Vanja Wilson

Leader Q&A: Vanja Wilson

Post by: Anna Johansson Kacey Canning
Published: 30 May 2023

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far. What about your role at Partnerise excites you?

Most of my experience in the last decade has been in digital marketing. When I made the move over from Stockholm in 2008 I discovered my passion for affiliate and partnership marketing. The first time I heard about the channel I thought it was really cool because it is a win-win performance based situation and it aligned with my personality.

The role at Partnerize specifically was a perfect combination of my channel expertise and I had always thought about a move into SaaS sales, so it was good to stretch my skills and take on a VP of Sales role. It was the perfect timing for my career advancement as a new challenge in an industry I love. I genuinely believe in what I am selling. 

Throughout my career I’ve always found that it is about believing in your product. I think prospects always pick up on your authenticity and believing in your product helps prospects to trust you and build the relationship. Having that authentic relationship really does help set you apart. 

Your path to VP of Sales wasn’t “BD/Sales” linear including client success, what would be your advice to women who are unsure on navigating and pathing their way to GTM leadership roles?

For a long time I had this slightly outdated perception of what sales actually was – a perception of it being a pressure cooker with targets and cold calling. Funnily enough most of my career I have had managers and peers tell me I would be good at sales and I kept saying no. I now realise that for most of my career I was already selling, but I didn’t have that confidence or full understanding of what a true sales role would entail. 

I think women can sometimes be guilty of allowing their own self doubt to get in the way of progression. For me also, I had recently moved to a new country where the language wasn’t my first language and trying to find my feet in a professional sense. I think it definitely contributed to my own suppression of my natural ability or progression in my career. 

In later years I really started to flourish. I did one of the gallup strengthsfinder-tests and I can’t recommend it enough. They are epic. It tells you your top 5 strengths, of course you can develop skills that might not be your best, but it really speaks to harnessing skills or talents that come naturally to you and making the most of it. 

The last time I did it I was in a solutions role and my top skill was competition and then the next was harmony, which together made sense for me to be in sales and live up to my full potential. So my advice would be to understand what you are really good at and harness that. 

Throughout my career whenever there were any extra projects I would almost always say yes. Taking on extra projects helps to make you stand out in your company and is great to learn new things and about yourself. I don’t think the path to developing is linear. I think it is more like a spider web to build up different foundations. 

What are some key strengths that women can bring to sales?

I think creativity can play a big part in sales. Women are very empathetic, good listeners and have the ability to put yourself in the customer’s position to really understand their pain points. Pain leads to a need for a solution and that tends to be a reason that people feel an urgency to buy. 

It’s unique to hear Partnerize’s AU team is made up of so many women – what sort of difference do you think this makes internally and externally? What do you think other companies can learn from having higher representation of females? 

I think it really showcases that they have a progressive and open recruitment policy and are always looking to hire the right person for the role. Having spoken to people who were here for a longer time there has been a recent shift over the years to more females in the sales team. I think that a few factors contributed. 

  • We provide a technology solution for performance marketing and marketing tends to attract more females.
  • The benefits that Parternize has – subsidised health care, fully flexible and an amazing parental leave policy

In terms of what other companies can learn from this; having female leadership succeeding in sales roles and progressing up the ladder even though they have taken maternity leave, as a key example to others.  When I went on maternity leave the first time at a previous company there was not one female in a senior leadership role who had taken the leave and it was really daunting returning to work and understanding what the future would look like.

Having a high representation of females on our team helps to create a more collaborative environment, we don’t demand things, we collaborate between departments to gain buy-in and support for success and listen to each other. I think more often than not, as women, we aren’t afraid to acknowledge when we’re not the expert in a certain area, which is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength to recognise that you need support. 

What do you think is important for women as they return from maternity leave, how can inclusive culture or environment make the transition back into work easier?

I think the key thing is allowing a transition plan for the return to work phase. This could be having flexible work arrangements and even having the ability to scale up work hours, starting with a part time work plan. I did that both times I returned to work and I am now full time, but that support and flexibility when I first came back made a huge difference. 

Mum’s are constantly experiencing mum guilt and the fact they might leave too early to do a pick-up or stay home with a sick child, having support from a company is so important. Things eventually return to a sense of normality, but a plan to transition back makes a huge difference. In saying that there is also a big difference in a role that is part time and a role where the responsibilities actually reflect part time hours.

Part two of this is making sure that the new responsibility is not a demotion, in fact I think mums are very self motivated and accountable when they have a part time role. I think more women will start demanding this kind of support.

I think for a lot of women who go on mat leave there is a fear of the unknown, but if there is a good plan to return to work in place it can be a super positive experience. It can be a great chance to reconnect with your old self and identity, which is a nice balance and I personally found it a better and more empowering experience than I expected. 

What have you been reading or watching lately? 

My recommendation is The Qualified Sales Leader by John McMahon. I also would highly recommend the Gallup strengthsfinder tests to find your personal strengths and harness them.