your confidence show.
- Raise your hand — let people know what you want.
Seanté started with no technical background, but after two years as a Core Account Executive, she moved to the Heroku team in New York City. Now, this is no small feat. Heroku is one of the most technical products Salesforce has to offer. It’s a cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) for developers to integrate their applications in several programming languages. After five and one-half years of demonstrating leadership and bringing innovative solutions to the table, she is now the Sales Regional Vice President for Commercial Sales, Manufacturing.
“I am proud of what I have accomplished”, Seanté shares. “I’ve worked and continue to work hard. I’ve always been ambitious and will always have goals. But that being said, I also had some guilt that came with the ‘success’. I was given adequate access and resources throughout my life that many women of colour are not provided. I was well prepared for life in the corporate world. That’s why I am so passionate about helping the generations behind me – I feel that it’s my duty to give back and to show other women of colour that it is possible to not only reach these positions but also to excel in them.”
“Don’t over think it…”
Seanté’s final piece of advice for starting a new role is, “Don’t overthink it…People are people – we have feelings, wants, and needs, and we all bring something of value to the table. If you come to work with empathy and you can see the perspective of others, you will be successful. If you can step outside of your comfort zone you will go far in life. That’s what gets deals done, that’s what makes the big sales happen.”
Five Ideas to Keep us Successfully Blazing Trails
- Build Your Network: Create and leverage a network of women to help you reach your full potential. Collaborate on best practices, support each other, and leverage the collective strength of your network to drive sales and hit your sales targets.
- Create a Vision: Surround yourself with like-minded people willing to collaborate on a shared strategic vision for the future.
- Be Fearless: Challenge yourself. Introduce yourself to others. Connect with other women on LinkedIn. Join professional networks like Sistas in Sales to connect with people, build relationships, and share opportunities. An excellent ice breaker question is, “What inspired you to have a career in sales?” When you take risks, you either succeed or have an opportunity—an opportunity to learn, to begin again more intelligently, or to develop your sense of humour. Get comfortable with being vulnerable.
- Be a Lifelong Learner: Stay curious, passionate, interested, and committed to lifelong learning. Ask questions, stay on top of trends, and seek advice from your network, even as a leader.
- Remain Positive and Persistent: Focus on what you can do, what you can control. Ideate—never stop asking questions and looking for solutions. Create virtual opportunities to collaborate and ask, “How might we . . . ?”
You have what it takes to be a trailblazer, to succeed as a professional saleswoman in your company both on your team and as an individual. Words to remember: build a community and network to ensure that you’re not the last. Lift as you rise. You have the power to create lasting change.
Here’s to selling Mastery,